How to be optimistic with Julian of Norwich

How to be optimistic with Julian of Norwich


Excerpted from The Complete Julian of Norwich
by Fr. John Julian, OJN

Julian is a theological optimist. Standing over against the pessimism and sin-absorption of the theology of much of the Middle Ages—and in spite of living in the midst of devastating cultural upheaval and the collapse of centuries-old institutions and patterns of life on which entire cultures had been based—Julian stands forward as a primary voice of clarity and hope.

When we consider what happened during her life in England, the parallels with our own time present themselves with awesome clarity. . . The fourteenth century was the mad, crumbling, convulsive world in which this exceptional woman lived, and it was in this world that, astoundingly, she was able to accept and articulate those most famous words: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

But there is in Julian’s optimism nothing of the self-blinding “make believer” who simply converts pain, suffering, and sin into fictions and pretends they are not real. Julian’s “all shall be well” does not suggest that “tomorrow things will be better,” but that in that final Great Day, God’s will shall ultimately be worked in all of God’s creation, and that even now, “the sweet eye of pity and of love never departs from us, and the working of mercy ceases not.”

Her optimism is one of solid faith and absolute conviction, and the refusal to believe that the muddle and violence of earth is the final and exhaustive expression of reality. . .

Julian would follow the now-unpopular Scholastic traditions of differentiating clearly between action or function, on the one hand, and essence or being, on the other. Regardless of what humans do, Julian knows what they are—and even in God’s own eyes, they are “very good.”

Long before today's popular spirituality books, the classic writings of Brother Lawrence, Fénelon, Thomas à Kempis, Julian of Norwich, and many others were teaching Christians how to find God in the joys and challenges of everyday life. 

This summer, rediscover the timeless wisdom of these wholehearted Christians. The “Paraclete Essentials” of Christian classics offer easy to read contemporary English translations, to bring the words alive for today. 

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