Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What I'm Reading #15: Revelations of Divine Love (Julian of Norwich)

Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich

Revelations of Divine Love is the oldest extant English publication by a woman. We read it recently for my Christian Ethics course—it was a re-read for me, because I had picked it up for $2 at a used book store in high school. Julian has influenced me for a long time, even more so now that I've read her in an ethics context and written a paper on her work (it's almost done, I might post it later).

The lecture my professor gave on Julian brought out the side of me that led me to get a second major in Medieval & Renaissance Studies in undergrad. A 14th-century English mystic? Right up my alley. We talked about the hierarchical society of the day that assumed people were born with different blood—a society in which a woman having a vision of Jesus' blood making us all kin was scandalous. Julian's visions are graphic—God's love is portrayed in copious amounts of blood pouring into the ground at the foot of the cross. In a time when people were dying of the plague, perishing in pools of their own blood, Julian had visions of the blood that heals every wound.

The paper I wrote on this book deals with Julian's understanding of sin and forgiveness in light of her visions. I've been hearing a lot of hoopla lately about Rob Bell's book Love Wins because it supposedly denies the existence of hell. I haven't read the book yet (I intend to), but from what I can gather from reviews and friends who've read it, Bell isn't doing anything all that new (and he'll tell you that himself). There are places in Revelations where Julian is on thin ice—in all her visions, she was never shown hell, even when she asked to see it. For Julian, sin is its own punishment. She never comes out and says there is no hell—sin is its own hell, and in terms of a place of eternal torment, she will not make an argument from silence or say anything that departs from the teaching of the Church—but there is room for that interpretation. And Julian wasn't the first; Origen and many others have wondered about the question of the afterlife in a way that is more faithful to Scripture, which is far more ambiguous on the subject than we seem to think, than many traditional depictions of heaven and hell.

Revelations of Divine Love is a beautiful extended meditation on God's freely given, unconditional love for his children. It was edifying to my soul to read it again, in a way that some of my theological reading for school simply isn't. Whether you're interested in a devotional work or in dealing with poetic theology, this is a wonderful book to read.


Favorite Quotations

"Our falling does not stop his loving us."

"I was shown no harder hell than sin."

"His love for us is not broken by our sins; nor does he intend that our love should be broken for ourselves or our fellow Christians."

"We can see that our sin well deserves it, but that his love excuses it."

"It is not God's will therefore that we should grieve and sorrow over our present sufferings, but rather that we should leave them at once, and keep ourselves in his everlasting joy."

"And he showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball. I looked at it thoughtfully wondered, 'What is this?' And the answer came, 'It is all that is made.' I marvelled that it continued to exist and did not suddenly disintegrate; it was so small. And again my mind supplied the answer, 'It exists, both now and for ever, because God loves it.' In short, everything owes its existence to the love of God. In this 'little thing' I saw three truths. The first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; and the third is that God sustains it."

"Thus I was taught by God's grace to hold steadfastly to the faith I had already learned, and at the same time to believe quite seriously that everything would turn out all right."

1 comments:

Dakota said...

Hey, I just came across your blog by doing a bit of blog-surfing and I'm glad I did! I've added myself as your newest follower, and I hope you'll check out my Christian devotional site as well.

Have a blessed day!

In Christ,
Dakota - A Look at Life from a Deerstand

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What I'm Reading #15: Revelations of Divine Love (Julian of Norwich)

Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich

Revelations of Divine Love is the oldest extant English publication by a woman. We read it recently for my Christian Ethics course—it was a re-read for me, because I had picked it up for $2 at a used book store in high school. Julian has influenced me for a long time, even more so now that I've read her in an ethics context and written a paper on her work (it's almost done, I might post it later).

The lecture my professor gave on Julian brought out the side of me that led me to get a second major in Medieval & Renaissance Studies in undergrad. A 14th-century English mystic? Right up my alley. We talked about the hierarchical society of the day that assumed people were born with different blood—a society in which a woman having a vision of Jesus' blood making us all kin was scandalous. Julian's visions are graphic—God's love is portrayed in copious amounts of blood pouring into the ground at the foot of the cross. In a time when people were dying of the plague, perishing in pools of their own blood, Julian had visions of the blood that heals every wound.

The paper I wrote on this book deals with Julian's understanding of sin and forgiveness in light of her visions. I've been hearing a lot of hoopla lately about Rob Bell's book Love Wins because it supposedly denies the existence of hell. I haven't read the book yet (I intend to), but from what I can gather from reviews and friends who've read it, Bell isn't doing anything all that new (and he'll tell you that himself). There are places in Revelations where Julian is on thin ice—in all her visions, she was never shown hell, even when she asked to see it. For Julian, sin is its own punishment. She never comes out and says there is no hell—sin is its own hell, and in terms of a place of eternal torment, she will not make an argument from silence or say anything that departs from the teaching of the Church—but there is room for that interpretation. And Julian wasn't the first; Origen and many others have wondered about the question of the afterlife in a way that is more faithful to Scripture, which is far more ambiguous on the subject than we seem to think, than many traditional depictions of heaven and hell.

Revelations of Divine Love is a beautiful extended meditation on God's freely given, unconditional love for his children. It was edifying to my soul to read it again, in a way that some of my theological reading for school simply isn't. Whether you're interested in a devotional work or in dealing with poetic theology, this is a wonderful book to read.


Favorite Quotations

"Our falling does not stop his loving us."

"I was shown no harder hell than sin."

"His love for us is not broken by our sins; nor does he intend that our love should be broken for ourselves or our fellow Christians."

"We can see that our sin well deserves it, but that his love excuses it."

"It is not God's will therefore that we should grieve and sorrow over our present sufferings, but rather that we should leave them at once, and keep ourselves in his everlasting joy."

"And he showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball. I looked at it thoughtfully wondered, 'What is this?' And the answer came, 'It is all that is made.' I marvelled that it continued to exist and did not suddenly disintegrate; it was so small. And again my mind supplied the answer, 'It exists, both now and for ever, because God loves it.' In short, everything owes its existence to the love of God. In this 'little thing' I saw three truths. The first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; and the third is that God sustains it."

"Thus I was taught by God's grace to hold steadfastly to the faith I had already learned, and at the same time to believe quite seriously that everything would turn out all right."

1 comments:

Dakota said...

Hey, I just came across your blog by doing a bit of blog-surfing and I'm glad I did! I've added myself as your newest follower, and I hope you'll check out my Christian devotional site as well.

Have a blessed day!

In Christ,
Dakota - A Look at Life from a Deerstand

 

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