Peter Varney is a retired Anglican priest currently assisting at St Giles Norwich, and also a Quaker. His last job was leading the counselling team for the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital Occupational Health Department. He facilitates retreats for Quakers and others focussing on art and creativity.
One of my earliest memories was seeing the war-damaged church of St Julian, wondering if the ruins would be abandoned. But now thousands of visitors come each year, open to whatever they may discover as they rest and pray in the restored church and cell. Robert Fruehwirth makes clear that Julian’s words ‘All shall be well’ have allowed people to find hope and peace in crises but that Julian herself questioned how the world’s suffering could be made well. She continually found what might now be called the ‘universalist’ content of her visions at variance with the Church’s Christo-centricism. Robert puts these different approaches clearly to his readers, and gives us Julian’s answers. (He frequently uses ‘Godself’ to avoid gender based language; I found this awkward and would have preferred these passages to be in the passive tense.)
The first part explores Julian’s direct experience of God and what it tells us about the nature of her faith and the challenge it makes to us as we seek to make this our own. Next Julian’s questioning of her experience, and struggle for more coherent understanding, are the background to considering her psychological, therapeutic and theological reflections.
The final part focusses on Julian’s meditations on Christian experience, and her advice to those seeking to live a life of faith in response to a God of love.
As each part of the Revelations is explored Robert makes clear his purpose is not to critique her writing but to help us grow in faith, to learn to trust in God’s love, to pray through any resistance we may feel and be open to healing. He provides personal spiritual exercises at the end of each section which offer help as we face the blocks in our unconscious. They include a list of the ‘Showings’ so that we may discern which are most important to us; reflecting on moments of transcendence and awareness of God’s closeness; considering how our woundedness may be transformed by offering it to the crucified Jesus. There is also helpful flexibility; we are asked, for example, if Jesus is still the centre of our faith or ‘has this shifted to something else?’
Robert gives us a fresh way to enter into the profound, but not always easily understood, ‘Revelations’. His reflection on the hazelnut and the parable of the servant are thorough. We arrive at a place where, as Julian insists, God draws us into wholeness and openness. This then must be shown in lives where there is compassionate tenderness towards ourselves, one another, and even towards God, whom Julian saw as desiring us and our loving response:
“I saw that God is our true peace, and our sure protector when we are not at peace in ourselves, and he works continually to bring us into endless peace. And so when we, through the working of mercy and grace, are made humble and gentle, we are completely safe. Suddenly the soul is united to God when it is truly at peace in itself, for no anger is to be found in God.”