God is all that is good…God says, “I am the sovereign goodness of all things.” — Julian
Julian of Norwich (1342-ca.1429 AD) knew something about surviving pandemic, as she experienced waves of the Bubonic Plague throughout her lifetime. If you are just joining this series, I invite you to go back and read my introductory blog and the following posts starting here https://wordsfromasparrow.wordpress.com/2021/07/27/julians-tips-on-living-in-pandemic-times/
Julian spent many years meditating on her experiences and the visions she had about the sufferings and death of Jesus. But her visions went beyond death (the via negativa) to what she would say matters most: goodness, joy and awe” (the via positiva). In spite of living during the years that the Black Plague cycled through over and over, she was able to live a long life of service to others as a counselor and spiritual director, both in person and through the three versions of her book about her experiences and visions.
Fox writes that Julian “births light into a world ravaged by darkness and anxiety, and she instructs us to do the same.”
As much as Julian faces pain and suffering directly, and encourages others to do the same, she spent more time teaching us to pay attention to the experiences of joy, goodness and awe. In this blog post, I want to consider Julian’s thoughts on goodness with you.
For Julian, the act of “remembering goodness and recovering a sense of goodness is at the heart of combating suffering and evil.” In fact, when it is most difficult to see goodness in life, when chaos seems to reign all around, “it is all the more important to remember the goodness of things.”
Fox points out that Julian encourages us to see that “the goodness we must acknowledge in a time of pandemic and of human malfeasance is the goodness of nature itself and existence itself…a love of creation, a love of being itself.”
“God has revealed his goodness with such abundance and plentitude,”, observes Julian. Here she speaks of the “goodness of nature.” We can be blind to comprehend the wisdom of God through faulty reasoning. Yet Julian declares “God is all that is good. God has created all that is made. God loves all that he has created. “
I often hear people saying they experience God while in nature. Julian calls God “the very essence of nature”, including human beings. She writes that “it is God who will refill what is lacking and restore us with the action of mercy and grace, which will abundantly pour into us from His own natural goodness.” Goodness is natural to God. So Julian would say that “goodness surrounds us in the manifestation of all of nature but it also flows through us on a regular basis; it is God’s Spirit at work in and through us.”
Remembering that we are here, why we are here, and what a privilege it is to be part of the vast beauty and goodness of existence, is what Julian points us towards.
All this shows us to the way to the via positiva, and Fox points out that “the deep experience of the via positiva is Julian’s primary medicine for living a life of wisdom in the midst of a pandemic.”
Julian invites us to “wake up to the goodness all around us, within us, and embedded in our work. To wake up to goodness is to wake up to God’s presence.
This message of God as goodness and goodness as God is Julian’s primary medicine for surviving a time of struggle and chaos. On one hand, she encourages us not to deny the suffering, but on the other to “focus more on the goodness found deep within life and nature.”
In these days of pandemic and other negative experiences in our world, we will more than likely need to go out of our way to find goodness. Life has not been and is not always easy or good. I have found personally, that by focusing constantly on the bad news, the suffering, on self-pity, I spiral down into depression and miss the goodness of God. There are several kinds of spiritual practices that can help us find the via positiva each day:
- Spend some time in nature, and there, look for God’s goodness.
- Ask God to help you remember what God has already done in your life that has been good and beneficial.
- Praise and thank God for God’s goodness as you notice and remember. This is a way to keep going in spite of our difficult circumstances. In fact, Fox reminds us that praise is a “response to goodness; praise and goodness are bigger than fear and sorrow, thus we can wrap lamentation and sorrow into something beautiful.”
Photo credit: Charlotte Hedman Photography, charhedman.wixsite.com
Quotes from Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond, by Matthew Fox