“Sometimes we experience such darkness that we lose all our energy.” – Julian
Julian of Norwich (1342-ca.1429 AD) knew something about darkness, as she experienced waves of the Bubonic Plague throughout her lifetime. Read my introductory blog to this series here https://wordsfromasparrow.wordpress.com/2021/07/27/julians-tips-on-living-in-pandemic-times/
Our current experience of the Covid-19 Pandemic has also included darkness; the darkness….
- of not knowing when the pandemic will end, and fear that it will return;
- of knowing that suffering and death are happening all around us and we can do little about it;
- of not knowing who is carrying the virus;
- of loss of work and/or income;
- of isolation and loneliness;
- of depression;
- of grief;
- of not knowing who or what to believe about the pandemic.
Add to the list whatever particular darkness you have experienced.
Fox points out in his book, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond, that Julian and others like her identified this type of darkness as the “via negativia”, or “negative way”. It is “the reality of suffering, death, not knowing, not being in control.” Another term used in past times to describe this negative way is “dark night of the soul”, coined by St. John of the Cross (1542-1591 AD), helping us name when the dark side of life becomes severe, penetrating our consciousness.
Our global pandemic experience could be called “the dark night of us all”. We see much depression, loss of energy, and deep sadness among our communities today. There was some hope this summer as our COVID-19 counts went down, but now we are seeing surges once again. Julian not only identified this feeling of depression that sucks the energy out of us, but also noted that “because of this darkness, allowing and trusting God’s great love and keeping providence is almost impossible.” (emphasis mine)
What can we glean from Julian’s writings when depression and deep sadness takes over our emotions as we continue to experience the Covid-19 Pandemic?
First, Julian suggests we examine our goals and intensions, stripping everything down to essential questions, such as Why am I here? What or whom do I wish to serve?
As Christians, she writes that “our intent in life is to continue to live in God and faithfully trust that we will be shown compassion and grace.” This, she reminds us, is our call, to continue to “co-create with God”. This is God’s own work in us.”
However, Julian does not deny the difficulty of doing this when “life becomes a constant woe.” Sometimes all our frailties and failings, our betrayals and denials, our humiliations and burdens and all our woe seems to utterly fill the horizons of this life. When this happens, Julian writes that our hearts can become “dry” and “feel nothing”, or maybe we become “tempted to give up on God.”
Lastly, Julian reminds us that “life is short”, as phrase my 92-year old dad likes to say. She invites us to remember that we are “all mortal”, so “do not go into denial about death, or be so occupied with trivia that we forget to ask the deeper questions.”
What word/s or phrases did you notice in this blog? Consider those with God.
Take some time, as you are able, to reflect on the questions below, and perhaps journal your responses.
- How have you “faced the darkness” of our Covid-1 Pandemic?
- Which descriptions of responses to “when life becomes a constant woe?” that Julian writes about have you experienced?
- Take some time to reflect on Julian’s questions posed above; why am I here? what or whom do I wish to serve?
- Consider what is the best contribution you can make given your gifts, background, and the brevity of life?
If these types of questions feel overwhelming to you, please find a trusted friend, pastor, counselor or Christian spiritual director to discuss what they stir in you.
Photo credit: Charlotte Hedman Photography, charhedman.wixsite.com
Quotes from Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond, by Matthew Fox