Voluntary Lockdown (15-01-21)
Jesus said: ‘When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven…”’ (Matthew 6. 6 - 9)
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus… May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5. 16 - 18; 23 - 24)
Long before I moved to Norfolk, I had come across Mother Julian of Norwich and her spiritual writings, but over the years my interest in this extraordinary woman has grown. As we endure a third lockdown, my curiosity has been stirred once more. Mother Julian was not locked down by government restrictions. She chose it for herself voluntarily, and for life!
Now it is worth acknowledging that Mother Julian lived in a time of rampant plague and pestilence, though without the support of an NHS and the medical expertise we have today. She was born in 1342, and in 1373 she endured a serious illness that brought her close to death. During this illness, she had various visions or ‘shewings’ of the Lord, which she then wrote down, now published as Revelations of Divine Love. It was soon after that she became an anchoress (a woman who lives in seclusion for religious reasons), spending around forty years in self-isolation.
Her cell was attached to St Julian’s church in Norwich. Her ‘enclosure’ involved a service akin to a burial, during which she was placed in her small room with two windows, never to leave it. One window looked into the church to see the Eucharist celebrated, and the other looked out on the main road into Norwich. Here she led a secret life of quiet contemplation and prayer. Through the window which overlooked the main road, Mother Julian made herself available for a word of advice or a prayer for anyone who asked. It is likely that her life of continual prayer was shaped by a monastic structure and routine. She withdrew not to simply escape a world of disease, but rather to engage with it, to listen, to write, to pray, and to live solely for the well-being of others. In the midst of pain and suffering, she contemplated the suffering and death of Jesus until she understood it as the revelation of God’s love. Over time, Mother Julian came to a place of peace where she could say with confidence: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”
Lord, teach us how to pray, teach us to persevere when times are difficult, and teach us how to be content and trust you from our own place of separation.