And presently, after this, our blessed lord gave me again the comfort and rest in my soul, in delight and sureness so blissful and so mighty that no dread, no sorrow, no bodily pain that might be suffered should have deprived me of ease. And then the pain showed again to my feeling, and then the joy and the delight, and now the one, and now the other, many times - I supposed about twenty times." (Chapter 15)
Reading this chapter, I wonder what it must have been like to have been Julian of Norwich. God wants to show her something, and she has to experience it before it is explained. Feelings of bliss - ahh, this feels somewhat familiar. Feelings of despair - wait? what? Feelings of bliss - OK - feelings of despair - wait, is there some sort of pattern here? And again, and again, and again. I can't help but think of a teacher setting out an experiment for her students. See what happens when I put this chemical next to this solution? Now watch when I take it away. Now when I put it back.
God is graciously teaching Julian a lesson, and it's a good one for us all to hold onto.
Our feelings can be good indicators to us of what is going on in either our body or our psyche. Think, for instance, of anger, which may show us we've been hurt, either physically or emotionally, or that we should take action to combat a harmful situation. Or the sense of being uncomfortable, which may be like a fire alarm telling us, as the David Wilcox song goes: "Don't stop, don't wait, don't hesitate. Rule number one: Run!"
But there are times when our emotions are not so trustworthy. We wake up with a sense of loneliness, or ennui, or despair that is not based in reality. Like a morning that's overcast, our spirits are dampened. And if these feelings last too long (like this winter) we may despair that the sun will ever shine again. But even if this sense of being abandoned is strong, is not true. Like the sun which continuously pours out warmth and light, even when obscured by cloud cover, God's love is constant. He never leaves us alone.
(more after the break)
"God wills that we know that he keeps us safe in the same way in woe and in well-being." Julian says further along in this chapter. "And for the profit of a man's soul a man is sometimes left to himself, although sin is never the cause; for at this time I did no sin for which I should be left to myself, because it was so sudden. Equally, I did not deserve to have this blessed feeling...And both are one love; for it is God's will that we hold ourselves in comfort with all our might, for bliss is enduring without end, and pain is passing and shall be brought to nothing for those that shall be saved. And therefore it is not God's will that we should follow the feeling of pain in sorrow and mourning for it, but that suddenly we should pass it over and hold ourselves in endless delight."
The words from an old hymn come to mind:
When darkness hides His love face,
I trust in His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
When we're overwhelmed with negative feelings, it may feel as if the face of God is hid from us. For reasons we may not understand, God may choose to bring us comfort or leave us feeling disconsolate. But He does not wish us to despair of His love. And so He gives this experience to Julian, to comfort her and encourage all of us to "hold ourselves in comfort with all our might", grounded and confident that His love for us never wavers.