This quote from Julian of Norwich sums up the main of Chapter Seven. She begins by describing a vision of St Mary, who, overwhelmed by the "greatness and the nobleness of the beholding of God" was filled with dread and meekness. Through this humility, she is "fulfilled with grace and with all manner of virtues." Julian then returns to a previous vision of the image of the "bodily sight...of the plenteous bleeding of [Christ's] head. This showing was both "hideous and dreadful, sweet and lovely. And of all the sights it was the greatest comfort to me that our God and our lord, that is so reverent and to be feared, is so homely and courteous. And this most greatly fulfilled me with liking and sureness of soul."
In the beginning notes to the text I am using, edited by Elisabeth Dutton, there is a glossary of key words common to Julian's writings. "Homely", we are told, has connotations of intimacy or familiarity. "Courteous", on the other hand, implies being courtly or refined as well as having behavior which is respectful and meek. When Julian pairs these words she is bringing together the court and the cottage. To further understand how Jesus is both homely and courteous, she is given this example: 'It is the greatest honor that a solemn king or a great lord may do a poor servant if he will be homely with him."
As an American, I find it difficult to live in this metaphor, given our democratic and egalitarian society. Reading Jane Austen's Emma, however, I can inhabit a world where different stations are part of the warp and woof of the social order. Emma, a member of the landed gentry, is aware of her responsibility to visit those beneath her. This she does with varying amounts of grace. Making a "charitable visit" to a sick family she finds easy to accomplish, and it brings her pleasure. The lines are clear, her position as gracious benefactress gratifying. "She understood their ways, could allow for their ignorance and their temptations, had no romantic expectations of extraordinary virtue from those, for thom education had done so little. entered into their troubles with ready sympathy, and always gave her assistance with as much intelligence as good-will."
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Making a social call upon Miss and Mrs. Bates, however, is a duty she does not relish, for both personal and social reasons. "She had had many a hint from Mr. Knightley and some from her own heart, as to her deficiency-but none were equal to counteract the persuasion of its being very disagreeable,-a waste of time-tiresome women-and all the horror of being in danger of falling in with the second rate and third rate of Highbury, who were calling on them for ever, and therefore she seldom went near them." Masking her reluctance with pleasant conversation, she leaves as soon as politely possible, with Miss Bates being none the wiser.
In both occasions, the recipients of her "courteous" behavior freel much honored by the visit of their esteemed guest. But we, the readers, privy to the whole story, find ourselves displeased with Emma. After her visit at the sick cottage, she professes a compassion for the family that "should affect her for quite some while." In fact, a meeting with an acquaintance sweeps any concern quickly from her mind. And we cringe for Miss Bates, a simple-minded, yet exceedingly kind and generous woman who takes such delight from Emma's half-hearted visit.
Even if Emma is in some ways superior to those she visits (and this we feel doubtful) there is something in us that longs her to be gracious, to embrace a common humanity and offer herself openly to those in her community. And it is this desire that Julian says is met by her lord. He is the 'highest and mightiest, noblest and worthiest." In seeing Him, Mary can only describe herself as a maidservant before an awesome king. And yet, in Jesus, God makes himself "homely." He enters into our world, walks our path, shares our food, grieves at our losses, heals our diseases, and takes upon himself the effects of our sin. He does not consider his high station (equality with God) something to be held onto, but allows himself to become human, to the point of sharing our death. (Phil 2).
Emma is reluctant to be courteous to those she finds beneath her. Jesus longs to share in our humanity. He comes to the last supper stating, "I have greatly desired to eat this meal with you." (Luke 22:15). After struggling in the Garden of Gethseman with the reality of his mission, he triumphs. For the "joy set before him", Hebrews says, "He endured the cross, despising its shame." (12:2)
Julian is given the opportunity to gaze upon the sacred head of Christ. As she watches the blood flow in the vision of His passion, she enters deep into the heart of a God who is making himself "homely" for her sake. And although special visions (shewings) are rare, she tells her readers that this truth may also be received by "great plenty of grace inwardly given of the Holy Spirit." For "this wills our lord, that we will and believe, joy and delight, comfort and solace ourselves, as we may, with his grace and with his help, until the time that we see it truly." May God grant us each this "great plenty of grace" so that our hearts might be "ravished and almost forgetful..for joy of this great homeliness."