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As I pick up "The Revelation of Love" and begin to read the words of Julian of Norwich, I am struck by this simple fact: Julian was not afraid to ask. In the second chapter of her manuscript, Julian tells us that she "had previously desired three gifts from God." These gifts, as I mentioned in the last post, were to know more clearly the passion of Christ, to experience an illness that brought her to the door of death, and to receive three "wounds": the wounds of "very contrition, of kind compassion and of wilful longing to God."

Not only does Julian share with us her desires, but she also tells us the reason behind these desires. She wants to see and experience the passion (or the death) of Christ, so that she may have a "truer" mind. She yearns for an illness so that she may be purged by the mercy of God, and live more to God's honor. Yet, as noble as these hopes might be, she qualifies these two requests by a phrase that echoes that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Lord, you know what I will-if it be your will that I have it; and if it is not your will, good lord, do not be displeased, for I will nothing except as you will."

These first two requests, which are more unusual in their nature, she says, "passed from my mind." However, the third request, that of change in character - contrition, kindness and longing, "dwelled with me continually."

I wonder what, if any, requests we make to God concerning our spiritual selves. It is not uncommon to pray for friends, for health, or finances, for jobs and relationships. There's nothing wrong with praying for these concerns, but do we yearn to have minds that are more true, or to have ourselves purified from fears or concerns, anxieties or apathy, characteristics that keep us from living more fully to the glory of God? Are we thirsty for compassion, for a deeply rooted passion to love?

I'm sure there are stories of mystics who have been caught unaware by the intersection of the spiritual world into ordinary lives. (One thinks of Amos, the Hebrew prophet who says, "I was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but God took me." ) But Julian's experiences with her God came as an answer to a deep yearning. A yearning she was not afraid to put into words. 

Jesus has much to say about asking. "Ask and you shall receive, knock and the door shall be open, seek and you shall find," he tells his followers. And later He reminds his listeners that God will not deny good gifts, even as a father will give his child food if they request it. Many years later, James the brother of Christ will write: "You have not because you ask not. And what you do ask for, is for your own selfish desires." 

As we walk through the Lenten season, I wonder: What are our deep yearnings? Do we know? And in knowing, do we articulate? And in articulating do we submit? And having done all that, do we act in ways we are able, while leaving the rest in the hands of our God? May the focus of these days that bring us to Easter be not so much on what we choose to deny, but, as Julian shows us, in what we choose to desire.
3/16/2011 05:10:32 am

I see arms and hands that look familiar. I trust your time in the desert will be a deep well of refreshment for you all year long.

I appreciate your reflection and mostly the set of questions at the end, including, "do we act in ways we are able, while leaving the rest in the hands of God."

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