by Corrie Cabes
What can we learn from a 14th-century mystic who not only survived several waves of the bubonic plague devastating her late medieval home of Norwich but thrived in her faith? Plenty.
Written during the most uncertain days of our own pandemic of 2020, Matthew Fox presents Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond. A spiritual theologian and Episcopal priest, Fox asks us to consider this…what has this time taught us?
In February, I posed this question in a sermon, “how’s your soul?” I feel these two questions are relevant and are a good way to assess our spiritual health today. This may now be a season where you reflect and then find your footing again, especially here at the Church of the Heavenly Rest.
I’m mulling over and meditating on these questions as well. Our work of tending to the soul, our very own precious soul, is about redirecting our lives within the life of God. Perhaps this year was an initiation into many moments of darkness and loss. We all have experienced death in some way, whether it was a very personal loss of a friend or family member or even the death of what our lives were like before the pandemic changed things. Many of us have been waiting for life to begin again.
Turning towards the wisdom that Julian of Norwich offers, we meet someone who faced death around every corner and engaged—no embraced fully with suffering. She found herself in places where it seemed as if the light would never shine again. And yet, she would not call these places home. Neither should we as Christians. Fox tells us that Julian finds a real place of belonging by dwelling on “remedies or the medicine.” The medicine she finds most effective is joy.
Julian is known to have coined the word “enjoy” —not as a passive experience of pleasure or happiness, but something to actively create or spark joy in others. We are to be givers of joy. Crafters of joy. Revolutionaries in joy. This notion of enjoyment is truly a gift from God, instilled in our very souls. When practiced regularly, we are creatures made so that our hearts might burst with the joy of God.
Joy has accompanied us even at our toughest times, showing up often unexpectedly, like a searchlight, calling to us reminding us that God is good, even when everything seems wrong. Joy has shown up in the form of my neighbor’s cat, who has gallantly arrived just at the right time, curling his orange-striped body around our doorstep to the delight of my family. Joy shows up in our return to worship, in our gatherings as a community, and in our plans for formation this fall.
These bits of joy are showing up more and more each day, as we train our eyes to behold and enjoy God and each other. This is the encouragement that nurtures our souls. Joy refocuses our heart and mind on the big picture—that the goodness and great love of God are not overcome by the darkness we have experienced this past year.
Suffering is not what will always define us as people of faith. Love is our story. Joy is our response. May we live fully into this new season and enjoy the blessing of a new day with grateful hearts full of joy.