In this same time our Lord showed me a spiritual sight of His homely loving.
I saw that He is to us everything that is good and comfortable for us: He is our clothing that for love wraps us, clasps us, and all encloses us for tender love, that He may never leave us; being to us everything that is good, as to my understanding.
He also showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought: “What may this be?” And it was answered generally thus: “It is all that is made.”
I marvelled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for how little it was. And I was answered in my understanding: “It lasts, and ever shall, because God loves it. And so everything has Being by the love of God.
In this little thing I saw three properties: first, that God made it, second, that God loves it, and third, that God keeps it. But what is truly the Maker, the Keeper, and the Lover, I cannot tell; for until I am one with Him, I may never have full rest nor true bliss; that is to say, until I am so fastened to Him, that no created thing separates God from me.
— Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, chapter 5
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
— John 15:9
When I was a boy, I’d love to go run errands with my father on a Saturday morning. It was a wonderful break from my normal routine, as well as a way to simply enjoy being with the man who often seemed distant simply because he, unlike my mother, worked outside the home. Dad would take me to the lumberyard, the hardware store, the fish market, or pretty much anywhere else he had business to conduct.
But one place I didn’t enjoy going to, even with him, was the city dump. Over forty years later, the overpowering smell of decaying refuse is still vividly imprinted in my imagination. The mud, the rust, the smell of burning tires: I suppose I determined at that young age that sanitation engineering was not a viable career choice for me.
When Julian of Norwich says that everything has being by the love of God, it’s easy to apply her words to the splendor of nature, or to gorgeous art, or to the joy embedded in a mother’s love or the romance of newlyweds. It’s easy to see God’s love in things that we intuitively call good or true or beautiful. But what about when things are out of kilter? What about the city dump, or an abandoned shopping center, or a neighborhood scarred by drug trafficking and gang activity? Where is the love of God in those corners of our world?
Julian never says that the love of God makes everything pretty or erases all evidence of sin or waste. The mystery that she speaks of is simply that all things — all things — emerge into being out of the love of God. Sometimes the love of God shines through more clearly than others. But it’s always there, for Divine love is the ground on which all existence, all reality, rests.
Julian recognizes that there is a foundational vulnerability to existence. When she receives a vision of the entire cosmos, small enough to appear like a hazelnut cradled in the palm of her hand, she wonders that it doesn’t simply “fall to naught.” In other words, it seems so vulnerable that its continued existence is a matter of question. I rather like to think that Julian saw, in that vision, an accurate model of the actual universe, shrunk down to hazelnut-size, which would mean that it appeared as little more than a shimmering ball of energy resting in her hand. No wonder it appeared as if it could at any moment cease to exist.
We all know how fragile life is. A car accident, a stroke, a heart attack — sometimes the thread separating life from death is thin indeed. Likewise, although we are often unwilling to admit it, the line separating what is beautiful from what isn’t, or what is good from what isn’t, is likewise barely a hairline. Julian sees in the shimmering little hazelnut-cosmos just how fragile everything is. But in her wonder, a reassuring voice speaks to her, declaring that three things are true about this little ball of reality: God made it, God loves it, God keeps it. And it is for those three (Trinitarian) reasons that all things continue to exist, moment after miraculous moment.
God’s creative and sustaining love pulsates through every molecule, every atom, every quark and lepton and boson. Because of the Divine love that literally knits all things together, the universe is a place of limitless freedom and possibility. Any one moment in space and time is merely a snapshot of how things were — not how things must forever be. In the sovereignty of God’s love each of us is free — free to celebrate what is good, and to change what is not.
Trusting that all things exist by the love of God can revolutionize how we live our lives. It means that we never have to admit defeat against the forces of death, chaos, violence and despair. For no matter how grim or seemingly hopeless things might seem, knowing that we are always given our being through love means that we always have resources at our disposal to change things for the better. Even if circumstances become so bad that we literally are left with no choice, we always have the choice to hope, to pray, to trust in God and in the light and that the power of good will always, eventually, triumph over the forces of evil.
What Julian is telling us, very simply, is that the universe we live in is safe. That’s not to say there is no danger, for of course danger exists, and it is a fact of life that we will all in some way or another suffer and eventually die. But we suffer and die in the love of God. Knowing this, and learning to pray and praise our way through it, just might set off a revolution of consciousness. Knowing that we emerge from love and exist by love empowers us to make loving choices and to cultivate the spirit of love in all we do, say, and think. And that is a key to unlocking the mysteries of God, including the mystery of peace, the mystery of hope, and the mystery of standing up to change things — all things — for the better.
Heavenly God, in you we live and move and have our being, and we know that our being emerges from your love. Help us to live every day in the light of your love, and with awareness of how your love empowers us to do what is right and to embody true peace and joy. In Christ we pray, Amen.