Friends, it is holy week, and I cannot think of a better guide to this most sacred week of the Christian liturgical year than Julian of Norwich.
Julian’s book of visionary writing, The Showings, is remarkable on multiple levels. Written about the same time as Geoffrey Chaucer was composing The Canterbury Tales, Julian has the distinction of being the first known woman to write a book in the English language (on any topic). Thankfully, her command of Middle English is lyrical and sensual, so her book flows with a graced rhythm and a decided earthy spirituality. She is considered one of the great mystics not only of medieval England, but of all time.
At first glance, Julian’s book can be challenging to 21st century readers. Conforming to the spirituality of her time, she is focused on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as the supreme saving act of divine love — but far from being coy about the trauma surrounding the cross, Julian writes about it in explicit, almost gory detail. She goes into gruesome detail not for its own sake, but always in service of her theology and spirituality, which is grounded in love: so the death of Christ has meaning because it is an expression of God’s infinite love.
Fast forward to today; here we are in Holy Week, when Christians remember the events in the final days of the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth, culminating in his horrific death on Good Friday (leading, of course, to the ultimate plot twist: the resurrection on Easter Sunday. But the gravitas of Good Friday is that no one at the time would have known that Jesus’s messy, painful death would lead to a triumph over death, “on the third day”). It has been customary for centuries for Christians to commemorate Jesus’s slow progression from his trial, where we was condemned to die, walking through the bustling streets of Jerusalem (now known as the via dolorosa, “the way of sorrows”) burdened by having to carry the very cross to which he would soon be nailed. After several falls and moments of comfort, eventually he and the soldiers tasked with executing him make their way to the hill just outside the city walls where he was crucified, culminating in his death and burial. The devotion recounting this traumatic process is known as the Stations of the Cross, so named because Catholic and catholic-friendly churches around the world contain fourteen plaques known as the “stations” each one marking another critical moment in the final hours of Jesus’s life.
Over the years, many people, including many saints, have written devotions to be prayed at the stations. Other Stations of the Cross devotionals have been created from the writings of great saints and mystics — including this beautiful devotional booklet that draws from the writings of Mother Julian: Stations of the Cross with Julian of Norwich.
Sheila Upjohn, a well-known authority on Julian, posted this video of Julian’s stations last year, and recently one of the patrons of this blog brought it to my attention. Here it is for your devotional use: