Simone Martini, Museo Horne, Florence
© Editrice Giusti de Becocci S.R.L., Italy

 HE Anglican Bishop in Florence, the Right Reverend Eric Devenport, asked for two Advent talks on Julian. A problem - for there is one Advent talk in Julian's text, Julian on the Nativity /Annunciation , Julian on Prayer , Julian on God as Mother , and Julian, in the Long Text, on the Parable of the Lord and the Servant. But her central vision belongs to Lent, to the death of the old into the birth of the new, centred upon her gaze upon the Crucifix while she lies dying. So we surrealistically collapse time, in Julian's manner, and these talks are given, one on Advent and Beginning, one on Lent and Ending, together in Advent.


John of the Cross, the Carmelite mystic and friend of St Teresa of Avila, said : Let us, in a time of Quaker silence, contemplate upon God's Word to become flesh and dwell amongst us. In the Greek it is that he lives in us, in our bodies as tents.

Mary, Luke tells us, pondered on all these things in her heart, contemplating upon them as prayer. Julian, in her calling as a hermit, as an anchoress, imitates Mary, pondering on Christ, in silence, in prayer. To understand Julian we need first to understand her model Mary. Therefore let us begin by first understanding Mary's life of prayer.

The Jewish mother begins the Sabbath with the prayer at the lighting of the lamps, for us candles. Let us do so with these Advent Lights. We begin this week with lighting one candle out of the garland of four, next week with two out of the four. I was once taught how to say the Hebrew Blessing of the Sabbath Lights but do not remember the pronunciation. Forgive me. The blessing is filled with words like baruch, bless; ethah , thou; God's name which is too sacred to speak, but which is written twice with the smallest letter of our alphabet, those consonants being given the vowels instead of a different word which means Lord, adonah, and therefore written as if pronounced jahovah; elohinu , our God; melek , king; haolim, universe; asher, who has; kideshanu , hallowed us, made us holy, sanctified us; bemizothaii , by the commandments; wizoanu, and who commanded us; ner shel shebat, to light these sabbath lights.

This is Mary hallowing God's name, in her Magnificat singing 'And holy is Thy name ,' having already said ' Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it unto me according to Thy will ', to be answered by Jesus in his prayer for us to God, 'Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed by Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven', as well as his Beatitudes having taken up her Magnificat. For she would teach her Son to pray. He could have learned how the Mother begins God's Sabbath through the Blessing of the Lamps, how the Father next blesses the Sabbath's wine and bread, fruit of the vine and work of human hands, and the wondering, wandering, lost and found, child himself would have begun the Passover by asking the question, 'Why is this night special above all nights?'. That was probably what the child Jesus was asking of the learned Doctors in the Temple at the Passover when he was all of twelve years old. But it is his Word within her who taught them all to pray.

In Luke's Gospel we hear the words of songs about the birth of the Word: Mary's pregnancy, from the Annunciation to the Nativity, is filled with these songs of joy, four beautiful Canticles: I. Mary going to Elizabeth, who is likewise pregnant, and there singing her Magnificat, which we still sing at Evensong, at Vespers; II. Then the birth of John to Elizabeth and Zachariah, giving us Zachariah's joyous Benedictus, which we still sing at Morning Prayer, at Lauds; III. Then the Canticle the shepherds will hear the Angels sing, when the child Jesus will be born, word that are in the Gloria at Communion; IV. Then, that newborn child will be taken to the Temple and dying Simeon will sing his Canticle ' Now let thy servant depart in peace . . . .', which we sing also at Evensong, at Compline. I know that my Vocation began consciously when I was six at my Anglican convent school, where Sister Veronica, a very tall, virginal and scholarly lady, had us act Luke's Gospel. I was to be Elizabeth greeting Mary. I had to learn to say 'Blessed art Thou amongst women and Blessed is the fruit of Thy womb !' I had to learn how to pronounce the words for I could then barely read; 'women' and 'womb' particularly puzzled me. It took me many more years to grow into the meanings of those sacred words, into the vocations of mother and nun.

For a moment let us go back to the beginning of the beginning. In the beginning, in Genesis, in the Hebrew Scriptures, God creates the World with his Word, and he then creates Adam in his own image, both Adam and Eve in his own image creates he them. Then there is a new beginning, at the beginning of the Greek Testament in the Gospels, where we have the Annunciation, where that Word of God becomes our Flesh, in our image, which is his image. For a moment, think of all the great paintings and sculpture of the Annunciation we know. There is the lovely one by Simone Martini, where a Byzantine Angel Gabriel descends in a shimmer of gold, from whom Mary draws back in terror - an image of the Annunciation centuries later Dante Gabriel Rossetti will again paint. There is the exquisite Fra Angelico which he paints over and over again, sometimes with Adam and Eve leaving the garden beyond the cloister, and in which the model for Eve is the same as that for Mary, EVA /AVE, and that of Adam the same as Christ. At Computer Design in Florence, where I process the images for this Juliansite, they have blown up the fresco and you can see every detail. The Angel Gabriel's robes are filled with God's messages, God's words, written in what looks like a strange mixture of Hebrew and Arabic letters of gold. And there is the Donatello relief at Santa Croce where Mary is a young boyish adolescent whose hand still holds her book of prayer. And almost my favourite is Antonello da Messina's, the one without the Angel, just Mary painted as a Sicilian Muslim girl garbed in deep blue at prayer, looking up, one hand raised in surprise and foreshortened, the other still marking her place in her Office Book upon her lectern where she may have just said the words of Nocturns, ' Lord, open thou my lips, And my mouth shall show forth thy praise '.

Yet another is the icon Father Nathanael, an Orthodox monk painted for me, of Julian as Benedictine in her white and black against shimmering gold, and where he gave her the face of the Madonna in the Fra Angelico/Fra Lippo Lippi gazing upon her Child while the three Mages, the three Kings, come too to worship him. We gaze upon the icon of Julian gazing upon the Madonna gazing upon the Christ Child, each mirroring all the others.

In so gazing upon the Madonna, we become the Angel, announcing to her the Good News, the Gospel, God's Word, - for we are God's Word. We have burst in upon a sacred place.

Are we cleansed sufficiently to be here? That is the purpose of Advent, a time of cleansing, of preparation. If you are about to have a child, you cleanse things in readiness for this new and most beautiful beginning, not wanting to mar it with disease. I was the Angelus Sister in my Community of the Holy Family . A strange Sister, for I have mothered three sons. One Advent morning as I was ringing the Chapel bell the three times three peals, then nine (one rings two and the momentum of the bell brings on the third) and saying ' The Angel Gabriel declared unto Mary and she conceived by the Holy Ghost ' ' Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee, Blessed art Thou amongst Women and Blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb, Jesus', ' And the Word became Flesh and dwelt amonst us ', when suddenly I realised, for all my sons were born at Christmastide, exactly at what stage of her pregnancy the Virgin was at that week in Advent. It was as if I was pregnant with God. Think of Advent, even if you are a man, as a time when you have God's Word curled within you, waiting for birth. If you are a woman you are the Theotokos, the 'God-Bearer', and if a man the 'Christopher', the 'Christ-Bearer'. He became our flesh. The Word becomes flesh and dwells amongst us, in us, especially now. Emmanuel means ' God with us ', ' God is here ', ' God in us '.

The first Advent, the first Christmas, is two thousand years ago. Julian is much closer to us. She lived in an anchorhold in St Julian's Church, in Norwich, in England, in the fourteenth century. We do not know really who she was, not even her proper name, her name of Julian likely coming from the patron saint of hospitality to which her church had been dedicated. That church was destroyed by a World War II bomb and is not authentically rebuilt. Her anchorhold long ago, being made of wattle and daub rather than stone, had vanished. All that we know about 'Julian' is that she wrote a book of theology called the Showings, the Revelations, the Westminster Manuscript perhaps in 1368 when she was 25; having her vision of the Crucifix when she was thought to be dying, May 13, 1373; then, at thirty; rewriting and expanding her Showing of Love vision as it is in the Paris, Sloane and Stowe Manuscripts in 1393, when she was fifty; then a final and much shorter version in the Amherst Manuscript in 1413 when she was seventy and when Archbishop Arundel was forbidding the Scriptures to be discussed in the English language by the laity. In the last version she writes with both great anxiety and with great courage. God's Word is so important that she risks death at the stake by being burnt as a Lollard. She writes in love to all of us, her 'even-Christians'.

We know, also, that four people left money in their Wills to her, to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich who lived and prayed in the Anchorhold at St Julian's Church. And that a troubled Margery Kempe visited her before 1413, recording their conversation together into her own book, The Book of Margery Kempe. Because St Julian's anchorhold and church were under the Benedictine Prioress of Carrow, which in turn was under the Benedictine Prior of Norwich Cathedral, we can assume that Julian, whoever she may have been, had been either a Benedictine nun or a lay-sister before becoming an anchoress. Her text shows that she knows Gregory 's life of Benedict for she quotes from it. And her Showing of Love, written and rewritten during a span of forty-five years carries out that counsel of Benedict's Rule, which begins 'Listen,' that the monk, the nun, must listen like Mary to the Word of God and ponder upon it in their heart.

Now we have entered Julian's anchorhold and discovered her at prayer. For Julian becomes like the Virgin in Prayer, where she is found by the Angel announcing to her the birth of the Word, her Showings, the Word which is to be born. And her prayer in the Westminster Manuscript begins with the same word as the Lord's Prayer, 'Our', here Our gracious and good Lord' , in the manuscript the letter { O being beautifully decorated in reds and blues. This is not Julian's prayer alone, she shares it; it is ours, too, for we are her 'even-cristens', her fellow Christians, her equals and the equals with God's Son, fellow heirs with Christ. The one who is just born is our brother; he is both ' courteous and homely '. We are one family. He even called himself ' Son of Man', which in Hebrew is ' Ben-Adam', son of Everyman, one of us, our own child. He made our families into his Holy Family .

Westminster Cathedral Manuscript, Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love

Julian uses the same glorious paradox, the same concept, as does Dante in the Commedia. Dante in Paradiso sees the celestial Rose, Santa Maria del Fiore, and has Bernard say these lines:

Julian surrealistically combines the Nativity and the Annunciation , giving us Advent. Julian begins by contemplating herself into the Virgin contemplating her newborn Son, then surrealistically going backwards in time to his conception, the Annunciation. To finding God in us. Indeed, in theological contemplation, one enters into God's eternity, his ' endlessness', from ' before beginning', as Julian has it in her English words rather than our Latin that we now use, and there time and space and size no longer have meaning, all is, in a simultaneity of being. One can go backwards and forwards, be everywhere and yet at the centre. Later she says she sees God in a point . We enter into God and God enters into us. Her text itself plays surrealistic games likewise with time and space and size, crisscrossing threads like a cobweb back and forth upon itself, sharing God's vision of the centre. In early Christian and medieval theology God sees all as it happens, all being eternally present to him, as global hypertext condensed into the Word, Julian reminding us that his name in Hebrew means 'I it am ', 'I am'. God does not predetermine an action before it will happen. With him there is no future, no past. He is there as we choose an act. He gives us freedom. He gives us himself. He gives us all.

Now as the baby Jesus was beginning to grow into a child his mother surely played games with him. I have seen Jewish families at the Temple's Western Wall on the Sabbath, the men carefully separated from the women, dancing for joy to God, like David. It's not called the Wailing Wall in Hebrew at all. We probably know the Italian game of ' Cucu, cucu, sette! ' It's English version perhaps is 'Close your eyes and hold out your hand '. Could you each become the child Jesus while the Bishop and I become Joseph and perhaps Elizabeth. This is almost Christmas and we can play games. After all, Augustine 's conversion to Christianity came with his hearing a children's game being sung, 'Tolle, lege, tolle, lege '. All close your eyes and hold out your hands.

Della Robbia, Cantoria, formerly in Duomo, Florence, now in Museo dell'Opera di Duomo, see Alinari

What we have given you, Julian says, this hazel nut we have placed in your palm, is all that is made, everything. Yet it is almost nothing. It is almost 'nought' . Instead we must 'one ' ourselves not to it, but to its Creator. Julian plays games of noughts and crosses, noughts and ones, like computers with God. And he loves it, this 'nocciolino' which is all that is made. And he loves us. He loves and will protect all that he has made. In the Hebrew alphabet, upon which our own is based, each letter also means a thing and a number. God creates Creation, in number, weight and measure, with the Word, which contains all. Yet it is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, our i or j, yod, which begins God's name. Hebrew and Israel centre on God in littleness, not greatness, on the son beginning the Passover, the child Samuel in the Temple, the boy David among his father's flocks of sheep composing the most beautiful Psalms which we still pray, and the mother the Sabbath, with Hannah and Mary celebrating not grand people, but the downtrodden. That smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, the letter for i or j, yod means 'hand , which is small but most capable, another letter, kaph, meaning the palm of the hand. That smallest letter yod begins God's name, and Jesus' and Jerusalem's and Julian's. Julian first has it be our hand which holds the hazel nut, then God's hands which nurture us as do a mother's rather than a father's, Julian's hands and Jesus'.

Julian is playing games with us. Medieval paintings of God show him with the frail glass orb of the entire cosmos like a ball to be played with in the palm of his hand. Medieval kings and modern queens, too, hold the orb of the cosmos, with the cross of Jerusalem at its top. But Julian has it be her own humble hand that holds all that is, she being like God, and Kings and Queens, and now we, like her, can come to see how small, yet how loved, his Creation is, his Kingdom of the entire Universe. Gregory writing on Benedict said, 'quia animae videnti Creatoram angusta est omnis creatura', and Julian translated this into her Middle English, ' For a soul that seth the Maker of all thyng, all that is made semyth fulle lytylle '. Julian becomes like God, playing games with scale, defying dimension and convention. This is Blake's ' Heaven in a grain of sand'. It is us as we hold a new-born child.

Psalm 119 says ' Thy hands have made and fashioned me'. Psalm 139 speaks of how wonderfully we are made and knit together in our mothers' wombs. Our genetic codes, our atomic chart of elements, the beautiful Fibonnacci curves of our bodies, of sea shells, of leaves, the computer programmes within our nerve cells, the ways human hands and brains evolved and refined each other in tandem, are all God's alphabet creating us. The psalms are saying we must remember, thank and praise the Creator, rather than centre upon ourselves, our restlessness, our emptiness, our misery. Our life is of noughting and oneing, noughting ourselves of things, oneing ourselves in God. Prayer is that oneing to God.

Julian, because she lives in prayer, can teach about prayer. In a sense, prayers are 'Heavenwindows' , bits of the kingdom of heaven come down upon the earth; they are the part of us that mirror-reflect God's image, and that can join the angel choirs. Popes, bishops, priests, monks, nuns and lay people still pray the Jewish psalms and prayers Jesus and his mother knew. Julian's life as an anchoress was absolutely centred upon these prayers, foremost upon the Eucharist, which she could only receive fifteen times a year but which she could adore daily through the window from her cell giving onto the altar at St Julian's Church, and forever upon the Psalms of David, the Canticles of Luke, and the silent pondering in one's heart of all these things of God. Prayers can be prayed together aloud in church or alone in silence at home, in joy or in sorrow, even when scrubbing floors or washing kitchen pots and pans, like Brother Lawrence. The best prayers, Julian says, are those you pray when you despair of God hearing you, for those He treasures the most. Those prayers of despair, and Brother Lawrence's prayers, went into scrubbing the pietra serena and terra cotta of St Mark's English Church's Flood-begrimed floors in Florence. Nor, Julian says, should you ask for things, instead give thanks that he has lent you your life and this world, he has given you your hands, your eyes, your ears, your feet, he has given you everything, the scale of a herring, the smallness of a hazelnut, the rain upon thatched eaves, the outline of a cobweb in the dew. (The last one is added, all the others are in Julian.) Ask nothing from him, except, Julian says, ask for it all and give it all, for only that is enough. Here is her prayer, beside which someone in the Westminster Cathedral Manuscript has written in the manuscript 'Oratio ', Prayer.

Julian speaks of Jesus as Mother. Julian, like Dante , speaks of the Trinity of God as Truth, Wisdom and Love, Truth being the Father, Wisdom the Holy Spirit, Love the Son. But Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures, related to the 'Ruah', the Spirit which broods upon the waters in Genesis, is also God as a woman. In Hebrew, too, a name for God is 'El Shaddai', the one with nurturing breasts. Julian next, using the Athanasian Creed and sounding very much like her Italian sister mystic Angela of Foligno , speaks of the God-Man. And she turns Jesus not only into God as Son, clothed in our flesh, shaped in our image. He becomes also our loving Mother. However, Julian is not the first Jewish or Christian theologian to use this concept. Rabbi David Kimhi had spoken of God as begetting us and Julian's patron, the Norwich Benedictine Adam Easton owned his works and himself taught Hebrew at Oxford. Jesus as our mother is hinted at in Luke and in Paul. Jesus himself uses the homely and kind image of himself as a mother hen, versus the magnificent, glorious one in the Hebrew Scriptures of God as the soaring swooping eagle. Anselm of Canterbury and Aelred of Rievaulx also used the concept, Aelred telling his sister, an anchoress, even to think of the crucified Christ's breasts giving her milk. (I was not allowed to receive Communion at first, because I am an Anglican, when I would go to Mass at the Comunità dei figli di Dio 'Community of God's Family' in Settignano. Then after Mass I would be given a bowl of warm milk or sometimes an apple or sometimes three biscuits and these would turn, for me, into the Virgin's milk, or into Eva/Ave's apple, or into Christ's flesh, born in the 'house of Bread', which is what 'Bethlehem' means in Hebrew/English, and it is was though I had received Communion. Now the Cardinal Archbishop of Florence has granted me permission and so it is all these elements, flesh and blood, bread and wine, apples and milk, that become my morning.) When Julian, as a woman, speaks of Jesus as our Mother the idea becomes especially intensely alive.

More. When Julian's text came to be published in the seventeenth century she was spoken of not as the Lady Julian but as Mother Julian. Quietly one realizes Julian's theology allows herself to stand in Jesus' place, to be in his image, and likewise she allows us this Imitation of Christ, for women as well as men, in whose image we are created. Dante had done a similar thing in the Commedia. At its ending we see God holding the Book of the Cosmos he has created, and he seems, Dante says, 'as if painted in our image'. We mirror him in holding Dante's book, Dante's cosmos of Hell, Purgatory, Heaven. We therefore mirror God. And we mirror God's Mother at prayer, with her book held in her hand, at the coming of the Word. Later a French woman rewrote Dante's text and in her manuscripts Christine de Pizan shows herself creating her book, like God creating his Creation. If we hold a hazel nut or a book or a child in our hands we too become like God as Creator, as Author, as Mother. As well, Julian fills her text with references to hands. Sometimes, even, later readers have drawn pointing hands in the margins at important and moving points in the texts. Jesus as a child would have said each night the line from the Psalm, 'Into thy hands , O Lord, I commit my soul'. He says it upon the cross. We are in God's hands. They can, Julian says, too, be the tender and busy hands of a Mother .

It may help if we join Mother Julian andMother Teresa . Mother Teresa can say things that I dare not utter. Nor did even Julian dare say such words so openly. Let me give you three paragraphs from Mother Teresa's Heart of Joy and you will hear Julian's subtle suggestions in bold words:

We know that just before 1413 a very troubled woman named Margery who lived in nearby Lynn came to Julian seeking help for her soul. She was one of those whom Mother Teresa describes as being ' hungry for God'. Margery had had fourteen children and had gone mad following each childbirth. This can happen medically with the changing of hormones in the woman's body and is dangerous for both mother and child. Julian counselled Margery gently for many days, telling her to treasure her body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, telling her that God dwells in each of us, that he is nearer to us than our own soul, that her visions are of the Holy Spirit if they tend to charity, the love of God and one's neighbour, if they do not they are evil. Margery then trudged off to Compostela, to Rome, to Jerusalem and came home to write a book about it. When she was going to Bethelehem she had a vision of herself as the handmaid of the handmaid of God, in which she helps carry Our Lady's pitifully little baggage on the journey. But Margery was illiterate. So first she dictated her account to her daughter-in-law, a German woman, then to a priest. A manuscript survives, copied out by a Carthusian monk of Mount Grace Priory in Yorkshire, of The Book of Margery Kempe. It's a massive, fascinating and somewhat mad book. Quite unlike Julian's enclosed serenity. But in it Margery tells of being able later to heal another woman who likewise had gone mad following childbirth. Julian helped Margery become the wounded healer. Julian tells us, as well as Margery, that God is in our soul, and we are also in him, all knit together in an endless knot of love. She helps us heal each other and ourselves. What Julian says about being a servant is very much like what Mother Teresa of Calcutta says. Julian speaks of her 'service in her youth to God'. Perhaps she is speaking of herself as having been a lay-sister at Carrow who then became too ill to stay there. Perhaps she is speaking of the writing of the earlier Westminster Manuscript version of the Showing of Love. She also tells a most wonderful Parable of a Lord and a Servant. It is as good as anything in the Gospels. This may sound blasphemous since the Parables in the Gospels are God's Word, reported by the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But even great mystic theologians, like don Divo Barsotti of the Comunità dei figli di Dio (Community of God's Family) in Florence, and doctrinal theologians, like Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) of the Vatican, say that Julian has written revealed theology which can perhaps surpass the dogmatic theology taught in university faculties.

Julian sees herself as servant. Mary is God's handmaiden, Jesus himself is the 'Suffering Servant' of Isaiah. (Joshua's and Isaiah's name in Hebrew are almost the same as that of Jesus.) In Julian's Parable of the Lord and the Servant she describes the Lord sitting in the Wilderness garbed in blue, like the High Priest Aaron and discussed in the letter the Cardinal Jerome wrote to the Roman Lady Fabiola, and like the Virgin Mary in her blue garb at the Ascension and Pentecost. While the Servant, standing before him and who is dressed shabbily in a dirty, ragged, white kirtle, then runs forth to do his Lord's will, but suddenly falls into a deep ditch, a slade, and cannot rise up again, or even turn to see his beloved Lord. Julian tells us he represents Adam, who is all of us, but that he is also Christ, also all of us, and who rises again from the deep slade and comes to sit at the Lord's right hand as his Son and Heir, being garbed now in rainbow hues. Recently, there has been a splendid exhibition of Flemish Miniatures, from a hundred years later than Julian's text, yet as if illustrating her Lord and Servant Parable in their depictions of the Trinity, where God the Father and God the Son are in each other's image, the Dove between them, and where sometimes they crown the blue-clad Virgin. For God also rewards us who are servants, as sons and as daughters, with joy and merriment, like the Prodigal Father to his Son.

Long ago I found a poem. It's a rather grim one. It's English, about the Nativity. By a poet named John Short. About whom I know less than I do about Julian of Norwich. It shares her mysticism.

Perhaps we could end with a prayer for the world's children, who include even adults, even ourselves. For a new programme in America, based on an Anglican priest's invention of Alcoholics Anonymous there, speaks of being 'in recovery', from alcohol, from drugs, from all the dis-ease, the dysfunctioning, the illness, the sickness unto death, of the soul. Mother Teresa spoke of the suffering, of being 'hungry for God', that afflicts us. The Twelve Steps Programme speaks especially of the need to find one's child within oneself, to nourish that child and to allow its presence, not to starve it, not to punish it, but to heal it and to allow its birth. You can only love God and your neighbour as much as you love yourself. Those who are abused abuse others in turn. That child is your soul, is God within you, awaiting his Advent birth, though he may be crucified. He is nourished by Mary's prayers of praise and thanksgiving. I'd like to ask, though perhaps, according to Julian, I should not, that we pray for my three sons and seven grandchildren, amongst the world's children, that we pray for the street children in Bogotà, in Calcutta, in Palermo, in Salford, that we pray too for those who are the victims of a paradoxical poverty, of wealth lacking in love, for I have seen and taught millionaires' children who go about without adequate clothing or food, in the midst of fumes of cigarettes and liquor, children who are noughted, rather than oned, and I pray especially for mothers struggling to raise children without their fathers, that the poverty and anger may not blight them irreparably, for Mary was almost divorced by Joseph.

Above all that we pray for your own most sacred child, who is your soul in God's image, as we prepare for the birth of God amongst us as a small and most helpless child, the Word unable to speak a word, though capable of tears and howls, smiles and laughter, yawns and hiccoughs, and in whose babbling linguists tell us every sound known in every language is said. If we hallow the name of God, as did Julian in prayer, we ourselves become hallowed, we find our Child and he is fed with God. If you go to Bethlehem as a pilgrim, in the cave there after Mass you may be allowed to kiss the Christ Child held in the priest's arms. Bethlehem in Hebrew means 'House of Bread '. There was born in David's house of bread, in a poor stable and laid in a manger, a tiny child, the Adam/Christ, the Suffering Servant, the bread, the flesh, that nourishes all our souls. At this moment we are within that cave, within that anchorhold, in Nazareth at the Annunciation, in Bethlehem at that birth, in one moment all those nine months, and simultaneously here in the Bishop's Florentine salone, two millennia after, in nurturing prayer. We can now end our beginning with the sacred Hebrew word Mary and Jesus would have said that means 'Yes, It is said, It is done, It is true', Amen .Amen . Amen.

N Simone Martini's diptych, opened for prayer and for contemplation, we can see the new-born Christ in his Mother's nurturing arms. Mirror them.

Simone Martini, Madonna and Pietà Museo Horne, Florence.
© Editrice Giusti de Becocci S.R.L., Italy.

E also see the dead Christ as mourned by his Mother. But when this booklet and diptych are closed, Death and Birth are oned, Omega becomes Alpha, Time is turned into Eternity, Endings are Beginnings again.


 N the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Let us begin this time with the Crucifixion, rather than the Annunciation, with the ending and dying rather than the beginning and birth. At Taizé they say every Friday is a Good Friday. The day God dies. Thus every Saturday, today, is also the day when the Disciples, who include the Holy Women, believe that Christ is laid in the tomb, not knowing that he has risen up and descended into Hell, finding there his brothers and sisters, Adam and Eve, Abel and Rachel, and countless others, who are ourselves, in his image, bringing them forth into Heaven. ' { Our Father who art in Heaven.' ' Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother' (Mark 3.34-35).

At Taizé the Iron Curtain pilgrims brought a ritual to Brother Roger in which the Crucifix is placed upon the floor in the centre of the church, all the pilgrims mourning him, while candles are lit. At Taizé the Cross they use is a Byzantine one, an Eastern one. I have chosen for us instead one I painted in my darkest hours, when my Bishop said I could no longer be a Novice, after four years in my white veil, and that the Community, where I had gone to school, and to which I had always yearned to return, was terminated. The Crucifix is the one which spoke to St Francis , saying 'Repair my Church, for it is all in ruins', a Western one, but still like those in the East. It contains on its left hand side, Mary and John mourning at the Cross at the Crucifixion, then on its right hand side, the Women and Joseph of Arimathea taking that prone body to its Tomb, while above we see the Risen Christ, past, present, future in God's simultaneity of without beginning, endlessly present.

Crucifix which spoke to Francis, St Damian's                            Detail, Julia's Crucifix
Detail, Julia's Crucifix

But that Friday night, that Sabbath Eve, Mary would have returned home, grieving over her dead Son, not knowing of the Resurrection. What must have gone through her troubled mind as she prayed over the Lighting of the Sabbath Lights? The Jewish mother begins the Sabbath with the prayer at the lighting of the lamps, for us, candles. Let us do so with these Advent Lights, now beginning the second week of the four before Christ's birth, and lighting now two of these four candles. Let their light fall upon Christ's dead body on the Cross, in the Tomb. I have seen candles like these flickering in the cave at Bethlehem and in the cave in Jerusalem, at his birth, at his death. The blessing, which I repeat so that we may learn it as did the child Jesus from his Mother, is filled with words like baruch , bless, ethah, thou, God's name which is too sacred to speak, but which is written twice with the smallest letter of our alphabet, those letters being given the vowels instead of a different word which means Lord, adonah , and therefore written as if pronounced jahovah, elohinu, our God, melek, king, haolim, universe, asher , who has, kideshanu , hallowed us, made us holy, sanctified us, bemizothaii, by the commandments, wizoanu, and who commanded us, ner shel shebat, to light these sabbath lights

Here as we place these lit candles by the prone body on the cross it is as if they light up a corpse laid in a tomb. This is how each Friday is grieved at Taize. Yet Mary had hallowed God's name, in her Magnificat having sung out ' And holy is Thy name.' She had said ' Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it unto me according to Thy will ', answered by Jesus in his prayer for us to God, ' Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven ', as well his Beatitudes having taken up her Magnificat. That prayer is uttered by him again on Gethsemani. And even upon the Cross, his last words are those a Jewish child prays each night as his last prayer, ' Into thy hands I commend my spirit'. The word for spirit in Hebrew is ruah, and in Genesis it had brooded upon the waters. It is of the beginning and the ending. Mary had taught her Son - who is the Word creating the World - to pray. And to pray continuously. To light and hallow such candles now, at such a moment, is supreme prayer. This is daily bread our inner child and God may give each day to each other.

Julian tells us to image ourselves as Mary, and as Mary Magdalen, to be at the birth, and at the death, of the one who is Alpha and Omega, to contemplate upon all these things, pondering on them in our hearts, also. Last time we heard about beginnings, this time about endings - which become beginnings again. Pagan Alcmeon, Aristotle's physician, said that 'Man dies because he cannot join the end to the beginning'. One of our audience members last time spoke of the alphabet, alpha as its beginning, omega as its ending, God spoken of as joining both, being both alpha and omega, ending and beginning.

Omega in Greek is the large O, the great O, the mega O, another o being the little one, the microscopic one, omicron . In the end of the Greek alphabet we vanish into that great O, as into the grave, as into a black hole. In Hebrew the first letter is aleph , meaning ox, the second beth, meaning house, but the last instead of omega, is tau, meaning sign. In Exodus and Ezechiel those who are saved are marked by that sign, that last letter, which in its Greek form has the shape of the cross. A Hebrew home to this day has the Passover tau on the door, inside of which is the scroll the Rabbi has blessed, saying 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself', and which is kissed when it is seen, upon entering and leaving the house. It is our baptismal sign upon our brows of the Passover Tau, Christ's Cross, our death into eternal life.

Julian in her dying in her Showing of Love - though she lives to tell us the tale, though, like Jesus our Mother, she is with us at the Resurrection Morn, as well as becoming a dead Cordelia restored to life in her grieving father's arms - Julian in her Showing of Love, lives through our dying, becoming not so much 'Mother Julian', as she is for us St Francis' beloved 'Sister Death'. Like Christ, she takes upon herself, gazing upon the Crucifix the while, our dying. And we feel the same relief in that act, that participation, as we do when reading, and as I have had when teaching, Count Leo Tolstoy's 'Death of Ivan Ilych'. She fixedly gazes, while all think her dying, upon the Tau of the Cross, the last letter Tau of the Hebrew alphabet, that last great O of death of the Greek alphabet, only to find it again becomes the first and second, that we are brought from and through death, back into life, back to birth in Bethlehem, the house of bread. Give us this day, each day of our lives, this daily bread, born to us in the house of bread, in this House of Brede.

We spoke last time of the letter meaning hand as being the smallest one, yod, the letter that begins God's name and Julian's. Often God is shown just by his hand. We recall those hands of Adam and God in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco, that pregnant space between them, or of David in Michelangelo's youthful sculpture, where the hand mirrors as well Michelangelo's own, made abnormally strong through the hewing of stone. We are made and fashioned by God's hands, our own hands mirroring his, for we are all made in his image and we mirror him in our creating. Christ, and we, commit our spirit, our souls, into those creating and caring hands at our birthing and our begining, at our dying and our ending. Look at the hands of the Mother, the Child, and the dead Christ in Simone Martini's diptych. In the second they reach beyond the frame - and they are engraved with our name.

Zed , Omega, Tau are the letters of death and life. Into them we empty ourselves that we may be reborn, as if into a baptismal font. Which can, like ours in St Mark's English Church, be marked and signed by the flood waters of the Red Sea and the Arno River. In Nazareth I saw an ancient Christian baptismal pool in St Joseph's Church, which is shaped as a pit into which one descends down seven steps, at its bottom stepping over a black threshold of death into the new living waters, then reascends and is reborn. Another font I love is in Sussex, near the one where I was baptised with the name of a woman saint who was crucified on Corsica, which has a circle of interlacing circles about it, which I have embroidered in gold upon blue green and green upon chasubles for priests, binding upon them the name of God, phylacteries of love.

Design for a Chasuble, Given to St Mark's English Church, Florence, Embroidered in Gold Thread on Green Watered Silk Waiting for Buses in Poverty in the Cathedral Piazza in Fiesole.

Our lives are under threat. They are especially under threat if we do not acknowledge their death. We are loaned the breath of God, the Spirit of God, howling the air into our lungs for the first time at birth, then returning it to God at our ending. How well have we used that loan? Have we squandered it on ourselves? Have we failed to value the gift to us of our hands, our eyes, our voices, our kindness? Or have we treasured that gift that we may give it in turn as a treasure that augments God's Kingdom? Have we inscribed and bound God's holy, healing name upon our brow and upon all whom we meet? Have we truly loved God and our neighbour as ourselves as he commanded us?

In New Mexico the Penitentes lived over a hundred years without the sacraments of the church lacking any priest, but carried on their religious practices amongst their laity by forming medieval burial societies and celebrating Christmas as the Pastores seeking the Christ Child in all the homes, and at Easter carrying great crosses, one of the number himself being chosen to hang upon the cross. In Florence we have the Misericordia , a medieval burial society. It is a confraternity dedicated to St Sebastian, patron saint of the Plague, for its origins go back seven hundred and fifty years. St Sebastian, and before him the pagan god Apollo, were patrons of plague, seen as being afflicted through arrow darts. St Sebastian in becoming the victim and target of arrow shots, takes the plague upon himself, instead of others, being a surrogate Christ, a pharmakos, for our healing. Today the Misericordia mans, and now also 'womans', the ambulances at the Duomo. Whether in the Middle Ages or today the members of the Misericordia choose to carry out this act of mercy, choose to be with the ill and suffering, and especially with those who are dying. For we need to care for both the new-born and for the dying in this world. In so doing paradoxically we nurture and heal our own soul, our own child, becoming in our friendship with the hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, imprisoned and dying, the true Friends of God , oned with him not just in contemplative prayer but also in active charity.

On May 13, 1373, Julian and all about her had thought she was dying. She had already received the Last Rites. She was only thirty years old. The priest came but could no longer give her again the Sacrament. Instead he brought with him a boy carrying the Crucifix which was held up before her so she could gaze upon God, upon Jesus' dying while herself dying. Then her Showing of Love, her Visions, began. She seemed to see the figure of Jesus on the Cross bleed and bleed so copiously she thought that all her bed would be filled with his blood. She saw garlands upon garlands of blood fall from his garland of thorns, like pellets, like rain drops from thatched roof eaves, like the scales of a herring. She saw his flesh torn and drying, like the flesh of a Lollard dragged through the streets by horses, then as if it had been hanged upon the gallows in the cold bitter winds for days upon end, so dried and dessicated had it become, like a cloth hanging out and tattered in the wind or like a board become tawny from exposure to the elements. In fear, while sleeping, she thought, too, that the devil came at her throat and that he had red hair and sidelocks on his cheeks and freckles like a baked, mottled roof tile and all about him was an evil smell of burning. But when she awoke from the nightmare and asked the others 'Is the house all on fire here ?' they told her they had smelled nothing.

In another place she sees a Showing where she is on the deep sea bed, with rocks and dingles about her covered with wrack and gravel. The scholars think that because she used the word ' dingle' she must be from Yorkshire, though in Norwich. They haven't noticed that Julian is giving us the Book of Jonah and Psalm 139, where Jonah on the deep sea bed recalls Psalm 139.

Jonah says to God,

The Psalm he prays is this: Julian here and in many other places in the Showing of Love is using a knowledge of the Hebrew of the Hebrew Scriptures, perhaps gained through a likely patron and Hebrew scholar, Cardinal Adam Easton , and who was as well a fellow Norwich Benedictine. Psalm 139 is an especially lovely Psalm, - and especially right for anyone in the depths of despair. While the Book of Jonah is deepened for Christians since Christ, and after him, the Trappist mystic, Thomas Merton, take up that 'sign of Jonah' for themselves. John Donne wrote a poem once called 'Good Friday, Riding Westwards '. That's the sign of Jonah, suddenly realising one is going in the wrong direction, towards wealth, power, lust, selfishness, self-centredness and secrecy, when everything has become turned inside out and the wrong way round and is totally twisted, when really one should change and be a pilgrim in utter simplicity to God and his Temple, - who is everyone, everywhere, not made with human hands, but God's.

But all of a sudden Julian's pain and her illness left her and the figure of Christ that had suffered so much was filled instead with merriment and joy, bidding her too rejoice. Then the Parable of the Lord and the Servant came to her - where the Servant, rushing out to do his Lord's will and to deck his meat, suddenly falls into a ditch, a slade, and cannot climb back out nor turn to look upon his Lord, but only wallow in despair where he is. Julian speaks too of seeing a dead person, the flesh all stinking swilge, become formless, on the ground, out of which suddenly glides a fair child, the soul, who slides swiftly up into heaven. In all this Julian is playing with the Hebrew meanings of Adam, as earth, as slime, as red, as Everyman.

While preparing for this talk what suddenly came to me, instead of the Bible, was Shakespeare. Shakespeare's King Lear. Shakespeare in King Lear deliberately creates a pre-Christian play, a play set in the mists of the pagan past of the British Isles. A time before the birth of the Christ Child. Remember last time we spoke about the child within each one of us, the child which can be neglected and malnourished, paradoxically especially by power, wealth, and lust, being without wholesome food and love, and who in its need brings to us our unhappiness and disease. King Lear listens to the two older sisters, Regan and Goneril, whose lies seem truths, but who really are speaking only for themselves, out of power, wealth and lust. He is angered when his true child, Cordelia, his heart, his soul, speaks the truth, considering her truthfulness to be impiety and folly, and he banishes her. Do you remember the line in the Book of Jonah, that Jonah utters in the hell of the whale's belly, ' They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy '? Even when Cordelia valiantly rescues Lear it is disastrous, the two in prison together. When Lear is freed and enters on stage carrying the dead body of his child Cordelia and telling us he ' hanged the slave that was a hanging thee ', on one level of the play text Lear is speaking of his own self-murder. He is that slave who murdered his own soul. The aged father carrying his dead daughter, turns inside out the Mother holding the body of her dead Son. We need to listen to our soul within us, our Cordelia, our Christ within, our conscience, before it becomes too late to do so. If Lear dies with any sense of redemption it is only because in his mind, in a fiction he creates because reality is too horrible, he has restored his murdered and truthful child back to life. Shakespeare, in King Lear, creates England's Advent, the time of preparing for the birth of the child, for the rebirth of Cordelia. Nahum Tate rewrote the play, bringing the dead Cordelia back to life to marry the virtuous Edgar, who bears the name of a great and early English and Christian king. Shakespeare had written his play to make us rewrite it. We need to make pagan fiction Christian truth. Let us cherish the child, the image of God, who sits in the city of our soul , as Julian told Margery , and tells us.

Langland in Piers Plowman,says that 'Truth sits in our heart in a chain of charity'. Our lives are lent to us by God. In my Community one elderly Sister was forgetting things, even the meanings of words like Lent and Vespers, despite her great intelligence and the many years of her Profession. It disturbed her that there was no jam for tea. ' Why is there no jam? ' ' It is Lent ', we explained. ' Well, if it is lent, can't we borrow it back again ', she brightly asked. In Lent we can remember about our lives being lent to us, and therefore prepare our souls for the time when all is redeemed, at Easter, at Doomsday. Shall we fall short, our Child being miserably stunted from being forgotten? Or shall we have augmented the capital within our soul, having allowed God's love, God's charity, God's truth, to nurture, through our hands in mirroring his, our neighbours as ourselves.

Julian tells us that Jesus is like our mother, only he loves us more. He even loves those who crucify him and forgives them. And those crucified beside him who ask his forgiveness he invites to his heavenly banquet. He invites us to his heavenly banquet, of simple flesh and blood, of blessed bread and wine, of nurturing milk and healing oil, if we can love our God-imaging enough, whom his hands have made in his and our mirroring image, to ask his forgiveness. Julian is remembering the lines in Isaiah 49.15-16:

On the last page of the Amherst Manuscript containing Julian's Short Text of the Showing of Love is a drawing of a Mother and Child. In art only Christ may have a cross in his halo. Here it is the Mother whose halo is so cross-nimbed, and when one looks closely one sees that that cross is made of the Crucifixion's nails driven into her head. While the Child has no halo at all. A Brigittine nun who owned the manuscript has drawn this strange sketch. Her headdress was of the five wounds upon a white crown over a black veil, a headress designed six centuries ago by St Birgitta and still worn today. The Manuscript's owner has drawn Isaiah's and Julian's image of God, of Jesus as our Mother, ourselves as their beloved Child.


Recall, too, that we are, like the hazel nut , the nail head, in the palms of God's hands, mirrored also in our own. We need to hallow all in God's name, for we share it, even death. At our deaths we may commend our breath, spirit, our soul, as did Jesus on the Cross, into God's hands. For we are always within God, and God is always within us. Julian's mystical theology, her wisdom of God, is beyond space, time or dimension. Yet it lies so closely at hand. It lies, though being all that is made, just like a child in your arms, just as a loved book is held, like a comfortable and homelyhazel nut , in the palm of your hand.

Westminster Cathedral Manuscript , Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love: 'and in this he shewed me a lytil thyng the quantite of a hasyl nott. lyeng in the pawme of my hand as it had semed. and it was as rownde as eny ball. I loked ther upon with the eye of my understondyng. and I thought what may this be. and it was answered generally thus. It is all that is made . . . .'

MMANUEL. ~ .~ .~ . ~ . ~


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