Oneing with Julian of Norwich

The fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich has taught me many things about hope, faith, and divine love. Recently she’s also taught me the value of words. I was reading Julian’s work, the Revelations of Divine Love, when I came across this sentence: “Prayer ones the soul to God.” This passage awakened my inner grammar queen. The last time I checked, “ones” wasn’t a verb.

Evidently Julian didn’t read the same grammar books that I did. Examples of oneing infuse her work, such as:

In our making God knit us and oned us to himself . . .

And the conclusion of this idea:

By the virtue of the same precious oneing, we love our Maker and seek God . . .

Julian’s oneing would not have sounded as jarring to her audience as it does to us. “To one” was a Middle English word meaning to unite or to join. But words change. If used today, oneing would constitute an egregious case of verbing — the act of turning a noun into a verb. You’ve probably seen many examples of this. Adulting is hard. Or, It’s time to introvert!

I think this is why some translators of Julian’s work don’t use her original wording: they’re concerned that she’s breaking today’s grammar rules. These translators often change the word “oned” to “united.” So, Julian’s phrase “prayer ones the soul to God” becomes “prayer unites the soul to God.”

JulianBut I much prefer Julian’s strange little verb. How much lovelier oneing is than uniting! The unfamiliarity of this word makes me pause, reread, and really grapple with its meaning. Uniting implies a joining of forces, but oneing suggests a knitting together that can never be undone, a union so seamless that you can no longer distinguish its individual parts.

Oneing implies more than intimacy. In the works of Julian of Norwich and other medieval mystics, it describes union with God himself. It encapsulates the mystery of our creation and our very being. Oneing is divine, in every sense of the word.

Not all examples of nouns-cum-verbs are as poetic as oneing. But Julian’s treatise has made me look at words differently, especially the trend of verbing. I haven’t always appreciated this trend. But thanks to Julian, I’m looking at it with new eyes. I’m ready to be surprised and disrupted, ready to see something new and possibly divine in the way we use words and break the rules. I’ve been bejulianed.

Perhaps we could all stand to be bejulianed. In an age of increasing verbiage and decreasing attention spans, we need language that disrupts; we need words that teach us about ourselves and the world instead of words that fly under our radar. In fact, it’s a thrill to discover that the English language can still trip us up. So when you see a strange word, perhaps even an example of verbing, pause, reread, think, and imagine. Above all, ask yourself this question: have I been oned with the divine today?

***

A version of this post originally appeared in the journal Upwrite.

Setting the World on Fire

April 28 – Wednesday of last week – was the Feast Day of St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th-century saint, mystic, reformer, and Doctor of the Church. I wanted to post about St. Catherine last week, but I was swimming in book edits.

On Catherine’s Feast Day, I noticed the quotations everyone was posting, especially this one: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” This is surely Catherine’s most popular saying today. We see in it an encouragement to fulfill our destiny and bring our unique spirit to the world. Very good. Except this isn’t what Catherine said. Not exactly.

The quote we know is a paraphrase from one of Catherine’s letters to a nobleman named Stefano di Corrado Maconi, one of her disciples. For a long time, she tried to persuade Stefano to enter the monastery because she saw his spiritual depth. She also needed his practical help. In a letter, she asks him to use his influence on the Sienese government to support Pope Urban VI against the antipope (Clement VII). At the end of the letter, she says,

If you are what you ought to be, you will set fire to all Italy, and not only yonder.

Setting fire to Italy is no small thing. Italy was Catherine’s and Stefano’s primary sphere of influence. But she adds the words “and not only yonder,” by which she perhaps means the larger Christian world as well.

Stefano is to light this fire by being who he “ought to be.” But not on his own. Reading Catherine’s letter, it’s clear that Stefano should be who he ought to be in Christ. He needs to be filled with the remembrance and love of God and so embrace his true identity. He is to do this in two ways. First, he needs to stop monkeying around about his faith. Catherine quotes the time Jesus warned Christians about being lukewarm:

I, Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to thee in His precious Blood: with desire to see thee arise from the lukewarmness of thy heart, lest thou be spewed from the mouth of God, hearing this rebuke, ‘Cursed are ye, the lukewarm! Would you had at least been ice-cold!’

CatherineofSienaAnd second, Catherine urges haste. Stefano seems to be dithering in his support of the Church and in what Catherine believes to be his true vocation. She writes her letter to him with an urgency that I love. I read her words as if written to us today. The time is short, she seems to say. The day draws to a close. And I —you, we—are called to step into being who we are in Christ. Don’t be lukewarm! Be on fire for Jesus! Be filled with gratitude. God needs us, so let’s get to work. Now!

Being who we are in Christ is no small thing. It is, in fact, one of our biggest tasks in life. The world needs what we, each of us uniquely, have been gifted. It needs our God-given passions. It needs our fire. It needs us to illuminate our little spheres of influence, “and not only yonder.” But to set our Italys on fire, we need first to be filled with the fire of the Spirit. We can’t do it on our own.

It was only after Catherine died that Stefano embraced his vocation and became a Carthusian monk. How about us? Will we dither? Or will we embrace our God-given fire? Why do we delay? The time is short. The world is waiting.

 

 

WEEKLY PRAYER: EVELYN UNDERHILL

Today’s prayer comes from Evelyn Underhill, a 20th-century poet, spiritual author, and theologian.

***

Give me, O Lord, I beseech you, courage to pray
for light and to endure the light here,
where I am on this world of yours,
which should reflect your beauty but which we
have spoiled and exploited.
Cast your radiance on the dark places,
those crimes and stupidities I like to ignore and gloss over.
Show up my pretensions, my poor little claims and
achievements, my childish assumptions of importance,
my mock heroism.
Take me out of the confused half-light in which I live.
Enter and irradiate every situation and every relationship.
Show me my opportunities, the raw material of love,
of sacrifice, of holiness, lying at my feet,
disguised under homely appearance
and only seen as it truly is, in your light.

 

Source

WEEKLY PRAYER: ST. THOMAS AQUINAS

Today is the Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), a Dominican friar, theologian, and Doctor of the Church. We are praying a portion of his prayer “For Ordering a Life Wisely,” which he daily recited before the image of Christ.

***

Aquinas by CrivelliO merciful God, grant that I may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and bring to perfect completion
whatever is pleasing to You
for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in good order, O my God.

Grant that I may know
what you require me to do.

Bestow upon me
the power to accomplish Your will,
as is necessary and fitting
for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You
be burdensome for me
and may I not desire anything else
besides You.

Source

 

WEEKLY PRAYER: ST. HILARY OF POITIERS

Yesterday (Jan. 13) was the Feast Day of St. Hilary of Poitiers, a 4th century bishop and Church Father. He defended the faith from the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. Our prayer today comes from his treatise, On the Trinity.

***

I am well aware, almighty God and Father, that in my life I owe you a most particular duty. It is to make my every thought and word speak of you.

In fact, you have conferred on me this gift of speech, and it can yield no greater return than to be at your service. It is for making you known as Father, the Father of the only-begotten God, and preaching this to the world that knows you not and to the heretics who refuse to believe in you.

In this matter the declaration of my intention is only of limited value. For the rest, I need to pray for the gift of your help and your mercy. As we spread our sails of trusting faith and public avowal before you, fill them with the breath of your Spirit, to drive us on as we begin this course of proclaiming your truth. We have been promised, and he who made the promise is trustworthy: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Yes, in our poverty we will pray for our needs. We will study the sayings of your prophets and apostles with unflagging attention, and knock for admittance wherever the gift of understanding is safely kept. But yours it is, Lord, to grant our petitions, to be present when we seek you and to open when we knock.

There is an inertia in our nature that makes us dull; and in our attempt to penetrate your truth we are held within the bounds of ignorance by the weakness of our minds. Yet we do comprehend divine ideas by earnest attention to your teaching and by obedience to the faith which carries us beyond mere human apprehension.

So we trust in you to inspire the beginnings of this ambitious venture, to strengthen its progress, and to call us into a partnership in the spirit with the prophets and the apostles. To that end, may we grasp precisely what they meant to say, taking each word in its real and authentic sense. For we are about to say what they already have declared as part of the mystery of revelation: that you are the eternal God, the Father of the eternal, only-begotten God; that you are one and not born from another; and that the Lord Jesus is also one, born of you from all eternity. We must not proclaim a change in truth regarding the number of gods. We must not deny that he is begotten of you who are the one God; nor must we assert that he is other than the true God, born of you who are truly God the Father.

Impart to us, then, the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it, with reverence for the doctrine and confidence in its truth. Grant that we may express what we believe. Through the prophets and apostles we know about you, the one God the Father, and the one Lord Jesus Christ. May we have the grace, in the face of heretics who deny you, to honor you as God, who is not alone, and to proclaim this as truth.

Source (translation used above is from Crossroads Initiative)

WEEKLY PRAYER: St. John of the Cross

The feast day of St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) is December 14. St. John was a Carmelite friar, mystic, and Doctor of the Church. Today’s prayer is from the Sayings of Light and Love, available in St. John’s Collected Works.

 

John of the Cross

*****

My God, you will not take away what you have given me in your only Son, Jesus Christ.
In him, you have given me all that I desire.
You will, therefore, no longer delay —
and this is my joy  —
provide that I wait for you.
So, my heart, why do you delay?
Why do you procrastinate?
From this moment on you can love your God!
Mine are the heavens,
mine is the earth and mine the peoples;
mine are the just and mine are the sinners;
mine are the angels;
mine is the mother of God —
God himself is mine, for me —
for mine is Christ
and everything is for me.
What do you ask, what do you seek, my soul?
Everything is for you and everything is yours!
Do not think of yourself as little
not pay attention to the scraps that fall from the table of your Father.
Rise on the great day and take your glory in his!
Hide yourself in it and be joyful;
everything which your heart desires shall be yours.

 

(Source for this version of St. John’s prayer)

WEEKLY PRAYER: St. Ambrose

St. Ambrose (4th c.) was bishop of Milan and one of the original Doctors of the Church. His Feast Day is this week, on December 7. Today we’re praying Ambrose’s very moving prayer of healing, which follows his sermon on the healing of the paralyzed man in Luke 5 (17-26).

*****

Thee alone I follow, Lord Jesus, Who heals my wounds. For what shall separate me from the love of God, which is in Thee? Shall tribulation, or distress, or famine? I am held fast as though by nails, and fettered by the bonds of charity.

Remove from me, O Lord Jesus, with Thy potent sword, the corruption of my sins. Secure me in the bonds of Thy love; cut away what is corrupt in me. Come quickly and make an end of my many, my hidden and secret afflictions. Open the wound lest the evil humor spread. With Thy new washing, cleanse in me all that is stained. Hear me, you earthly men, who in your sins bring forth drunken thoughts: I have found a Physician. He dwells in Heaven and distributes His healing on earth.

He alone can heal my pains Who Himself has none. He alone Who knows what is hidden, can take away the grief of my heart, the fear of my soul: Jesus Christ. Christ is grace, Christ is life, Christ is Resurrection. Amen.

(Source)

WEEKLY PRAYER: Mechthild of Magdeburg

Today’s beautiful prayer comes from Mechthild of Magdeburg (ca. 1207 – ca. 1282), a German mystic and a Beguine. She was one of the first mystics to write in German rather than Latin. Her feast day is today, November 19.

Mechthild

*****

Ah, Lord, love me passionately, love me often, and love me long.

For the more passionately you love me, the purer I shall become.

The more often you love me, the more beautiful I shall become.

The longer you love me, the holier I shall become here on earth.

(Source)

 

 

WEEKLY PRAYER: St. Clement of Rome

Today’s prayer comes from St. Clement of Rome (1st c.). He was a Pope of Rome and an early Apostolic Father. Clement’s Feast Day is coming up on November 23.

*****

We beseech thee, Master, to be our helper and protector. Save the afflicted among us; have mercy on the lowly; raise up the fallen; appear to the needy; heal the ungodly; restore the wanderers of thy people; feed the hungry; ransom our prisoners; raise up the sick; comfort the faint-hearted.

 

(Source)

 

WEEKLY PRAYER: St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880 – 1906) was a French Carmelite nun and mystic. Her Feast Day is celebrated on November 8. This week we are praying an excerpt from her Prayer to the Trinity, composed in 1906.

*****

Oh my God, Trinity Whom I adore; help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in You as still and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my Unchanging One, but may each minute carry me further into the depths of Your mystery. Give peace to my soul, make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling and Your resting place. May I never leave You there alone but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring and wholly surrendered to Your creative action.

Eternal Word, Word of my God, I want to spend my life in listening to You, to become wholly teachable that I may learn all from You. Then, through all nights, all voids, all helplessness, I want to gaze on You and always remain in Your great light. O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may not withdraw from Your radiance.

(Source)