Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, and mystic. Her Feast Day was on September 17. As she is sometimes called the “singing nun,” today we’ll pray one of her songs of praise.
Doctor of the desperate, Healer of everyone broken past hope, Medicine for all wounds, Fire of love, Joy of hearts, fragrant Strength, sparkling Fountain, Protector, Penetrator, in You we contemplate how God goes looking for those who are lost and reconciles those who are at odds with Him. Break our chains!
You bring people together. You curl clouds, whirl winds, send rain on rocks, sing in creeks, and turn the lush earth green. You teach those who listen, breathing joy and wisdom into them.
We praise You for these gifts. Light-giver, Sound of joy, Wonder of being alive, Hope of every person, and our strongest Good.
Julian of Norwich (1342 – c. 1416) is one of the most beloved medieval mystics. She lived for much of her life as an anchoress (someone who lives enclosed in a cell) and wrote the first known book in English to be written by a woman. This book, the Book of Showings, teaches us about the fullness of divine love and compassion; it is based on a series of revelations or visions that the mystic received in 1373.
Julian’s words are oft quoted, and the most famous passage from the Showings is one you’ve undoubtedly heard:
All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.
We quote this passage when we need reassurance. When things are not going well. When we don’t have much hope for the future. I myself have quoted and tweeted it many times.
Today and next week, I want to explore the context of this famous passage. Reading Julian’s Showings, I found that “all shall be well” is not just one sentence, but a theme that spans some six chapters of the book. The passage has a larger context that is usually not considered.
That context is sin.
Julian utters her famed saying in a portion of the Showings in which she sorrows over sin. She realizes that sin is keeping her from close communion with God, and she wonders why God ever allowed sin to come into the world.
God reassures Julian, saying:
Sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well. (225)
There are two main things to note about this passage. First, it has an opening clause that is often omitted (“sin is necessary”). And second, we are to understand it as something that God himself said to Julian. The passage means that, despite the pain and suffering of humankind because of sin, God has promised to make things right.
In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t like the statement that “sin is necessary” and cannot pretend to fully understand it. Julian herself is troubled by this notion and persists in asking God how things can possibly be well given the destructive consequences of sin. She won’t let this issue go. For several chapters, she pesters God about it. How can it be well? How, God? And why . . . why did you allow sin to come into the world? These questions make her a kindred spirit to those of us who wrestle with tough questions. Why, God?
God doesn’t quite answer Julian’s questions. But he tells her, very tenderly, to contemplate the atonement, which is far more glorious than sin ever was harmful. And he tells her to trust him. God says to Julian:
For since I have set right the greatest of harms [original sin], then it is my will that you should know through this that I shall set right everything which is less.(228)
“All will be well” refers to nothing less than God’s grand plan of salvation – for setting right the world and the human heart. It does not mean, alas, that things will be okay tomorrow or in a particular circumstance in our life. It could be that, like Moses, we will not see with human eyes the fulfillment of God’s promise to make things “well.”
“All will be well” is not a phrase to throw around lightly. It requires a lot of faith to affirm. Look around you at the world right now. And then look at your own heart. It’s hard to believe that all will be well, isn’t it? It’s hard partly because God is keeping to his own timeline, not ours. And because he is working in ways that we cannot fathom (more on this topic next week).
As we wait on God, we work with him in the grand plan of salvation (because waiting is active, not passive). We suffer and groan. We sorrow in our sin. But we believe: in God’s time and in God’s way, every kind of thing will be well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today’s prayer is adapted from a passage in Walter Hilton’s spiritual treatise, TheScale of Perfection. Hilton (ca. 1340 – 1396) was an English Augustinian canon and mystic. Hilton is not a saint, but the Episcopal Church (USA) honors him this week, on September 28.
Lord, thou art in me and shalt never be lost out of me,
but I am not near thee till I have found thee.
Nowhere need I run to seek thee,
but within me where already thou art.
Thou art the treasure hidden within me:
draw me therefore to thee that I may find thee
and serve and possess thee forever.
A prayer from St. Gertrude the Great (1256 – ca. 1302), a German Benedictine nun, mystic, and theologian:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God,
in every need,
with all my heart
and a thirsty soul—
to reach for You,
and in You who are sweet and happy
may I find my rest.
With my whole spirit and self,
let me desire You,
for You’re the only One who holds true happiness.
In Your priceless blood, Lord of mercy, write
Your wounds in my heart.
Help me read there both Your pain and love.
May the memory of Your wounds
forever remain in my heart’s secret places,
kindling compassion in me.
Help me focus solely on You,
who are the sweetness of my heart.
We are surrounded by distractions that are more than appealing to our minds that crave a quick win and pleasure. Choosing to focus runs against, the grain and the more we give in, the harder it is to say no.
So what recourse do we have when a text message pings or a commercial calls for our attention? This compilation of studies offers some practical steps you can put to good use when you writer or pray:
Your lazy brain is happy to just react to that relentless bombardment of stimuli coming its way. But when you just react, you don’t usually make the best choices. And while you’re definitely doing something, you’re rarely achieving your goals.
That’s because when you’re reacting, you’re not in control of your life. In fact, reacting is the opposite of control. You see something fun and you chase it. You see something scary and you run away. Either way, your environment is determining your behavior.
When you need to get work done, put your phone on the other side of the room. Make distractions harder to reach.
When you have fewer things to react to or you make it harder to react to them, you’ll be less reactive.
Neuroscientists say stress takes your prefrontal cortex — the rational part of your brain — “offline.” Quite simply, stress makes you stupid. And that’s why just reacting often makes you do stupid things.
In his book Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr writes about the great surrender that must take place before we can find God and our true selves in prayer.
He is quick to note that God is already present. In fact, we cannot escape God’s presence but we can obscure it or overlook it. Our illusions about ourselves or about God can get in the way.
Therefore the great goal of every spiritual practice is to help us move past our illusions, distractions, and oversimplified answers so that we can be truly present for God.
“We have no real access to who we really are except in God. Only when we rest in God can we find the safety, the spaciousness, and the scary freedom to be who we are, all that we are, more than we are, and less than we are. Only when we live and see through God can ‘everything belong.’ All other systems exclude, expel, punish, and protect to find identity for their members in ideological perfection or some kind of ‘purity.’”
“We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness. Little do we realize that God is maintaining us in every breath we take.”
“All spiritual disciplines have one purpose: to get rid of illusions so we can be present.”
“When we look at the questions, we look for the opening to transformation. Fixing something doesn’t usually transform us. We try to change events in order to avoid changing ourselves. We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning. That is the path, the perilous dark path of true prayer.”
“When we avoid darkness, we avoid tension, spiritual creativity, and finally transformation. We avoid God, who works in the darkness—where we are not in control! Maybe that is the secret: relinquishing control.”