This is a revelation of love, given in sixteen visions by Jesus Christ, our eternal happiness. How could anyone not fall in love with a book which starts with these words? I certainly did, as a very new novice, when I decided to take Julian of Norwich away with me for a few days of prayer. And right from the beginning I was hooked.
Exactly 638 years ago, on 8th May 1373 Julian received sixteen visions, or revelations, completely centred on the tender, abundant, merciful love of God, and on the delight he takes in us. Were somebody to do a word survey of all the revelations, I'm sure that God, love, mercy, delight, goodness and joy would top the league - they certainly seem to spring out at me every time I open my book! Not only does the book begin with love, but ends by telling us that love was his meaning - and that Julian was shown this by Love, because of love.
Julian is best known for telling us that all will be well... but she's about a good deal more than just that quote. At the other end of the spectrum, people have written books and articles about her spirituality, images of God - especially God's motherliness - her theology of salvation and so much more. Me, I'm in the middle: I dip into Julian when I feel the need, either for myself or someone I'm accompanying, and I generally enjoy her, and come away enriched and challenged by what I have read. And so today, on Julian's "anniversary", I'm re-reading the tenth revelation: the one that had me really riveted when I first read it on that prayer weekend just over 16 years ago, and has somehow stayed with me ever since.
With his face full of happiness our Lord looked at his wounded side and gazed at it in joy. I followed his glance, and he led my mind on from this wound, into his side. There he revealed a lovely and delightful place, spacious enough for everyone who is going to be saved to rest in peace and love.
Wow, I thought, that first time - just wow. Here was a new layer to my understanding of the Heart of Jesus: open not only because it is pierced, but in welcome and acceptance. Wow indeed.
And then more wows. In this sweet sight he revealed his blessed heart, sundered in two... and said very happily: 'See how I loved you... See what delight and happiness your salvation gives me. And rejoice with me because of my love.'
I have read this revelation countless times, but today something struck me as if for the first time: Jesus led Julian on from his wound, into his side. His wound - the ugly, painful legacy of his suffering and death - was not what Jesus focused on. He went beyond it. For Jesus his wound was not the end, but an entrance - into his Heart, source of love and life. When he gazes at his wounded side with joy, it is because he is gazing beyond his suffering, into a lovely and delightful place, where everyone can and does rest in peace and love. I also like to think that a large part of his joy is precisely because he is gazing lovingly at all those who have found their resting place in him.
Like any other Religious of the Sacred Heart I continue to learn that the journey into the open Heart of Jesus is a journey into my own woundedness and vulnerability. Like everyone else, I have my wounds, the residual scars from painful experiences, losses and memories. An important part of the journey has been learning that, however much healing can take place, these wounds, these scars, will be with me always; they are part of who I am, indelible, just like physical scars. What matters is what I do with them: whether I allow them to continually haunt me with their pain and ugliness, or whether I can transform them into something good and positive. Today's message was a reinforcement of that and a new invitation, to be led on from my wounds, into... whatever life lies beyond...
Julian ends her account of this vision by saying Our Lord showed us this to make us glad and cheerful. And yes, in a quiet sort of way, that's exactly how I feel!