The Word

“All shall be well

And all shall be well

And all manner of thing

Shall be well.”

  • Julian of Norwich | 1342-1416

“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

  • Romans 8: 38-39

My friend Julian

I’ve loved Julian (which may not be hear real name!) of Norwich for the past few years. This is probably in part because when I came across her work at 23, I was tired of learning exclusively about male theologians from any time before the last 100 years. It is probably also in part because she introduced me to Christian mysticism. This seemed like the most magical of the Christian traditions and so appealed to my Harry-Potter-loving heart.

Regardless, her words sang to me.

(Me, speaking at the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering. Also the face you make @ pandemics.)

At the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston in 2018, I told the story of being immunosuppressed and going to Rwanda. What I didn’t say was that in Rwanda, when I was 23, I got typhoid fever. About six months after that, I got malaria.

I thought I was going to die.

Laying in hospital beds across the world for two weeks, Julian’s words wrapped me up.

They laid on my heart, not a trite dismissal of my suffering, but a defiant hope in the face of a situation that was MARKEDLY unwell.

“All shall be well

And all shall be well

And all manner of thing shall be well”

(my Rwandan friends, Frank and Fred, visiting me and bringing me snacks in the hospital in Kigali.)

Turns out, I didn’t know her that well.

The REAL Julian of Norwich

In a place of deep anxiety and fear this week, I came across these words again and learned more about Julian’s history.

I didn’t know that when she was a child, her town was overcome by the Black Death, killing about a third of its inhabitants from 1348-1350. I didn’t know she lived through two wars.

I didn’t know that when she was 30 she was so ill she thought she was going to die.

(Julian AND HER CAT. An icon (literally).)

This has been strangely comforting to me in the past few days.

Not the fact that she was sick or survived a pandemic or war, I am not comforted by unnecessary suffering.

I am comforted by the fact that, while it may feel like it sometimes, Julian of Norwich and other Christian Mystics did not live in a world outside time. Julian lived in times of fear and doubt and STILL. Still, her songs persist. Just like so many faithful Christian women before and after her.

Being Kept

Our songs persist, too, loved ones.

Already we have joined together online. We have sung together, prayed together, encouraged each other.

And we have been scared together.

We live in the suffering and struggle of our own time.

But our sister, Julian, has a fierce song of hope in Christ for us, still.

She saw visions of Jesus and wrote:

“If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.”

Friends, we MUST do the best we can to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe. This is holy work.

(look at these friends and colleagues safely meeting online for the health of their neighbors!)

But we know that as humans living in the world, we cannot always be kept safe.

We may feel anxiety.

We may not feel well.

Y’all, we may not BE well now.

We don’t have to pretend we are!

But in our falling an in our rising, we are kept in love.

Across the street and across the world, you are kept in love.

And nothing, NOTHING, can separate you from that. 

So now I pray that we be generous and patient and just and kind, that we breathe deeply the peace of God (she wrote to herself), and that we remember the promise in Christ we have hoped in for centuries, a promise that stands even and maybe especially when we don’t feel it:

“All shall be well.

And all shall be well.

And all manner of thing shall be well.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What things in your life have brought you peace? What songs or poems or art pieces? What spiritual passages?
  2. Who are people you look up to spiritually?
  3. Where can you offer yourself grace this week?
  4. Where have you experienced hope this week? Where have you experienced God this week?

Savanna Sullivan (she/her/hers) serves as the Program Director for ELCA Young Adult Ministries at the ELCA Churchwide Office in Chicago, IL. She was a main stage speaker at the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, TX and gives presentations about Young Adult culture and empowerment in the church to ELCA and ecumenical groups around the country . She is passionate about helping young people connect to their own spirituality and pushing the church to equip, amplify, and respect the voices of young leaders. She loves banana pudding, the Clemson tigers, and memorizing poems.