Tag Archives: Julian of Norwich

Apprehending Rightly

A Sermon for 1 October 2017 – World Communion Sunday


A reading from Exodus 17:1-7.  The journey through the wilderness continues.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded.  They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.  The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.”  Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you test the LORD?”  But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”  So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people?  They are almost ready to stone me.”  The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.  I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb.  Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.”  Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.  He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?””

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!


In England in the Fourteenth Century, there lived an amazing mystic of the church.  She resided in the county of Norfolk on the North Sea, just a hundred miles north-east of London in Norwich, which once was the second largest and second most important city of England.  There, Julian had retired from the world into a small cell adjacent to the Church of St. Julian of Norwich.  It’s believed, Julian had been trained by nearby Benedictine sisters and might just be remembered after the saint of the church so that the original name of this incredible woman may be lost to us.  Presumably from a wealthy family, some believe she took to the cell as an anchoress after she lost her family to the plague.  (Richard Rohr Meditation:  Julian of Norwich, Part 1, 1 October 2017 and en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_of_Norwich).  It was somewhere around the middle of her life, after she herself nearly died at the age of 30.

Some mystics experience revelations from God throughout their lives.  But it was not so with Julian.  It was just once in her life, during an intense, near-death illness; that the Spirit of Christ communed with her in sixteen separate visions.  When Julian miraculous recovered from her illness, she spent the next forty-some years of her life trying to make sense of the visions she had received on her deathbed.  Her book Revelations on Divine Love captures the visions, and her later writings explore the meaning of what was revealed to her.  Supposedly, her first book was the first text written in English to be authored by a woman.  She did some amazing work as an anchoress in the little cell attached to the church in Norwich.  Not only was her writing about the full love of God ahead of her time, but the wisdom she also gave as an anchoress sustained the lives of those who would come seeking counsel from her.  Something like a modern-day Spiritual Director, male anchorites and female anchoresses dutifully took to cells attached to sanctuaries.  In exchange for the church providing for their physical needs, they made themselves available in their little adjacent cells whenever a wayward soul knocked on the cell’s window.

Julian counselled many well.  I’ve always loved her charge that “the fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.  For God is the ground, the substance, the teaching, the teacher, the purpose, and the reward for which every soul labors” (from Meditations with Julian of Norwich).  Somewhere she also wrote:  “if there is anywhere on earth a lover of God 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” (source unknown).  In another source she wrote:  “the greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of God’s love” (source unknown).  And this week, I heard more deep wisdom from this our amazing sister of the faith.  “God doesn’t want you to sin,” Julian explained “because God wants you to see yourself as God sees you” (as quoted by Richard Rohr on The Enneagram:  Discerning the Spirits, 2004 recording).  God doesn’t want us to sin, because God wants us to see ourselves as God sees us.  What a beautiful way to remind us that the Divine dwells in us all always.  Because, after all, God dwells in everything.  It’s just that when we sin, when we do those things that separate us from who God would have us be; we make it harder for ourselves and others to apprehend the Divine in us.  Like a cataract that darkens our vision, our sins mar the ability to see the Divine Spark in us.  The Heavenly Breath within.  The Fullness of Love living in our souls.

I wish the Israelites in the wilderness would have had the benefit of Julian’s insight.  Things are getting pretty rough out there in the desert.  Last week in our lectionary reading we heard the people complaining for food.  This week, things turn sour again as thirst rears its ugly head.  Grumbles intensify so that the text records:  “the people quarreled with Moses” (Ex. 17:2).  They demand he give them water to quench their parched thirst.  As if Moses is some magnificent magician, they once again come after him shouting:  “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst!?!” (Ex. 17:3).  . . .  It is so obvious that God sees in them something they cannot.  That God wants for them something they cannot imagine for themselves.  Though God already has been sustaining them all throughout the wilderness, though a pillar of cloud has been guiding them and a column of fire led them through the darkness of that vast, immense desert; the people of God fail to apprehend the Divine in all things – even in themselves.  If the story were before us on the big screen, at this point the music would pierce our hearts with sadness.  O the tragedy of our inability to see God with us every step!

I can imagine that trekking for years through the harsh conditions of a desert would make the most faithful among us wonder.  Is God among us, or not?  . . .  Isn’t that what we wonder when we get the breaking news about a senseless shooting among a church on the other side of town?  Isn’t that the question that seeps into our souls when we see the destruction from Harvey and Irma and Maria too?  Isn’t that the fear that rises when we look at empty pews, which once where filled with children and teens and parents who were eager to raise their families in the faith?  Has God abandoned us?  Was the LORD ever with us in the first place?  . . .  “Apprehend God in all things” another great mystic of the church once wrote.  “Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.  Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God” (Meister Eckhart).  . . . Part of the problem in the wilderness – in the Israelites and in us – is that we fail to apprehend rightly.  If we think God is somewhere out there – outside of it all and all we have to do is wait for some mighty one to valiantly come to our rescue, then we’re confusing faith with fairytales.  We don’t understand the Crucified and Risen One.  . . .  God is in all things which means we are never apart from God.  Even when we mar the image of God in ourselves so badly that we and others end up having a very hard time seeing; God remains with us, in us, and beyond us too.  I have a feeling it takes something like wilderness to notice.  Because most of us live as if we don’t really need anything outside of our capable minds and able bodies and our persistent efforts.  We fool ourselves into believing we can handle it all so that the only way left for us to learn the truth of it all is wilderness.  The desert, where at last we finally might see.  The paradigm of faith is, as Julian says:  that in falling we rise again and in each step we remain loved.  In the falling and in the rising again we still are precious to God.  If we can apprehend God in that – in both – we’re on the right path . . . It won’t be long until our parched places flow with abundant, life-giving water.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

“What a Wonder!”

A Sermon for 18 October 2015

A reading from Job 38:1-33, 40:1-5. I’ll be reading this poetic piece of Scripture from the version of the bible called The Message. It’s helpful to remember that earlier in the story, Job has lost everything. He’s beginning to ask why – and as the text indicates, Job’s not just wondering, but actually accusing or blaming God for the state of suffering he’s in. At long last, God speaks. Listen for God’s word to us.

“And now, finally, God answered Job from the eye of a violent storm. And God said: “Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers. Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me, since you know so much! Who decided on its size? Certainly you’ll know that! Who came up with the blueprints and measurements? How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone, while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise? And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb? That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds, and tucked it in safely at night. Then I made a playpen for it, a strong playpen so it couldn’t run loose, and said, ‘Stay here, this is your place. Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’ And have you ever ordered Morning, ‘Get up!’ Told Dawn, ‘Get to work!’ so you could seize Earth like a blanket and shake out the wicked like cockroaches? As the sun brings everything to light, brings out all the colors and shapes, the cover of darkness is snatched from the wicked – they’re caught in the very act! Have you ever gotten to the true bottom of things, explored the labyrinthine caves of deep ocean? Do you know the first thing about death? Do you have one clue regarding death’s dark mysteries? And do you have any idea how large this earth is? Speak up if you have even the beginning of an answer. Do you know where Light comes from and where Darkness lives so you can take them by the hand and lead them home when they get lost? Why, of course you know that. You’ve known them all your life, grown up in the same neighborhood with them! Have you ever traveled to where snow is made, seen the vault where hail is stockpiled, the arsenals of hail and snow that I keep in readiness for times of trouble and battle and war? Can you find your way to where lightning is launched, or to the place from which the wind blows? Who do you suppose carves canyons for the downpours of rain, and charts the route of thunderstorms that bring water to unvisited fields, deserts no one ever lays eyes on, drenching the useless wastelands so they’re carpeted with wildflowers and grass? And who do you think is the father of rain and dew, the mother of ice and frost? You don’t for a minute imagine these marvels of weather just happen, do you? Can you catch the eye of the beautiful Pleiades sisters, or distract Orion from his hunt? Can you get Venus to look your way, or get the Great Bear and her cubs to come out and play? Do you know the first thing about the sky’s constellations and how they affect things on Earth?” . . . God then confronted Job directly: “Now what do you have to say for yourself? Are you going to haul me, the Mighty One, into court and press charges?” Job answered: “I’m speechless, in awe – words fail me. I should never have opened my mouth! I’ve talked too much, way too much. I’m ready to (be quiet) and listen.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

A reading from Psalm 104:1-13, 24, 33-34, 35 c. I again will be reading this beautiful poetry of the Psalms from the version of the bible called The Message. Listen for God’s word to us.

“O my soul, bless God! God, my God, how great you are! Beautifully, gloriously robed, dressed up in sunshine, and all heaven stretched out for your tent. You built your palace on the ocean deeps, made a chariot out of clouds and took off on wind-wings. You commandeered winds as messengers, appointed fire and flame as ambassadors. You set earth on a firm foundation so that nothing can shake it, ever. You blanketed earth with ocean, covered the mountains with deep waters; then you roared and the water ran away – your thunder-crash put it to flight. Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out in the places you assigned them. You set boundaries between earth and sea; never again will earth be flooded. You started the springs and rivers, sent them flowing among the hills. All the wild animals now drink their fill, wild donkeys quench their thirst. Along the riverbanks the birds build nests, ravens make their voices heard. You water the mountains from your heavenly cisterns; earth is supplied with plenty of water. . . . What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations. . . . Oh, let me sing to God all my life long, sing hymns to my God as long as I live! Oh, let my song please God; I’m so pleased to be singing to God. . . . O my soul, bless God!”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Well, we had a wonderful time at NaCoMe. I think it’s safe to use the past tense, as I’m pretty sure everyone’s packed up and making the trek back home by now. I left after closing worship there this morning in order to be back here with ya’ll. And how is it possible it wouldn’t have been a great time? I mean, if you’re up for staying overnight away from home, you get to spend the weekend with wonderful people of this congregation in a whole different setting than the sanctuary. It’s fun to just sit back in the rockers on the cabin’s porch to catch up with each other. To swop stories and laugh and just enjoy unhurried time together, which we don’t get enough of in our lives these days. You get to know each other on a whole other level at NaCoMe.

And what a setting! If you’ve ever been to NaCoMe, then you know. It’s far off the beaten path. You drive about 60 miles out of the city, go around the round-about in Centerville, then drive another 15 or so miles into nowhere. Take a right onto a narrow road, then down the hill and around the bend through a canopy of trees that seems to rake the stress from your shoulders as you pass under their branches. Ah. You can breathe in fresh air – frigid air the two nights we were there this weekend – but we managed to stay warm, around a big old bonfire last night. It’s just the beginning of the time for the leaves to change their colors for fall, so the setting is extra beautiful. With a little creek running right down the middle of camp. A labyrinth path of stones for contemplating God in your life. And trails through the woods where you can wander in the quiet for hours. You park your car and don’t have to move it again until you have to get in to come on back to the frenetic pace of the real world. It’s a marvelous setting during the day! And then the nights! The nights put it all into perspective. It’s dark, dark out there in those woods. Last year the electricity went out one night so that the artificial lights all were off. As long as the clouds cooperate, there’s nothing to get in the way of seeing the light of a zillion stars popping out of the pitch-black darkness of night in the country. The text from Job talks about the Pleiades sisters and Orion. Venus peeking your way and the Great Bear and her cubs coming out to play (Job 38:31-32). NaCoMe at night is an amazing spot for gazing at the constellations of the sky. Realizing, even if we’re not necessarily comfortable with it in our own lives, our earth turns us outward into the unknown once every twenty-four hours. NaCoMe’s a perfect place to ponder our most magnificent Creator. The One who lives in it all – this glorious world – and miraculously chooses to turn special attention to us.

Now, I realize it’s not entirely fair to paint a picture of NaCoMe for you. After all, most all of you are ones who didn’t get to go – either by choice or by circumstance. You’ve missed the beauty of being steeped in NaCoMe’s natural world this weekend. The bliss of being surrounded by the healing powers of our mother earth. But don’t worry! We don’t have to travel out into the middle of nowhere to commune in God’s incredible creation. The Psalmist reminds us – not just here in chapter 104 – but also in chapter 24 where it reads: “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Ps. 24:1). We live IN God’s world – we live in this earth – in this amazing cosmos. Every day. Not just on special occasions at NaCoMe or some other beautiful natural setting. But each day of our everyday lives.

I’ll never forget the time I lived in a second floor apartment overlooking a dreary parking lot with a dumpster-view from my balcony. It was depressing – and smelly every now and again.   To make matters worse, an overgrown pine tree was alongside my corner apartment. The sun didn’t have a chance to peek through the few windows the apartment did have! I was all alone in a city I didn’t like, for a job that wasn’t great, in a gloomy apartment that never did feel quite like home. All might have been lost if I hadn’t gotten my first bird feeder. I still don’t remember what possessed me to try to feed birds from a depressing second story apartment but I do remember hours of comfort from the little feathered-friends that arrived. I was told by a sister that my birds were just common sparrows. Why bother feeding them? They don’t have the beautiful colors of gold finches or the interesting habits of wood peckers. I took comfort in the fact that Jesus had something to say about common little birds, though the saying never made much sense before my balcony birdfeeder attracted tons of the everyday little creatures. “Look at the birds of the air;” Jesus insisted. “They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). It didn’t take some far away setting out in the woods to come to appreciate our amazing Creator – right there in that dreary little apartment overlooking the concrete jungle of that parking lot, the beauty of God’s world came to me. The reminder that even without my feeble feeding efforts, those little birds were provided with every last thing they needed to live. The wonder of our incredible Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer was the song those common little birds sang. . . . Be it in a flower pushing up through a sidewalk crack, a streak of pink in the setting sun, or just one blade of grass that makes its own unique path into the sky, all of it proclaims our Life-giving Creator. Whether we have eyes to see it and minds to appreciate it or not; all of it sings of God’s goodness.

Julian of Norwich, a Fourteenth Century mystic who once experienced a deep revelation of God’s love then spent the rest of her life coming to terms with the marvelous showing. Julian is quoted as writing that “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything” (from Meditations with Julian of Norwich). I pondered that a bit yesterday at NaCoMe’s upper lake. The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. In you and me and everyone. And in the changing trees, and rippling water, and white tailed deer all over NaCoMe too. The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. . . . Isn’t that what the Psalmist proclaims – right alongside the voice attributed to God in Job? . . . What happens to us – in our souls – when we sit and watch even the simplest, most common bird? What can happen as we gaze out into the dark night to see first one, then two, then ten and twenty and one hundred of the most awe-inspiring stars? When we listen to the crashing waves of the ocean, or maybe just the flowing babble of the creek out back. What if we let the gentle breeze tickle our cheeks and the sunlight warm our faces? Consider the vast variety of animals, not to mention all the bugs and birds and fish swimming in water throughout this earth. Just to be in it – whether it be sitting a spell out in the courtyard between the two buildings, in whatever you call your backyard, or somewhere special like NaCoMe – just to be in God’s grand creation, knowing we’re a part of it too. Don’t you feel a little spark of joy begin inside? A bit of peace spreading in your soul? To behold God in it all – to know God through it all, isn’t that a true gift?

I urge us all to take a moment this afternoon. Even just five minutes of this day to behold God’s beautiful world. To see God through it all. . . . Ah what a wonder! What joy we each can know by this amazing world in which we live. . . . The earth is full of God’s wonderful creations. Our whole lives long, let us bless the LORD. Let us give all thanks and praise unto God!

In the name of the Life-giving Father, the Life-redeeming Son, and the Life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)