The following reflection has been provided by Linda Coggin from Victoria BC. Linda was one of 100 people who participated in the recent virtual event with Matthew Wright, where he offered his heartful and profound insights, teaching, and practices on the theme of “Julian of Norwich…A Voice for Our Times.” For a prior post from another participant at Matthew’s retreat please see Sacred Virtual Retreat Space – Reflection by Martha Keller.
Thank you so much Linda, for sharing your experience here!
Julian of Norwich seems to be everywhere. At least, since The Contemplative Society’s online retreat in August, I have noticed this. I have noticed Julian’s presence in conversations with friends, in books I’m reading, and while listening to podcasts. Since the retreat, Julian’s teachings have woven their way into my everyday contemplative practice.
In Isaiah 37:5, the prophet reminds, “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard.” This year more than usual, it seems, I have been lost in the words I hear, in the paralyzing rhetoric of these times, and in the personal what-ifs and unless-es of the story I’m narrating about my life now.
So, when Matthew Wright began the first session with his own sense of spiritual disconnection during this time and offered that Julian of Norwich is stepping forward to teach us, I was listening.
Matthew went on to say that:
“the fear and disconnect brought on by the pandemic, the divisiveness and sense of incoherence heightened by the global political moment describe our experience, valid as it may be, but not reality, that is Reality with a capital R.”
Matthew reminded us not to mistake our experience of fear and confusion for the reality of love and trust calling to us. With this awareness, I was opened to Julian’s teaching about prayer that has urged me forward in that call to trust.
The first realization that engendered deeper trust in my practice was Julian’s teaching that the highest form of prayer is the Goodness of God. Chapter VI of Julian’s Revelation of Divine Love begins:
“This showing was made to learn our soul wisely to cleave to the Goodness of God… the Goodness of God is ever whole; and more near to us, … and that we be evermore cleaving to His Goodness. For all things that the heart may think, this pleaseth most God, and soonest speedeth [the soul].”
For me, “cleaving” has taken the physical form of holding my prayer hands open at the palms to invite awareness of that Goodness, or I imagine being surrounded by God’s Goodness like the warm wool blanket I use for praying on cooler days. In centering prayer I abide in that goodness where, as Julian says, God is the doer.
Matthew explained that Julian invites us to trust this gaze of Love that never judges us. That “meaningless incoherence” we sometimes feel is from our side and so are my what-ifs. Julian teaches that the Goodness of God keeps us in all circumstances, in “woe as well as weal.” Love is the ground that holds both. In my own experience of “woes” and “weal,” I can trust that unfolding.
I was unsure how the online retreat would compare to the other Contemplative Society Wisdom School and day retreats I have attended. I joined the “Voice for Our Times” from my contemplative corner in my basement with almost 100 other people from around the globe. Matthew intuitively created a purposeful balance between teaching and practice and, alongside the community of participants, generated a welcome that was palpable. Matthew lead from heart filled chants and centering silence that surrounded guided teaching and discussion. His leadership threaded the “Goodness of God” through the introduction of Julian of Norwich’s life and path through her teaching on prayer, the parable of Lord and Servant, and revealing understanding of the Cross.
As we began with what Matthew called “the thick veils” of incoherence, fear, and confusion that is now, in the last session he ended with Julian’s wisdom that God is at work in both weal and woe. Matthew summarized that Julian:
“is inviting us to really see and trust that what we experience in time is only the surface of reality, and that we are eternal souls unfolding eternally in God.”
Note: I am grateful to The Contemplative Society’s recordings of events that enabled me to more faithfully reflect and return to this experience.
Julian of Norwich (window in Norwich Cathedral) from Wikipedia