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Remembering “the Goodness of God” – Reflection by Linda Coggin

 

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.

The RECORDING OF THE JULIAN OF NORWICH event is now AVAILABLE HERE >>>

Thank you so much Linda, for sharing your experience here!

 


Julian Norwich Cathedral windowJulian 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].”

open handsFor 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.

 

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Image credits:

Julian of Norwich (window in Norwich Cathedral) from Wikipedia

Hands image by Avelino Calvar Martinez from Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Virtual Retreat Space – Reflection by Martha Keller

The following reflection has been provided by Martha Keller from Victoria BC.  Martha 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.”

The RECORDING OF THE JULIAN OF NORWICH event is now AVAILABLE HERE >>>

Thank you so much Martha, for sharing your experience, and Matthew for guiding the event so beautifully!

 


In August, with a global pandemic in full swing, I signed in to an online Zoom retreat sponsored by The Contemplative Society.  I felt a certain amount of trepidation.  It was titled, “Julian of Norwich…A Voice for Our Times”.  I knew little of the Christian mystic, Julian, and had never attended a virtual retreat.  Needless to say, I felt a little out of my depth.  One by one, others from as far away as Australia joined the Zoom gallery of attendees, some perhaps feeling apprehensive as I did.

Soon Matthew Wright, the retreat leader, appeared and filled the screen with his generous spirit of grace and good will. He welcomed us to the retreat against an image of the church in Norwich where Julian spent much of her life.  I knew he was a gifted teacher and spiritual leader and suddenly felt I was in a sacred space.  As he led our first silent meditation, doubts about a Zoom retreat began to dissolve.

Matthew Wright

But I still wondered about spending 3 days with a Christian mystic I had barely heard of.  Who was she, and why was she being lauded as “a voice for our time”?  Matthew helped us understand: Julian was a woman who lived through waves of the plague that swept through Europe in the 1300’s. As many as half the inhabitants of her own town of Norwich died.  At the age of 30, she had her own health crisis. Near death, she had a series of revelations, or “showings”, that fueled her lifelong passion to share her mystical vision and minister to the spiritual needs of others.

Julian of Norwich In mid-life, she became an anchorite, voluntarily secluding herself in an “anchorhold”, a sealed cell, attached to the local church.  She lived as an anchoress for the rest of her life, meditating, praying, writing, and giving spiritual counsel to townspeople through a window in her cell.  It was in this period of her life that she found the greatest sense of joy and freedom.  

Oh!…I was beginning to see why Julian might have something to say to us as we sheltered-in-place during our own pandemic.  Peering out from the Zoom gallery, we appeared to be in cells of our own, isolated from one another, but still connecting through a window into the retreat community of around 100 participants.

What followed were three days of Matthew’s deeply engaging teaching about Julian’s words, along with periods of silent meditation and restful Taize music.  I cannot do justice to this special time in a blog post, but here are some of the words and thoughts that offer spiritual sustenance for the days ahead: 

 

  • Essentially, Julian reset the dial from a wrathful, punitive God she had known as a child, to one of Divine Love– a love that was expansive, generous, and endless. All the “fruits of the spirit” flowed from this Source.
  • She spoke of the “falls” that we all suffer in life as “behovely”, an archaic term meaning “necessary or advantageous”.  Through the parable of the Lord and the Servant, she illustrated that faults and failure can be helpful for greater connection and spiritual deepening.
  • She counseled that life’s repeating cycle of “weal” and “woe”, joy and pain, is education for the soul, a way of learning to trust a Divine Love that is deeper than everything.  We were challenged with the question:  How would your life be different if you learned to trust the Source who called you into being?

 

Matthew reminded us that the contemplative Prayer of the Heart practice is essential for cultivating the “fruits of the spirit” — hope, faith, love, kindness, compassion, and trust. It is what allows us to work on ourselves so we can serve from within and engage with healing in the world.  As Julian wrote, “Prayer soothes the soul and shapes us for grace”.

In this retreat Matthew opened a path forward for us with a comforting and hopeful message:

 
“Julian brings us back to trust, coherence, love, and meaning in a bewildering time.”  

 

Gratitude to Matthew Wright for his exquisite blend of scholarly teaching and heart wisdom.  And gratitude to The Contemplative Society for trusting that even Zoom could create a sacred retreat space!

 

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