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I have recently been acquainting myself with Julian of Norwich.  I’ve known of her, of course--she is one of the greatest of the Medieval Christian mystics, living in England in the Fourteenth Century—but I’d never delved into her history or her writings before.  As a young man, I was partial to Meister Eckart, a German philosopher and mystic who lived nearly a hundred years before Julian, to Brother Lawrence, the author of The Practice of the Presence of God, and to the Sufi mystics Rumi and Ibn’Arabi, though it’s now been forty years or so since I’ve read any of them.

In 1373, at the age of thirty, Julian became so deathly ill that a local curate administered the last rites to her as she lay in bed.  As he did so, a young boy acting as his acolyte raised up before her a cross on which Jesus hung, crucified. She began to lose her vision, but then Jesus came alive and spoke to her in a vision, the most immediate effect of which was that she was spontaneously cured of her disease. Over the next forty-eight hours, she subsequently had fifteen more visions in which she and Christ conversed.

Eventually she described her visions and their contents in a book, Revelations of Divine Love, which is considered the first book ever written in English by a woman. It has been a classic of mystical literature ever since. It is from her writings that the phrase “all will be well” comes; at one point, when she is speaking to Christ about the terrible things happening in the world, He replies, “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

I’ve encountered this phrase many times over the years without realizing it came from Julian’s visions and writings. It’s often used in superficial ways, like saying, “Don’t worry, things will turn out OK” as a way of helping someone feel better. In Julian’s writings, though, this optimistic phrase is grounded in the absolute, unconditional love of God for all creation and in the realization that goodness exists as a seed state, a potential, within all things. It is not meant to reassure us as much as it is to awaken us to our true state and the true state of the universe, for it is this that ensures that “all will be well.”

This same sentiment is often expressed by my own non-physical or “subtle” colleagues.  I know for a fact that when one of them says to me, “It’s going to be all right,” he or she is speaking from a perception of the Light within all things, a Light that constantly exerts a pressure to unfold and manifest, even if temporarily this means causing some buried darkness to surface ahead of it. They have no doubt about the continuous activity of Light and love within the world, even if these qualities don’t always immediately appear on the surface of things.

“All will be well” was a daring thing for Julian to affirm to her contemporaries as well. Within her lifetime, the Hundred Years War between France and England was raging; there was the English Peasant Revolt; and there was war between two different Popes, one in Avignon, one in Rome, each claiming to be the rightful heir to the Throne of Peter. But most horrific of all, this was the time when the Black Death, the Plague, ravaged across the world from China to England, killing an estimated one third of the population. Depending on which plague bacillus invaded you, you could be dead in seven days, three days, or within a single day— healthy in the morning, dead by evening. If ever there were an apocalyptic century, this was it.

In the midst of this and in spite of this, Julian, recounting her visions and encounters with Christ, said clearly and strongly that God is love, we are loved, and all will be well.

It is certainly true that in the Fourteenth Century, faith was strong, perhaps much stronger—or at least differently experienced—than is true today, another time when many feel helpless in the face of large destructive, corrupt, and oppressive forces in the world. Yet, certainly according to my own inner contacts, the “All is well” affirmation is as true today as it was then for Julian and those who came to her for spiritual teaching and direction.

As I write this, the news is filled with the bombings of churches and hotels on Easter Sunday and the deaths of three hundred or more people with hundreds more injured. It is an immense tragedy, and it takes its place in a parade of news stories about killings, violence, terrorism, corruption, extreme weather, natural disasters, and on and on. It’s hard to see and hear all this and feel that “all is well, and all is well, and all manner of things are well.” If this phrase is to be a seed of strength and transformation, however, and not just a feel-good spiritual bypass, I believe we have to understand two things about it.

The first is that this idea that all is well is not a panacea for worry but an affirmation of identity and the strength that can flow from that. The reason that “all is well” is because we are loved by the Sacred. We don’t have to prove ourselves worthy of that love; being loved is our natural state. Once this sinks in, a whole new experience of self and of being in the world unfolds.

The second point comes out of this. All is well because we each have the power to be and to bring that wellness into our lives and into our world. That is, we can act from an inner reality of loving and being loved. All is well because in the sacred core of our being, we are well, and that wellness can emerge and will emerge, whatever it takes, however long it takes.  What is key here is that through what we choose and what we do, we help determine the “however long.”  We can turn “All is well” from a promise into a reality.

Julian’s voice is as pertinent and valuable today as it was six hundred plus years ago.  I’m glad to be discovering her, even if I am a late-comer to her party!