I’ve been spending some time lately with the writings of Julian of Norwich.
An English woman who lived in the 1300s, Sister Julian was, admittedly, as one of my colleagues says, “a little whacked.” She is, however, also the author of my favorite regular meditation and breath prayer. (The possibilities for exploring these two facts and their relationship to each other will, I am quite sure, provide hours of entertainment for some of you who know me well.)
Julian of Norwich was what we call a mystic, which, in her case meant that she lived in a very small room all by herself, totally apart from other human beings spending all her time communing with God. And, while it is true that her hat is really weird looking and could have understandably negatively impacted her social status I’m pretty sure the whole living-in-a-cell-by-herself thing was something she chose to do on purpose.
Anyway, for whatever reason, time away from other human beings somehow helped Julian commune with God in a very deep way that produced writings now treasured as spiritual classics.
So as I’ve been reading I’ve also been thinking . . . while the solitary life seemed to help Julian live in profoundly deep relationship with God, I just can’t even imagine how the spiritual practice Julian chose might work in my reality. When I think about it, in fact, the mental image of one hand clapping keeps coming to mind, an endlessly futile attempt to create some kind of sound . . . and the echoing response of silence.
I do recognize the God Julian got to know in that cell: loving, compassionate, all-encompassing. But I can’t help wondering if Julian ever felt like she suited up for a tennis match and ended up on the court hitting the ball over the net again and again, never quite able to discern a partner on the other side. I certainly do not mean to imply that God is not athletic, but rather to realize: reading Dame Julian has helped me recognize that I have a hard time hearing the voice of God without conversation partners.
Personal disappointment in the hard realization that I am probably not a classic Christian mystic aside, I think I’d count myself among the group of us that needs a little feedback from fellow travelers to even recognize what might seem to the mystical among us a glaringly obvious word from God.
It’s highly possible that this fact puts me in a special needs category when it comes to spiritual depth, reflection and process, but I have to say: if I’m going to get out there on the tennis court I most certainly will need to see a sweat-banded partner on the other side ready to try to hit back over the net whatever strange revelations about God I happen to be batting around at the moment.
In other words, when I reach my hand out in tentative, hopeful possibility that I might come to know this God who certainly though mysteriously gives my life meaning, I hope very much to feel the warmth of another hand meeting mine in what seemed before to be yawning, empty space . . . so that together our hands might make some coherent sound to describe this God we’re coming to know.
Just a little sound to break the silence . . . hand meeting hand . . . just a little whisper to help me listen harder for what I believe so deeply will someday sound like very loud applause.