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  • Writer's pictureJill Ball


Let's start with some definitions of the word 'mystic'.

Mystic - someone who attempts to be united with God through prayer

Cambridge Advanced Learners' Dictionary

Mystic - a person who tries to communicate directly with God or other forces controlling the universe Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary

Mystic - a person who spends their life developing their spirit and communicating with God or god Oxford Wordpower Dictionary

Don't all Christians communicate directly with God through prayer?

Are we all mystics?

Modern Mystics

I have no interest in communicating with a god, but only with the Almighty God,

Our Father in Heaven.

As Christians, we are aware of principalities and powers, both angelic and demonic, but we are warned against the demonic and worship of angels. Christ Jesus defeated the devil and all his minions at the cross, so we don't need to fear them.

We turn from evil. We turn to God. We long for Him. We seek His face.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with god? Psalm 42 v 1-2 (NIV)

To be immersed in God's love, to be acutely aware of His presence, to hear His words of grace and mercy, to even see Him is to worship Him and to transcend this mortal life. If you find yourself transported in your Spirit and glimpse something of heaven during worship, I suggest you are, by definition, a mystic.

However the bible doesn't teach that we will lose our identities in heaven or in mystical experiences, becoming one with a cosmic reality, as salt melts into the sea. That sounds like a Buddhist or alternative ideology. It has given mysticism a bad name and many Christians are understandably suspicious of New Age manifestations of it.

If you have seen a vision, had a dream from heaven, experienced the presence of the Lord while appreciating nature or sacred music, had a revelation of the truth while reading the bible, heard His soft whisper, you are a Christian mystic, whatever you denomination background is.

However if you have never experienced the supernatural, and yet you still have faith in Christ Jesus, I admire you. Jesus said to doubting Thomas:

Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. John 20 v 29 (NIV)

Read more about hearing The Voice of God

In the East of England, in the fourteenth century, many people would go to a woman who had been bricked up in a stone room next to a church, for advice, comfort and prayer. She was a mystic and the first woman to write a book in English that we know about.

She still speaks to us today.

Julian of Norwich.

Julian became an anchoress, which does seem a little extreme to modern ears.

Let's look at her story, which should help us to understand her more.

Then we will consider some of her teachings from her book Revelations of Divine Love,

which I have found insightful and helpful.

Julian of Norwich

Her Story

Julian was a common name for girls in England in the fourteenth century, although she may have adopted it when she became an anchoress. She was born in the 1340's in East Anglia and lived in Norwich, which was the second largest city in Britain. It would still seem like a town to us today, but it was thriving until 1349 when the Black Death arrived. Archaeologists, working in East Anglia, have suggested that in some areas 45 % of inhabitants died of the plague. Julian was a child.

Julian probably married young and had children, but infant mortality was high. It was likely that she lost at least one child. Judging from her sensitive writing about the relationship between a mother and her baby, I believe she was a mother herself.

At the age of thirty she became seriously ill. People expected her to die. Her mother and sister visited her (although no other relatives are mentioned) and a priest came to give her the Last Rites. He was carrying a small crucifix on a stick.

As she looked at the crucifix, she went blind and numb. Then she had fifteen visions or revelations, which she called shewings. She had visions of the crucifixion, Jesus bleeding, Mary, heaven and revelations about God, sin, mercy and love.

She herself had expected to die. When people face death, their perspective of life often changes. Julian decided to dedicate the rest of her days in this life to preparing for the next one.

The symbolism of the consecration of an anchoress was of burial. The priest would recite the office of the dead and the anchoress would then be considered dead to the world.

She spent at least fifteen years looking for understanding of the sixteen revelations and what they meant. She wrote about this in Revelations of Divine Love.

As her cell was build next to Saint Julian's church, Norwich, the community would come to her to ask advice and for prayer.

One woman who visited her wrote about it was Margaret of Kempe. She was a controversial figure, partly because she had a tendency to weep loudly in public. Margaret visited Julian because she was known for the gift of discernment between good and evil spirits.

Margaret stayed several days, discussing spiritual things with Julian of Norwich, who said, 'The more despite, shame and reproof you have in this world, the greater is your merit in the sight of God,' and that tears were a sign of God working in her soul. Julian encouraged Margaret to continue what she was doing and be obedient to the will of God.

Julian was in her seventies.

We are not sure when Julian died, but we know of four small legacies that were given for the maid, who helped an anchoress with the practicalities of life. The last of these was in 1416 and Julian of Norwich would have been in her seventies.

Her Writing

Julian understood God as both a mother as well as a father,

and saw much of Jesus' ministry to be like the work of a mother.

As verily God is our Father, so verily God is our mother
The high Might of the Trinity is our Father, and the deep Wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, and the great Love of the Trinity is our Lord.

She said of Jesus:

He is our Mother, Brother and Saviour.

She describes how a mother gives birth in pain, as Jesus died in pain to give us life.

A mother feeds her baby from her body, and Jesus said, 'Eat of my flesh.'

A child flees to their mother and she protects them.

A mother's love stays constant, but as a child grows it is shown in different ways.

A good mother shows love, tenderness, comfort, discipline and wisdom.

The mother may suffer the child to fall sometimes, and to be hurt in diverse manners for its own profit, but she may never suffer that any manner of peril come to the child, for love.
And though our earthly mother may suffer her child to perish, our heavenly mother, Jesus, may not suffer His children to perish.

The kindly, loving Mother that witteth and knoweth the need of her child, she keepeth it full tenderly, as the nature and condition of motherhood will. and as it waxeth in age, she changeth her working, but not her love.

There are hints of the love of God being like a mother in the bible, although Jesus called Him, Father. We are made in His image, both male and female, implying that there is a feminine side to God.

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. Genesis 5 v 1-2 (NIV)
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem. Isaiah 66 v 13 (NIV)

In many societies fathers are distant and unapproachable. Their children often see God the Father as a distant figure. If an earthly father has been abusive, healing is needed before the person can embrace God as their father. Perhaps thinking of God as a parent, or even a mother, could help.

Julian's teaching can sound like simply optimism, if quoted out of context.

All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.

The context is not merely the loss she saw around her and probably suffered, or the fact she nearly died, but it is sin, hell and purgatory. While not believing in the latter, it is clear that she was aware of the consequences of sin in this life and the next.

When she states that all will be well, which she does several times in her book, it is in reaction to suffering, sin or hell and it is a statement of faith in Christ Jesus, not wishful, wishy-washy thinking that somehow everything will turn out OK.

That is why I chose this song about Julian of Norwich.

In the last chapter of Revelations of Divine Love, Julian says:

And from that time that I was shewed I desired oftentimes to learn what was our Lord's meaning. And fifteen years after, and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, saying thus:
Wouldst thou learn the Lord's meaning in this thing?
Learn it well. It was love.
Who shewed it thee? Love
What shewed it thee? Love
Wherefore shewed it thee? Love

This has the ring of truth about it.

The world is fascinated by the supernatural. It often looks to occult practices or to false religions. The truth is that when we talk to God, when we worship Him in Spirit and Truth, when we hear his still, small voice, we are mystics and we are touching the supernatural, the divine.

(All of the translations from Middle English are by Grace Warnock.

The only word I've changed is ghostly to spiritual.)

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Next week - Martyrs

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