IVP - Strangely Dim - Julian of Norwich

March 17, 2009

Julian of Norwich

Who better to launch our celebration of women's history than the endearing Christian mystic Julian of Norwich? Likewise Books had the audacity to claim her as one of our own when we launched our website. Here's what you'll find posted there about Julian; be sure to check out the other like-minded ancestors there too, in the incomplete catalog called "We Too Are Likewise."  


The hermit of Norwich was first spotted by a group of anchorite enthusiasts and a tailor peddling soft linens. Her face is said to have appeared suddenly in the window of a modest hut. As no one in the observing party knew the recluse (and as none wanted to sound foolish), they referred to her as Julian--the name of a nearby parish. Julian, they reported, was enjoying a view of an effigy portraying a slender, effeminate-looking saint.

Scholars speculate that perhaps Julian's admiration for this statue and other diminuitive items inspired the first of her sixteen ecstatic visions:

In this vision he also showed me a little thing, the size of a hazel-nut in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. . . . I wondered how it could last, for it was so small I thought it might suddenly disappear. . . . We need to know the littleness of all created beings and to set at nothing everything that is made in order to love and possess God who is unmade.

Still others claim that the saintly presence outside her window explains her habit of referring to Jesus as "our Very Mother, Jesus."

Julian's birth mother was known among Norwich locals to be "troubled" on account of Julian's strange behavior as a child. It seems the little girl had a way of disappearing.* Years later, though, Julian's mother found relief in a particular passage of her daughter's book Showings. Reading the small book for the first time, this mother was met with an unforeseeable degree of coolness**:

We know that our mothers only bring us into the world to suffer and die, but our true mother, Jesus, he who is all love, bears us into joy!

And then:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.


For more on Julian of Norwich see Bernard McGinn, ed., The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (New York: Modern Library, 2006), pp. 240-42.

*While a mode of disappearance is common in children, there are always a select number of babes that inherit the gift of mystical leaving and are said to go meet with God.

**Books generating pleasant coolness or detachment are rare.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at March 17, 2009 12:36 PM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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