I read the papers and stress rises. So much injustice! 21 million people enslaved (14 million of them in India), land-grabbing, starvation, destruction of ecosystems, precious species going extinct, the restavek system in Haiti, slavery in Qatar, and the plight of the Palestinians.
My heart sinks.
I am just one girl of limited energy. I could push against one or two of these things, but it would take all my life, and I might barely dent it.
I do have a handful of causes, which I tweet about and financially support. That’s like returning just one starfish to the sea, but it makes a difference to that starfish as Loren Eiseley wrote.
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The path of an activist, of a world-changer, is admirable, but it is a calling. If you embark on it without being called to it by God, and being continuously renewed by him, you risk burning out and becoming embittered. I know I would.
Fortunately there are other ways of making a difference in the world, which are also callings.
Can so pleasant a thing be a calling?
I see my calling as “a contemplative in the world” and a writer. When I compare it to real heroes like Simon Guillebaud, this seems like a bit of cop-out call, but it is, none the less, the call to which God has mercifully called me.
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I am today thinking of a real contemplative, Julian of Norwich, who was an anchorite. Anchorites were, on request, formally bricked into their cells by the ecclesiastical authorities. Once walled in, they were no longer permitted to leave.
Julian of Norwich lived bricked into a cell attached to Norwich Cathedral. One window looked onto the Tabernacle of the Cathedral; another window faced the outside world. Through this, servants brought food and removed waste, and people from every level of society, including her fellow mystic Margery Kempe came seeking advice.
And that was Julian of Norwich’s way of making a difference in the world. Read, pray, contemplate, write.
It was arduous. My head would feel ready to explode if all I did was read, think and write, if I could not go on longish walks, putter around my house and garden, see friends, go to a small group, go to church. I love contemplation and writing—but in the context of community and of physical movement.
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But Mother Julian, all she did was think and pray and write, think and pray and write.
What could this woman who lived for decades in a single room possibly have to say to the world?
On the 8th May 1373, Julian of Norwich experienced a series of fifteen visions from four in the morning, till noon, with a further one that night.
They were “so compelling and so rich in meaning that Julian understood them to come directly from God and to be messages not just to herself but to all Christians.” She spent the rest of her life writing them, and “conveying her sense of their significance as it was revealed over many years of meditation” (A.C. Spearing).
Her book Revelations of Divine Love resonates 600 years later.
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Here are some of her best-known thoughts, rays of light from a distant past, ancient music which still vibrates.
All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
“He showed me a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand. I thought, ‘What may this be?’
And it was answered thus, ‘It is all that is made. It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it.”
I saw three properties that God made it, that God loves it, that God keeps it. The Creator, the Keeper, the Lover. For until I am substantially “oned” to him, I may never have full rest nor true bliss. That is to say, until I be so fastened to him that there is nothing that is made between my God and me.”
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Here are other insights of this woman bricked into her cell who did nothing but think and pray and write.
“The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”
“If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.”
“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”
“See that I am God. See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally. See that I lead everything on to the conclusion I ordained for it before time began, by the same power, wisdom and love with which I made it. How can anything be amiss?”
“And I saw that truly nothing happens by accident or luck, but everything by God’s wise providence. If it seems to be accident or luck from our point of view, our blindness is the cause; for matters that have been in God’s foreseeing wisdom since before time began befall us suddenly, all unawares; and so in our blindness and ignorance we say that this is accident or luck, but to our Lord God it is not so.”
Interestingly, the dry, crusty, cerebral T. S. Eliot was Dame Julian of Norwich’s most famous reader. He quotes her in his mysterious Four Quartets
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.
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