(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In May of 1373, Julian of Norwich, at the age of thirty, suffered a grievous illness. On the seventh night of her suffering, she lay very close to death, her eyes on the crucifix held by her confessor. She had received the last rites days earlier. Now, hardly able to breathe, she believed her death was imminent. However, in a moment, all pain ceased, she tells the reader, and she felt completely sound, if a little disappointed, as she longed for release into the next life. Deprived of this, she prayed to experience the pains of Christ’s passion. As if in answer to her prayer, she saw the wounded head of the crucified Christ, the first of sixteen visions or revelations that she would experience over the next twelve hours or so.

Julian went on to record her visions in a work called Showings (also known as Shewings, Book of Showings, and Revelations of Divine Love), composing two versions, the so-called short text (ST), presumably written soon after the visions occurred, and the long text (LT), written some twenty years later. In the short text, Julian provides brief descriptions of each revelation. In the long text (which this essay refers to), these descriptions are accompanied and amplified by passages of reflection on theological and devotional matters that are the result of twenty years of study and thought.

Her visions or “showings” are of three types. Some are corporeal or bodily sights like the first vision of the crowned head of the crucified Christ that appears in chapter 5 (LT) and the famous passage on the hazel nut, which Julian learns is “all that is made,” sustained and held in existence by the love of God (chapter 4, ST). Others consist of words that are clearly spoken in her mind, as in the words “I thirst” from chapter 17 (LT). A third type she calls a “ghostly sighting,”one that lacks both words and images. A good example of this type appears in chapter 5 (LT), where Julian describes how the Lord shows her a vision of his “familiar [homely] love,” describing it as “everything which is good and comforting for our help.”

What Julian discerns in the course of her...

(The entire section is 888 words.)