A Book of Showings Summary
A Book of Showings offers insights into sixteen visions that Julian of Norwich witnessed when lying in bed after falling seriously ill. Julian believes that the visions came from God, and she tries to explain the divine meaning of each in various chapters of the book.
Julian's visions help her discover the true purpose of God. In one, Julian holds a hazelnut in her hand and realizes three important things: God created the seed, He loved it, and He allowed it to exist. Therefore, human beings should be grateful to God for their existence. Julian also states that suffering is normal and God will always be there to rescue his people.
Julian finishes the book by telling her readers not to worry about their sins: all, she says, will be well.
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 visions and in the years of reflection that follow them is a vision of God and our relationship to God that is endearing, in sharp contrast to the exacting judge of medieval Christianity. Hers is a welcoming God, ready to embrace creatures even when they sin. He/she is our mother, father, brother, and loving spouse. We are “knitted in a knot” to God, “oned” with him through Christ. Consequently, because we share in the will of Christ, we can never fully assent to sin. We are the “noblest thing” God ever made, and he makes our soul his “ dwelling place.”
In many of her visions, Julian beholds a motherly Christ whose care for souls is tender and nurturing. Christ, the second person of the Trinity, bears us into eternal life through the labor of his death on the cross and nourishes us from the blood and water flowing from his side, as a mother might nurse the child at her breast. This...
(The entire section is 1,019 words.)