Forming character through the insights of literature, contemporary culture and Scripture.
by Linda Tiessen Wiebe
I MUST HAVE fallen asleep at my computer. The doorbell was ringing. We had just installed a Video wifi doorbell and I could see who it was on my phone - a woman in a hijab. “Probably about the upcoming election” I thought as I rushed down the stairs, trying to shake the doziness from my mind. I opened the door and waited for the pitch.
“All will be well; all manner of things will be well,” the woman said. I looked more closely. Was this a Jehovah’s Witness? It wasn’t a hijab after all, it was a red head covering of some sort. And I noticed she was wearing a dark blue tunic unlike I’d anything seen before. She looked at me with implacable grey eyes as she stretched out her hand and unfurled it to show a hazelnut in her palm. “This is odd,” I thought. For some reason I invited her in, my usual wariness of strangers at the door gone. Besides, I was beginning to realize she wasn’t really a stranger. I found myself offering a glass of water to Julian of Norwich, seated on the couch beside me.
She didn’t really look around, as people do the first time in a new setting. Instead she turned her mysterious grey eyes towards me and said again, “All will be well”. A million questions were forming in my mind, the foremost being “how is this even possible” but her assertion stopped me in my tracks. “Will it? How can you say that knowing what you know about your world? And how can I believe that knowing my world?” And so began our conversation.
J: In all my thinking about the showings given to me, I too asked that question repeatedly. So many people who came to my window were grieving the loss of most of their family to the plague. I myself lost my parents, husband and my first-born child, only 2 years old. John Wycliffe and his followers, who did so much to bring the word of My Lord into the people’s language, were burnt at the stake not 50 yards from my chamber. The smell was horrible! On top of that, the Holy Catholic church was at war with itself, with East and West vying for the seat of power. We had two popes; how could that be? And the Bishop, the one who had approved my enclosure, the one who I could hear during mass from my cell beside the cathedral, was always going on about crusades for his pope and punishing those who didn’t support his campaign. It seemed to me that the world was turned on end. Chaos and sin were ruling the day. So I kept asking Christ to speak to me.
L: Were you surprised by His answer?
J: I admit that at first I thought I was deluding myself. I had been deathly sick. Those caring for me thought I was going to die and a priest had administered the last rites. As he was holding up the crucifix, my eyes fell on the sorrowful face of Christ on the cross, with his crown of thorns. Suddenly I saw drops of blood dripping down his forehead, deep and crimson. His face was streaked with blood. I couldn’t take my eyes off this suffering face; and then his eyes turned to me and he said, “All will be well”.
Then as suddenly as my illness came, I had no pain and began to recover. I told a visiting monk that I had been delusional while sick. When he asked me to describe what I’d seen, he countered that it had been a vision, not a delusion, and I became ashamed that I hadn’t recognized it. The more I thought and prayed about it, the more I became convinced that Christ had given me a gift. And so I decided to dedicate myself to understanding this gift because I knew it wasn’t just for my benefit but for all the suffering people around me. I felt I had been made well for a reason and so asked to be enclosed in the Church so that I could ask Christ to make my showings more clear to me. And he did.
It took 20 years because I only felt ready to write down what I had seen and heard after all that time. There were actually 16 showings in my vision, all but one during the course of a single day, as I later found out. It took that long because the Lord is infinitely patient with us. He knows we are trying to reach him with ABC’s, while he is like a poem. So he waits for us to catch glimpses of Him, and then allows us to meditate on those glimpses to see him more clearly.
L: Clearly you were not afraid to ask questions of Christ as you reflected on your showings. It seemed that He answered you both in your visions, and in your reflections; almost as if he was present while you were writing.
J: Right after my vision, after I was chagrined by what the monk said, I remembered the sense of deep love that emanated from Jesus on the cross. In all 16 showings Jesus was never angry and I knew I was completely loved. Not only that but this love extended to all of creation. Every one of the 16 showings showed a different facet of Christ’s love: patience, compassion, humility and more.
But what kept puzzling me through it all was that in none of the visions was Christ angry at sin or threatening to punish us sinners. And yet the Holy Church teaches us that we are sinners. Not only that but I could see it in the world around me: the divisions in the church and the hatred between brothers happening outside my window. And I could see Sin snaking its way into my own life: my pride at not recognizing my vision, my impatience with the concerns of people who came to my window, my irritation with my servant who is so faithful. Like St. Paul, I know that we fall short; we do what we do not want to do. How could this be? I kept asking this repeatedly over the years.
L: Was Christ silent all those years you kept asking?
J: Not at all. But he answered as I was able to hear. It was like He knew I could only bite off as much as I could chew, so that it would take time. It was so surprising to me that I should see the Lord God regard us with no more blame than if we had been as pure and holy as his angels in heaven. And I kept thinking to myself that if there had been no sin we should have been clean and like our Lord as when we were made. I kept wondering if I was blameworthy, that I was missing something in my visions. With each question the Lord answered a bit more. Finally He answered me with a parable of a Mistress and Servant.
First, I saw two physical human beings, a mistress and a servant. The mistress was a stately person, sitting peacefully at rest, while the servant stood before her, ready to do whatever she asked. The mistress looked at her servant with love and kindness, and then gently asked him to run an errand for her. The servant leapt to do what his mistress asked; he set off running, eager to perform his mistress’s request. So fast did he run, however, that he slipped and fell into a steep ravine. There he lay, groaning and moaning, wailing and flailing, struggling to get back on his feet. But he was helpless. Through the entire vision, this sense of helplessness and loss of peace was the greatest fault that could be attributed to the servant. He refused to look to his loving mistress for help, though all the while his mistress was nearby and could have easily helped him climb out of the ravine. But the servant brooded on his weakness; he wallowed in his misery.
Throughout this painful experience, the servant suffered seven injuries. The first was the deep bruise from his fall; the second was his sense of heaviness; the third, his weakness in the wake of the first two; the fourth, the loss of his sense of what was real, his mental blindness; fifth was his inability to get to his feet; the sixth—which was amazing to me—was that he was all alone, with no one else anywhere around him to help; and the seventh was that he had fallen in a hard and dangerous place.
I was surprised that the servant surrendered so easily to these hardships, and I watched him carefully to see if I could perceive that he was at fault in some way or if his mistress would blame him. Truly, however, I could not see how he was at fault in any way, for it was only his eagerness to serve that had caused his fall. Even now, he was as eager and committed as when he had stood before his mistress, ready to do whatever she asked. As a result, his loving mistress still looked at him with the same tenderness.
And now I began to see with a double vision: first, I watched the servant, feeling pity and compassion for him, and at the same time, I understood what the mistress was feeling. With the eyes of my spirit, I saw that the mistress was filled with gladness, because she already had a plan to save her servant. The queenly mistress said to herself, “Look at the trouble and pain my beloved servant has suffered because of his love for me and his intention to serve me. Wouldn’t it be appropriate if I rewarded him for his fear, his suffering and injury, and all his grief? Even more, shouldn’t I give him a gift that will make his life even surpass what it would have been if he had never fallen into this trouble? Would not this be grace?” During this internal spiritual showing, the meaning of the mistress’s words sank into my soul, and I saw that the nature of the mistress requires that the beloved servant not only be rewarded for his trouble but lifted even higher than he would have been had he never fallen. His failure and sadness will be transformed into ultimate worth and endless joy.
L: Julian, I mean no disrespect, but I have to say I find this too simple. Does God really not blame us for our sinfulness? I’ve always thought about Adam and Eve as a metaphor, showing how humanity is over-reaching or bored or rebellious or deceived. You are suggesting that taking the fruit was intended to please the Lord. They explicitly did what they were told not to do. How is this trying to please the Lord? How is this an excess of Love?
J: These are fair questions; I had them myself. As with children, we know that sometimes they need to transgress in order to grow. If everything was given in the garden, there would be no room for initiative and creativity. And humanity, made in the image of God, is made to create, to build. In my vision it wasn’t that God was trying to trick humanity but wanted to see what they would do. In a benevolent way, God wanted to see how his creations would evolve.
L: Hmm. So let me give that a try. So one day Adam gets the idea that God would be pleased if he would show some creativity and initiative. Adam and Eve talk about it and they think, “God doesn’t really mean we will die from knowledge, does he? Wouldn’t he be pleased if we could speak more on his level? And maybe then we could surprise him with something new. Wouldn’t that be a cool gift, something he hadn’t expected?” So somehow they conceive of their action out of the love they feel for God. They didn’t hurt anyone.
But the story tells us that the consciousness of disobedience wreaked havoc in their family, and in civilization. How do you come back from feeling ashamed, from feeling like you’ve ruined the best thing in your life, from being cast out, from fratricide among your own children? You try to build great cities and accomplish a lot to fill the void. It still seems too simple.
J: Yes that’s what I thought too. But no matter how hard I looked, I could not see any blame in my vision of Jesus on the cross. There was nothing but a deep love and empathy, even as I saw the blood running down his face. Christ is joyful to suffer these wounds for us. And even in my reflections for over 20 years, I kept returning to that unfailing love. There is no blame on humanity. So I kept listening and pondering.
I saw that the wound of being separate from God, or thinking you are, is what causes great evil. We begin to define ourselves, and deep down we know it’s a sham, so we get farther and farther from the image of God within us. And because we feel alone, and tarnished, we no longer trust in the goodness of God. We think God is against us, even though he is so close and feeling such compassion for us. But we are blind. We are convinced he means us harm because we have done harmful things in our blindness. And not only that, we cannot abide what we have done, so we hide from our own actions. We are like actors in a mystery play, pretending we’re the characters we’ve created. And when the guilt and depression gets too much, we find ways to numb ourselves. I believe one of your own poets put it well: “Whatever way gets you through the night is all right”. Except it isn’t it it?
L: No it isn’t. You nailed it Jules. And if God is God, He saw all along that this was a possibility. It seems liked He rigged the game and set us up to fail.
J: Ah child, you worry that God is a trickster, don’t you? We don’t have the mind of God so we don’t see everything. It is a mystery that I didn’t understand then. But I knew who I believed. Jesus told me repeatedly that there is no blame and that God intended it for good, out of Love, and I trusted that and still do.
Try it this way: psychologically, you need to cross boundaries and come to understand deep within yourself what it means. You do it so you can integrate the darker parts of yourself with the wiser self. It’s like how confession and repentance work: you let the things you hide come to the light of Christ, and they have less power over you and give you energy for life. “Go and sin no more” is actually the empowerment we feel when we know we’ve been forgiven. It gives us courage to make amends, and courage not to obsess but to move towards service. What if the stricture in the Garden was intended to be obeyed, but also intended to be broken? What if the whole point was that we could come to know that God’s love doesn’t change, no matter what we go through?
L: I guess you’ve been chatting with Carl Jung in the hereafter [Julian smiles a Mona Lisa smile.]
J: At this point in my vision of the parable, I see a doubling. If the servant is Adam, then I saw too many and varied qualities in him for him to be considered a single person. At first I was confused by this, but I kept hearing that I must study all aspects of what I saw, moving from the surface of the seed to the nourishment contained inside. I began to see that the gift of the Mistress is to send another servant, who out of love for the Mistress will follow the same path as the first servant. One is Adam, the other Christ, and yet they are one and the same. Christ follows the same path as Adam, goes down into the ditch. He suffers Adam’s self-hatred and despair and keeps giving invitations back to the light. “Know me and live. Know my Abba as I know him. Know that He would never abandon you, He knows you still love him and desire him. It’s never too late to turn around and see that in yourself.”
It began to dawn on me that maybe Christ dying for our sins was Christ following humanity through all their woundedness and blindness, in the hopes that humanity would one day turn and see Christ at its side and see itself as a child of God again.
L: How long that takes! The suffering of forbearance. The groaning of creation.
J: Indeed. To be clear, in my visions there is a distinction between Sin and sins. We need to confess and repent of the things we do when we think we’re separated from God - the sins and the effect of falling into the ditch. But we are not blamed for the ditch itself. God doesn’t need to be appeased. We need to repent so we can come to understand in our hearts that we are still children of God. And in this way we will become Sons and Daughters of God, as your study of my friend George MacDonald has shown you. This process of contrition, repentance and forgiveness allows us to be co-participants with God and Christ and the Spirit in creation. We will have our rags removed and be given a multi-colored robe, just like the servant in my vision. We will know in the depths of our being that God’s love has no bounds, deeper than the oceans, further than the edges of space. Nothing can separate us, so ultimately nothing can be against us because God is for us. Would we have known this if we had remained innocent in the Garden? In this way our wounds become honors. And All Will be Well.
I must have been dreaming. The doorbell was ringing.