God rejoices that he is our Mother

Trinity Sunday – 2012 

Marian Free

 In the name of God, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life giver, Amen.

 

God chose to be our mother in all things

and so made the foundations of his work,

most humbly and most pure,

the Virgin’s womb.

 

God, the perfect wisdom of all,

arrayed himself in this humble place.

Christ came in our poor flesh

to share a mother’s care.

 

Our mothers bear us for pain and for death;

our true mother, Jesus,

bears us for joy and endless life.

 

Christ carried us within him in love and travail,

until the full time of his passion.

 

And when all was completed

and he carried us so for joy,

still all this could not satisfy

the power of his wonderful love.

 

All that we owe is redeemed in truly loving God,

for the love of Christ works in us;

Christ is the one whom we love.

That canticle sounds very much like something that might have come out of the feminist movement in the 1980’s, but you might be surprised to learn that it was written in the 14th century and very much reflected the theology of the time. This canticle was written by Julian of Norwich, but if you turn to page 428 in your prayer books, you will find something very similar canticle written by  Anselm of Canterbury in much the same period.

The time of Julian and Anselm– the Middle Ages  – was a time of great spiritual renewal, they gave birth to some of our most loved and well known saints, saw a revival of the religious life, an enthusiasm for pilgrimage and a wealth of spiritual writings. One characteristic of the time was the emphasis on God’s love and compassion which was in stark contrast to the austere, distant and vengeful God of the Dark Ages. It was this recognition of God’s gentler side that led to the language of God and Jesus as mother even though God was still referred to by the masculine pronoun.

Julian of Norwich was, by her own admission, an uneducated person, yet when she was thirty she suffered from a terrible illness. During this time she received a revelation of Christ’s passion, and drew from the vision an insight into God’s deep love and compassion for humanity. In describing God as Father and Mother she, with her contemporaries was trying to capture God’s familiarity and warmth. She did not set the feminine against the masculine, but saw the characteristics of both as integral to the nature of God and as essential to our understanding of God. Julian’s perception of God as Father and Mother allowed her to speak of God in homely and comfortable terms rather than through difficult and intellectual concepts.

Julian’s visions were primarily a graphic depiction of Christ’s sufferings, but through them she developed a deep and profound understanding of the nature of God and in particular the nature of God as Trinity. In simple and often homely language, Julian explores the unity of the Trinity, the role of the Trinity in creation, the love that the Trinity has for us, the fact that we are intimately connected with the Trinity and that it is the Trinity that is at work in us when we pray.

It is powerful to hear in Julian’s own words her understanding of God’s overwhelming love for us. She writes of Jesus for example: “We are his crown, which crown is the Father’s joy, the Son’s honour, the Holy Spirit’s delight” (278). Of God she says: “So I saw that God rejoices that he is our Father, and God rejoices that he is our Mother, and God rejoices that he is our true spouse, and that our soul is his beloved wife. And Christ rejoices that he is our brother and Jesus rejoices that he is our Saviour” (279)[1].

Not only does she describe how much the Trinity loves and delights in us, but  she also understand that we are so intimately bound up in the Trinity and its operation that it is if we are one and the same. In her words: “I saw no difference between God and our substance, that is to say that God is God and our substance is a creature in God. For the almighty truth of the Trinity is our Father, for he made us and keeps us in him. and the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are enclosed. And the high goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, and in him we are enclosed and he in us. We are enclosed in the Father, and we are enclosed in the Son, and we are enclosed in the Holy Spirit. And the Father is enclosed in us, the Son is enclosed in us, and the Holy Spirit is enclosed in us, almighty, all wisdom and all goodness, one God, one Lord. (284,5).  In her mind, we are so connected to the Trinity that the Trinity is at work in us when we pray – God causes the longing of our souls which are then united to the will of Christ by the operation of the Holy Spirit (59).

It is our union with the Trinity rather than any externally imposed rule or law, that leads us to reject sin and evil-doing. While we will never be perfect in this life, the Trinity works in and with us for our redemption. The Trinity directs and guides us: “Our faith is a light, coming in nature from our endless day, which is our Father, God; in which light our Mother, Christ, and our good Lord the Holy Spirit lead us in this passing life.” (340).

The great theologian Karl Rahner, said that there is a great danger in discussing the Trinity in the abstract[2]. God as Trinity is something we know because of our experience of God. Julian’s personal and intimate experience of the Trinity deepens and enriches our own understanding and draws us into a relationship with the Trinity that is familiar, comfortable and personal, and which reveals to us the presence of the Trinity working within us.

Julian deserves the last word: “The Trinity filled my heart full of the greatest joy, and I understood that it will be so in heaven without end to all who will come there. For the Trinity is God, God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our maker, the Trinity is our protector, the Trinity is our everlasting lover, the Trinity is our endless joy and our bliss.” (181) May this be our experience also.


[1]  All quotes are taken from the translation of the original text by Edmond Colledge, O.S.A and James Walsh, S.J for The Classics of Western Spirituality: Julian of Norwich: Showings.  New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1978.

[2] In Colledge and Walsh, p 69.

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