Earth-Maker, Pain-Bearer, Life-Giver

Trinity Sunday 2013

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Romans 1:1-5, John 16

Marian Free

 

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

The MIddle Ages was a time in which there was a great flowering of spirituality.  After the morbidity and fear of the Dark Ages, in which judgement and hell were predominant religious themes, the spiritual tenor of the Middle Ages was an understanding of God’s love and Jesus’ saving passion. The spirituality of the time was more intimate and forgiving. God was not envisaged as a distant judge but a close and familiar friend.

Many of our favourite and most well-known saints belong to this period of history – Francis and Claire of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen and Catherine of Sienna – to mention a few. The spirit of the age was such that it not only saw the emergence of mystics and saints, but also the renewal of faith of much of the general population. This was demonstrated by the number of people in all walks of life who went on pilgrimages and by the groups of women (Beguines) who, while not entering a religious order, lived together in community.

One of the expressions of spirituality at that time was that of anchorite. Men and women had built for themselves single rooms attached to churches or Cathedrals in which they confined themselves for the remainder of their lives – praying, meditating and reading their scriptures. Julian of Norwich was one such person[1]. Little is known of Julian except that when she was thirty and a half, in 1373 she was ill to the point of death. During this time she had a series of revelations (Showings in her terminology) which she recorded in both a shorter and a longer account. It is through these writings that she is known to us.

The church emerged from the bleakness of the Dark Ages with an image of God that was less distant and wrathful, more forgiving and understanding, full of tenderness and compassion. Julian’s experience of God reflects this trend. Perhaps the most powerful illustration of this is the illustration which imagines God as a mother who may sometimes allow a child to fall, for its own benefit, but who can never suffer any kind of peril to come to her child because of her love. On the other hand, the child, when it is distressed and frightened, runs quickly to his mother (300).

Even though Julian claims to be uneducated, the style of her writing and her knowledge of scripture indicate otherwise. For example, though her language is vastly different, her theology is not too dissimilar to that found in the readings from Proverbs and Romans today (the presence of Wisdom, or the second person of the Trinity at creation, the delight that the Trinity takes in creation and the notion that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit).

Julian’s homely and familiar relationship with God embraces her understanding of God as Trinity which is expressed in such language as God’s courtesy, that God loves us tenderly and that there is no wrath in God only endless goodness and friendship. The relationship is mutual. Just as the Trinity rejoices in humanity, so the Trinity fills our heart with the greatest joy (181). In fact joy, bliss and delight are words that are repeated in Julian’s description of the relationship between God and humanity. Her experience tells us of God’s confidence in and presence in us: “we are in God and God is in us” (286). When the Trinity created us, he “joined and united us to himself and through this union we are kept as pure and as noble as we were created” (293).

The Trinity, a concept that many of us tend to make hard work of, seems to have been as natural as breathing to Julian. That God is one and God is three, is the basis of her faith. She doesn’t labour over the nature of the relationship, but it is clear from what she writes that she did not think of God in any other way. While she speaks of the individual persons of the Trinity, it is clear that her concept of God is primarily Trinitarian.  For example, she can say: “the Trinity is God and God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our maker, our protector, our everlasting lover, our endless joy and our bliss, from our Lord Jesus Christ and in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (181)

All members of the Trinity are all engaged in our creation and all take delight in humankind and “it is their greatest delight that we rejoice in the joy which the blessed Trinity has in our creation.”(286)  “God the blessed Trinity, who is everlasting being, just as he is eternal from without beginning, just so was it in his eternal purpose to create human nature, which fair nature was first prepared for his own Son, the second person, and when he wished, by full agreement of the whole Trinity he created us all at once.” (293)

Interestingly, though Julian refers to Jesus as “he”, she constantly refers to the second person of the Trinity as “Mother”.  This was consistent with the spirit of the time which, in reaction to the harsh and distant God of the previous generation, discovered in Jesus the love and compassion often attributed to a mother. So for example, Julian can say: “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother. Our Father wills, our Mother works, our good Lord the Holy Spirit confirms. In these three is all our life: nature, mercy and grace (296).” “And so in our making, God almighty is our loving Father, and God all wisdom is our loving Mother, with the love and goodness of the Holy Spirit, which is all one God, one Lord” (293).

It is too easy to dismiss the Trinity as difficult to understand or explain. Mystics like Julian remind us that it is not a concept to be feared, but to be embraced; to know ourselves known and loved by God – Father, Son and Spirit, Earth-Maker, Pain-Bearer and Life-Giver, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.  Three persons, one God whose creative power breathed us into being, whose saving power restored us and whose in-dwelling presence continues to fill us with love and joy.


[1] Colledge, Edmund, O.S.A., Walsh, James, S.J. Julian of Norwich: Showings. The Western Classics of Christianity. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1978.

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