June 17, 2020

Using “Sheltering in Place” as An Opportunity for Growth

To the Editor:

It must have been a divine nudge that led me to check my Twitter feed in April to see a promotional “tweet” for a free online course titled “The Medieval Pursuit of God,” offered by Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS). 

Spontaneity and curiosity caused me to click “enroll” as my stay-at-home circumstances felt very isolating. Yet, while I always dreamed of taking a PTS course, I had a nagging thought that the medieval period wouldn’t offer anything transformational to enrich my own faith tradition.

And then I learned about the fascinating life of Julian of Norwich, a 14th century woman who lived at the time of the Bubonic plague. Julian’s faith and dedication to church was foundational. At the age of 31, she had a miraculous recovery from an undiagnosed deadly illness through multiple visions of Christ on the cross. 

This transformative experience led her to become an anchoress — someone who “sheltered in place” for over 40 years in an apartment connected to St. Julian’s Church of Norwich, England. One of her windows faced the chancel of the church, another faced the main village street where town folk came to share their troubles and ask Julian’s council and advice. 

She developed a reputation as an optimist in Christian theology. In the 1900s, scholars found her spiritual autobiography, which she describes as revelations of divine love. Her most often quoted phrase is “All is well.”

Julian’s life work was to convey to everyone the message of God’s universal love. She daringly refused to think of God as wrathful. Well-known theologians from that era, including Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, firmly believed that the God of love also had a vindictive side. 

While the current pandemic has pulled many towards discouragement and despair, could Julian’s more positive, spiritual approach be a path to wellness to consider today?

Steve Drake
The Great Road