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Scott’s Column: All Shall Be Well

Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
June 1 2020

As I continue to reflect on how the spiritual practices and wisdom of the Christian faith might help us in our pandemic moment, I am drawn to the 14th century English mystic Dame Julian of Norwich.  Julian lived through the Black Death, which in at least four waves of destruction killed around a third of her society.  At the age of 30 she was herself so severely ill that last rites were performed, but it was in that moment that she had the visions she later wrote about.  Her book Revelations of Divine Love is the oldest book in English written by a woman and has created a profound lasting legacy for us Christians.

In her near-death experience, what Julian most experienced was the love of Christ.  She wrote, “Our Lord showed me how intimately he loves us.  I saw that he is everything that is good and which supports us.  He clothes us in his love, envelops us and embraces us.”  She wrote powerfully of experiencing Christ as Mother and how Christ suffered for that love.

But despite the sufferings of life, Julian focused on the joy that can be ours—“our soul will never know rest until it comes to him and knows that he is complete joy , friendly and courteous, joyful and life itself.”  Prayer is what unites us to God, drawing us into love and joy.

Julian proclaimed, “All will be well: and you yourself will see that every conceivable thing will be well.”

The 20th century poet T. S. Eliot adapted that line into “All shall be well, and/ All manner of thing shall be well” in his book Four Quartets, written during the Second World War and grappling for a faithful Christian response to that crisis.  Eliot wrote at what he called “the still point of the turning world” and much of the book focuses on the nature of time—remembering, waiting, and looking forward to the future.  I find the book a deep consolation in our current moment.

Theologians are grappling with our current crisis.  Walter Brueggemann, the great Old Testament scholar and one of the UCC’s leading thinkers, has already published a book entitled Virus as a Summons to Faith in which he reflects upon plagues and pestilences in the Hebrew scriptures.  In a chapter entitled “Praying Amid the Virus” he concludes that “these dangers are not decisive for what is possible or for what is required in the world. . . .  Virus is thereby robbed of its capacity to disorder daily life.”

I take his message to be that we not give the virus power over ourselves that rightly belongs to God.  That we keep things in perspective.  The book discusses how this is an opportunity to work for justice and reminds us that birthing new things is always painful.  He encourages us to pray for God to end the virus, and the best parts of the book are the prayers Brueggeman has written for this moment.  One of which ends,

We remember all your wonders, and then, in gladness,
we remember who we are as yours;
we recover our gratitude, our hope, our resolve, and our confidence.  Amen.