About Me

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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Julian of Norwich and World travel

There's a lot to be learned from traveling, both inwardly and outwardly, close to home and abroad -- besides caution about watching out for thieves (see previous post). And there were many insights from the recent traveling in Spain. The week before I had spent some time on retreat and had occasion to reread Julian of Norwich's famous writing about her vision, in which she saw "a small thing, the size of a hazel-nut" which turned out to represent "everything that is". The revelation was that God created, loves, and preserves or "keeps" that "small thing". On retreat, in a place filled with birdsong, green leaves and abundant rain, I was aware of all Creation as held and beloved in this way -- and of God as greater than, and outside of all that is. It's quite different from saying that God is "in things" or "in nature" -- rather it's that we, with all Creation, are held in God's love. To say that God "holds" all that is is also to acknowledge that what we know as the Love of God is beyond anything we can really conceive of or imagine, and yet that sense of being "kept" -- held, preserved -- abides, and connects beyond ourselves.

A transatlantic flight, with people from all over the world, speaking all different languages, is another occasion for reflecting on how we are held in the mystery of God's love, and how big the world is. Crammed together for 8 hours, in a cramped space made as hospitable as possible, we are human together. There is something sweet, endearing, about seeing people trying to get comfortable and sleep for awhile on an airplane, as lights are dimmed and meals are served in an effort to acknowledge some kind of circadian clock. I recognize in myself a very human vulnerability and need, shared with my fellow passengers, as I try to settle down to sleep, even as others are sitting up, watching movies or otherwise trying to distract themselves.

Then we get to the airport, awake but jet lagged, and are surrounded by activity and new spaces (we flew to Spain via Munich, with a fine view of farmland at the foot of the alps). The world is huge, there are so many people, all headed in different directions (and those I was observing are at the top of the economic order, able to afford this journey). And yet there is more - and we still do not exhaust "all that is," created, preserved and mysteriously loved by a God who is beyond it all, and yet , in Julian's vision, somehow cherishes all.

How far this journey was from anything Julian could have imagined from her cell, or from the simplicity of my retreat, and yet on this journey I saw the implications of her vision in a new way. I am grateful for this!

Here's the full passage from Julian of Norwich

And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut , lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, 'What may this be?' And it was answered generally thus,'It is all that is made.' I marvelled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nought for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that he loves it. And the third, that God keeps it. But what is this to me? Truly, the Creator, the Keeper, the Lover. For until I am substantially oned to him, I may never have full rest nor true bliss. That is to say, until I be so fastened to him that there is nothing that is made between my God and me.

This little thing that is made, I thought it might have fallen to nought for littleness. Of this we need to have knowledge that it is like to nought, all things that are made. For to love and have God that is unmade.

For this is the cause why we are not at ease in heart and soul, for we seek rest here, in this thing that is so little where there is no rest, and knowing not our God who is all mighty, all wise and all good. For he is true rest. God will be known, and he likes us to rest in him. For all that is beneath him cannot suffice us. And this is the cause why no soul is rested, until it is noughted of all that is made. And when he wills to be noughted for love, to have him who is all, then he is able to receive spiritual rest.

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