Learning to take pain lightly
Posted on 05 December 2011, 16:33
Julian of Norwich was the first woman to be published in English, with her book Revelations of Divine Love. It’s a marvellous work, written in Norwich in the 14th century. Unlike the church at the time, Julian wrote of a kind God, a ‘courteous and homely’ God who cares passionately for us, and who’s love knows no end or limit.
I recently produced a modern version of this book, originally written in Middle-English (like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) for White Crow. In the passage below, Julian reflects on how we cope with pain – and promises that this too will pass:
‘It is far better we are taken from pain, than that pain is taken from us; for if pain is taken from us, it may come again. It is therefore a sovereign comfort and sweet realisation in a loving soul that we shall be taken from pain. For in this promise I saw the marvellous compassion our Lord has for us in our woe and a courteous promise of complete deliverance. For he wills that we are comforted in our death and passing, which he showed in these words: ‘And you shall come up above, and you shall have me as your reward, and you shall be filled with joy and bliss.’
It is God’s will that we set the point of our thought in this blissful contemplation as often as possible, and for as long a time as we can with his grace; for this is a good contemplation for the soul led by God and most honouring for him while it lasts . And when we fall again into our depression and spiritual blindness, and feel pain and frailty, both spiritual and bodily, it is God’s will that we know he has not forgotten us, as he makes clear in these words:
‘And you shall never more have pain; no manner of sickness, no manner of discomfort and you will want for nothing, no wanting of will; but rather, joy and bliss are yours without end. Why then should it upset you to suffer awhile, seeing that it is my will and my honour?’
It is God’s will that we receive his promises and comfort as openly and as powerfully as possible. He wills also that we take our waiting and our troubles as lightly as possible, and regard them as nothing. For the more lightly we take them and the less price we set on them, out of love, then the less painfully we feel them and the more thanks and recompense we shall have for them.
And so I understood that whoever wilfully chooses God in this life, for love, may be sure that they are loved without end; and that this endless love works grace in them. For he wills that we are as certain in hope of the bliss of heaven while we are here, as we shall be in certainty when we are there. And the more pleasure and joy that we take in this certainty, with reverence and meekness, then the better he is pleased, as was shown. This reverence that I speak of is a holy and courteous fear of our Lord, allied with meekness, when a creature sees the Lord as marvellously great and themselves as marvellously little.’
Revelations of Divine love by Julian of Norwich and Simon Parke is published by White Crow Books