"Visions of Salvation”: Our October Retreat with Emma Pennington
Richard Norton writes: The greens and golds of autumn (not insignificant colours in Norwich!) betokened the limitless provision and potential of nature as we gathered for our October retreat at St John’s Timberhill. God’s limitless provision and potential for our salvation as set out in R.o.D.L Chapters 24-28 was the theme of Revd Dr Canon Emma Pennington’s retreat talks.
In the first of her four talks on the 10th revelation Emma traced the long history of Christian devotion to the wounds of Christ and how it became a means of imitatio dei for many “even chrisitiens” in the 13th and 14th centuries. She linked this with the prevalence of devotion to the “Holy Name of Jesus” which, we learnt, was particularly important in Norwich at the time of Julian. Emma argued that Julian must have been acquainted with this devotion and that it provides much of the energy in the images used in the 10th revelation in which we are invited to deeply enter the wounds of Christ’s side from which flow both the waters of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist. The heart of the crucified God is fractured by love for the sake of love. To enter it is to be lovingly intimate with God and there find the depth of the ever unfolding depth and breath of our personal salvation and that of our bleeding fractured and fragile world.
Emma showed in her second talk on the 11th revelation that after the reverent dread and holy awe of the 10th revelation, Julian relieves the mood a little by a refreshing intimacy. in this revelation it is as if Jesus and Julian are playing with one another. Jesus teasingly asks four times, Do you want to know a secret – his love and pride in his mother theotokos – and four times Julian replies that she longs for this with every fibre of her being. But, (and as ever with Julian it is huge but with even greater implications) just at the point at which she might rightly expect the secret to be revealed it is not but, rather, withdrawn.
Why is this? Because precisely in the revealing of the secret Julian will know that Mary is not only the Mother of God, though she is always and eternally that, but our Mother too. In the joys and in the sorrows of our journey into the heart of God, Mary guides us in the most appropriate ways to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. (Phillipians 2:12.). Mary reflects the mutual love which she and Jesus share. She is truly the icon of the divine. But more than this she is a mirror reflecting back to us the depth of our love for both of them and the times when it is woefully inadequate. Mary shows that our failings are opportunities to learn and grow in love and faith. She translates the sorrows of this life into foretastes of the banquet of heaven and assures us that all passing pain with find its rest in endless bliss.
Lest this be misunderstood as some pie-in the-sky sentimentality, Emma reminded us that all this necessarily evokes feelings of reverent dread and holy fear and that is why the revealing of the secret cannot be immediate. It demands much spiritual and emotional preparation indicated in the four interludes between the asking of the question,” Do you want to know a secret? - and its answer.
In the third talk, the first of Saturday, we entered the complex twelfth revelation. Complex because here Julian’s writing is at its most dense and “mystical”. It cannot be rendered easily from the original Middle English to contemporary patterns of thought, speech and writing. Emma did not evade that complexity but asked us to accept it and in the acceptance glimpse, perhaps, something of what Julian is trying to say to us, namely that Our Lord is the supreme source and sustainer of all things, “visible and invisible.”as we say in the Creed. The 12th revelation therefore takes us to the very heart of our faith. It is timely too as we consider the Christian response to the “Climate Emergency” and implement it.
Many people might feel a sense of despair in the face of the enormity of that response, but in her fourth and final talk Emma closed our retreat on a hopeful note for in the 13th revelation God wants us to enjoy and participate in the boundless possibilities and potential of all that he has made – including us. Human life is divinely cherished. After all God asks us to co-create with him in nurturing all life. Despite our many shortcomings he transforms anything for which we might be blamed by love and through love.
Moreover, we find Hope in his holy community trusting, not despite but because of all indications to the contrary that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”.
It is in this Hope of Divine Love that we are enabled and equipped to get on with what it is God asks each one of us to do where we are and in what we can do, every day.
Richard Norton CJN.