Another in the series from Companions on the chosen passage that forms part of their vow
Love and Chronic Illness
Since I became a Companion of Julian of Norwich (CJN) in November 2019 I have been reading and reflecting the Revelations in the light of my own long term Chronic Illness. One of the reasons I was drawn to Julian was that she embraced her Enclosure and I found this profoundly helpful as my chronic illness has made me feel cut off and enclosed. Julian seemed to offer me a way of embracing my enclosure rather than feeling resentful and embittered. And this has been a kind of healing: tentative, incomplete, changeable as the coming and going of the sun on a cloudy day but, like the sun, always present, even when I don’t see or feel it.
I have therefore been writing reflections on the chapters and passages of the Revelation which resonate with my experience of chronic illness. I have reached chapter 51 - the long discussion of the Lord and the Servant. This contains what is, for me, a powerful description of chronic illness, but for now I will leap ahead to the final chapter, 86 and Julian’s summary of her work in the phrase
"Thus was I taught that love was our Lord’s meaning."
Love, in our culture, is a much over-used and abused word, yet it is still central to our faith and our humanity and it is, I believe , the key to living creatively with chronic illness. This has two interrelated strands, the first is divine “in this love he has done all his work”, everything we know of God comes from God’s love for us, we are made in this love, we are enfolded in this love and our end is to be found in this love. This is a great comfort when we are suffering but Julian goes deeper she says “in this love he has made all things profitable to us”. This is a hard word to hear when our life has been upended by chronic illness and our dreams and hopes left in tatters, but it is also a word that gives us the possibility of re-imaging life as something meaningful and worthwhile. Being enfolded in God’s love means even this suffering, bewildered body can be recreated as a place of prayer. This is a work of God and, because it is about love it incorporates the second strand of a creative living with chronic illness - the giving and receiving of human love.
In realising we cannot cope with chronic illness on our own, we need the love and care of other people. This is the primary means by which God’s love is mediated to us and, it seems to me, the only answer we have to the so called ‘problem of suffering’. Just as Julian needed people around her in her time of crisis which led to her visions, so too do we. Someone to look after our basic needs. Someone to hold our hand. Someone to lift up the cross of Jesus before our eyes. This is God’s love and it is this love which makes the difference, and it is this love which is the meaning of our life.
Julian’s words have therefore helped me re-imagine my life - to see the value in my ‘enclosure’, to be aware of a divine love holding and enfolding me. And also to work with others, not only to recreate our own bodies as places of prayer - places in which we can receive God’s love; but also working together with them to recreate the world around us as a place open and receptive to that God of love which Julian wonderfully reveals to us.
James Ashdown CJN