I've had several signs pointing me to the writings of Julian of Norwich lately. She was a fourteenth century anchoress and Christian mystic, who, when she was 29 years old, was deathly ill. While on her sickbed, she had sixteen visions of Christ, starting when she saw the garland wreath in her room literally bleed, the way Christ's crown of thorns would have made Him bleed.
After she had her visions - and survived her illness - she wrote about them, and was the first woman to publish a book in the English language, right around the same time as Chaucer, Revelations of Divine Love. She also devoted her life to meditation on her visions, and became an anchoress in Norwich.
Another famous anchoress was Hildegard von Bingen, who is famous for being the first woman to publish her music compositions. Anchoresses were nuns who wanted to completely shut themselves away from the world, and devote their lives solely to meditation and prayer. So they literally walled themselves in a small room attached to the abbey, and there was a little slit where they would receive meals, and communion, and they could view the services. They were regarded as very wise and learned women, and people would often stop outside and ask them for advice, or a blessing.
There is a festival in Norwich celebrating Julian now, Julian Week, which features lectures and information about this amazing woman.
I've been reading her Revelations (there are several versions in print, and available at my favorite place, Oyster) and I'm struck by something really wonderful, and I think, part of the reason why I was led to her (there are no accidents in life - or books).
In all her visions, she saw all kinds of stuff - she saw Jesus, she understood sin, she got her divinity, but she never saw hell. There was no hell at all that she saw. There was only everything being Well. That was the key message that she got: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
This wasn't particularly a popular opinion with the Church, the Pope, etc. But she saw what she saw, and even though she had moments where she doubted how real her visions were (between Showings 15 and 16 especially) she never doubted that she was spoken to by God, and what she was was a Divine message.
So here's how she came to understand it, after meditating on it for 20 years. There is a part of all of us that is connected to God, that is part of God, the infinite energy of the universe, the Source of life, etc etc. God would never send part of Himself to hell, and anyway, even Satan himself (if he even exists, which I haven't seen in her writings yet) had once been an angel, and is still part of God. Then there's the part of us which is human, which messes up, and which hurts people (and ourselves). That part suffers enough from our actions. The part of us that is part of God is what is sustained after we die.
I like Julian. She articulated answers to some of my most burning questions like 750 years ago.
“[God] is our clothing. In his love he wraps and holds us. He enfolds us for love and he will never let us go.”
“The soul is immediately at one with God, when it is truly at peace in itself.”