about writing and life and God

Saints and sleuths

on February 5, 2013

The very strict form of Presbyterianism in which I was brought up had only one use for the word ‘saint’ and that was in reference to the people of God. Saints with a capital ‘S’ did not exist — because it was understood that there was no hierarchy amongst the humans in God’s Kingdom. We are all equal in the sight of God.

So encountering Saints and Saints’ Days when I left home and moved south was rather like Margaret Mead stumbling upon some new customs of the Samoans. Fascinating. (I admit I still don’t have any kind of grip on the idea of how humans can ‘make’ someone a Saint with a capital S.)

Walberswick church and ruins

Walberswick church and ruins

But where I live now there are several of the capital S type, one I have a fair degree of scepticism about (Saint Edmund King and Martyr — his post-death story stretches my credulity just a bit too far, but the wall paintings I’ve seen are wonderful) and Mother Julian of Norwich, for whom I have a lot of time and admiration.

Not being a masochist, I’m not inspired by her desire to have a nasty suffering illness leading to death — but I am most grateful for the resulting Revelation of Divine Love with its message of a kindly, loving, personal Lord who reassures and comforts.

I have visited St Julian’s Church in Norwich and sat in the soothing quiet of the reconstructed cell with its squint into the church and tried to imagine what living there would have been like.

I suppose our best-known eremitical example these days is Sister Wendy Beckett of art fame. She lives in a caravan in the grounds of a Carmelite convent in the south of England.

Many years ago, I needed some quiet and spent a weekend at a Franciscan convent near my home in Somerset. In the corridor to the refectory was a wooden door with a shelf, above which was a sliding panel. Behind the door was a bedsit where the local hermit/anchorite – another Dorothy – took herself when she felt the call to silence and solitude. The shelf was where her meals were placed – and the empty tray was returned.

She spent her time in prayer and meditation, making jam from the convent’s fruit orchards (laborare est orare), doing jigsaw puzzles, and knitting. Till she’d had enough and came out to rejoin the community.

I have to admit I thought it was a brilliant way to live — the best of both worlds: solitude and contemplation, and companionship when desired. And someone else to cook supper, of course.

Julian would have had someone to shop for her food and help her with the chores. It is also suggested she would have had a cat for company – and keep the mice at bay. She strikes me as a sensible down-to-earth woman with a delightful practical mysticism. It is recorded that she had no time for the histrionics of Margery Kempe when she came calling. Because Julian wasn’t shut away from the world. The world came to her with its woes and problems.

And since I discovered her, I have really fancied writing about her. I think with her wisdom and understanding, she’d make a great sleuth! But maybe someone’s got there before me.



7 responses to “Saints and sleuths

  1. Delightful post, Dorothy. I so understand, I was raised Nazarene. Discovering the Christian Calendar was really live-changing for me.

  2. lynne says:

    I love visiting ancient Christian places too & plan to read some of Julian’s work. I must read that book too, sounds great! When I first became a Christian and Catholic (both at the same time) I got a lot of support & guidance from reading the saints cos before that I used to think we all had to be holy before being Christian. I think of them as the celebrities of the Christian world and they just guide us. My big beef is I can’t see how anyone can be a monarchist & Christian, for the same reason, how can they be better than anyone.

  3. I’ve quoted extensively from Julian in my new book ‘Everything I know about God, I’ve learned from being a parent’ – you might like it. Also I am quoting from her a lot in the Grove Spirituality booklet I’m now writing, on ’embodied spirituality’.

  4. SC Skillman says:

    A lovely post about Julian of Norwich, whose writings and spirituality I greatly admire. I’m also fascinated to hear about the practical details of how a mediaeval anchorite or anchoress lived. Apparently there was a movie called “Anchoress” about a teenage girl who took on this vocation, and finally had to leave it. This movie was made a few years ago, but didn’t become a box office hit, despite receiving considerable praise from those people with the discernment to appreciate it. I must see that movie. I must also put Julian’s shrine in Norwich on my list of places to visit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: