In the midst of our penance

Our origins as humans are in God’s everlasting love for us, and it is from this that we can choose to live our life, as Julian writes, “gladly and merrily.” Not for an instant does this infer that we should wear a false smile, turn a blind eye to the truth of “human waste and sorrows,” refuse to intercede mightily for God’s righteousness in all situations, or jolly up in disregard of anyone’s pain. Julian is very clear that living gladly and merrily is the most honor to God precisely because it is our greatest expression of trust in His abiding love in the midst of this life that she calls our penance.

Living “gladly and merrily”—willingly, gratefully, with audacious trust—is not what most of us learned about how to deal with life or penance. Denying oneself something pleasurable is the most common definition of a suitable penitential offering to God. Yet this oversimplification reflects negatively on how truly God loves each creature. The beginning of living gladly and merrily looks more like denying ourselves our anxieties.

When Rowan Williams addressed the Millennium Conference of Anglican Religious in 2000 he spoke of religious communities as places of joy, and connected it with trust. What is true of religious communities should also be true of all church communities, living trustingly as witnesses of God’s unchanging love. Julian speaks frequently of joy—our joy and God’s joy—and she weaves the two together to help us understand how delighted God is in creating joyful vessels—us—which “gladly and merrily” share the Divine Love.

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