Look again

Julian’s Chapter 51—in our modern editions, roughly 11 pages totaling almost 3100 words—is the fruit of her nineteen years and nine months of meditation on the puzzling revelation of an enthusiastic servant who suffers a mishap while rushing to do his lord's will. The parable of the lord and the servant is so often cited as the center, the high point of Julian's writing, that we can fall into the habit of just flicking the pages. Like a well-known detective story, we know how it's going to go and how it will turn out.

But it is salutary to us — and a proper reverence to our Lord — to re-read the parable as if we'd never seen it before. And a good idea to re-read it also in the Middle English, so as to capture the sound of Julian’s voice. After all, Julian was truly upset: at the end of Chapter 50, after writing again about her quandary over how God sees us in our sin versus how the Church teaches it and how both are true, she says: “I wept inwardly with all my might, searching in God for help, meaning thus: ‘Ah, Lord Jesus, King of bliss, how shall I be comforted? Who is it that shall teach me and tell me what I need to know, if I cannot at this time see it in Thee?’”

“Then our gracious Lord answered in showing very mysteriously a wonderful illustration of a lord who has a servant….” Years later, the Lord tells her that she should “take heed to all the qualities and conditions that were shown in the illustration even though thou thinkest that they are obscure and uninteresting to your sight.”

So Julian, in Chapter 51, has left us as it were a transcript of her lectio divina. We can toss it off as Julian playing the detective, but it would be behovely to us to use the parable as lectio. We don't need to remember what happens next, but rather let each word as it comes sink into our consciousness. The rest of our reading of the Revelations will be greatly enhanced.

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