Friday, January 20, 2012

Finding God in All Things




Bonnie Johnson Shurman
Jan. 20, 1944-June 2, 2011



Bonnie Johnson would have been 68 today. I am among the many people who loved her and miss her kind and warm presence. She was an extremely generous woman and expressed her love as wife and mother,  daughter, grandmother and friend, in a way you could count on.

More than a decade ago, when she was first diagnosed with leukemia, her husband Daniel Shurman told me that she was interested in doing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and asked if I could suggest a book that she could use. She did the Exercises, and I was blessed to be her guide. But it was her enormous spiritual gift that allowed her truly embody the Teaching of Jesus, and then to share it with others, just as the Lord asks us.

During the years that her cancer remained in remission, she continued to explore the path that her Lord, through Ignatius, opened. She continued to live her life in prayer, exploring and digging further, following her own inspiration and gifts. This mystical bent was always balanced by the consummate professional and the scholar with common sense.

She found a possible link between Ignatius and Julian of Norwich via an informal association of seekers who called themselves “the Friends of God.” She wrote about Julian, Ignatius and the Friends when she was studying at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is dated March 8, 2005.

Thank you, Daniel for being the kind of husband who inspires, and for introducing me to Bonnie.


To thank Bonnie for the gift of friendship, I am going to post the paper, “Finding God in All Things,” here.

We miss you, Bonnie. and your gentle presence. We are enormously grateful for the gifts you gave us. May you sing with the angels.



I have given this paper the same title as William Barry’s book: Finding God In All Things, A Companion To The Spiritual Exercises Of St. Ignatius (Barry 1991). I was reading the book when Julian of Norwich was assigned in class. The similarities between Julian’s writings and Ignatius’s were striking to me. Both Julian and Ignatius write of multiple sensory experiences with God occasioned by life-threatening illness. Before I understood that Julian was born 150 years before Ignatius, I considered that her visions, like mine[1], might have been delirious manifestations engendered by Ignatian-style guided meditations. When I realized that she lived long before Ignatius, I abandoned the paper I was writing on the general topic of asceticism to delve deeper into parallels, coincidences, and possible connections between these two late medieval mystics.

The theological proposition of this paper is that the writings of Julian in circa 1400 and the writings of Ignatius circa 1525 are representative of a distinct spirituality: God as Friend. God as Friend is a paradigm shift from the dominant spirituality from the 4th century: Deity of Christ; it is distinct though related to two paradigms which were soon to emerge in the reformation: Salvation by Faith Alone and Incarnational Participation. At the end of this paper I will argue that the paradigm of God as Friend is finding new relevance in our time, hence bringing a renewed interest in both Julian and Ignatius.

In my search for a “social network” connecting Julian and Ignatius, I learned about an informal group called “Friends of God” from one of the many websites devoted to Julian. The name for this “association of pious persons, both ecclesiastical and lay [also men and women], alludes no doubt to John 15:14-15[2] … Friends of God appears to have had its origin in Basle between the years 1339 and 1343, and to have thence extended down the Rhine even as far as the Netherlands” (Walsh 1909). I am skeptical that Julian herself had any direct connection with the informal network of German mystics, but there is indirect evidence at least that many of them had access to her writing. One version of Julian’s Short Text (the so-called “Amherst Manuscript”) also contains writings of Friends’ mystics Marguerite Poerete, Henry Suso, and Jan van Ruusbroec (Holloway 1997). The manuscript had been in the Brigittine Syon Abbey; it was owned by the Lowe family and through them found its way to the Low Countries and Rouen (Holloway 1996). While there is no direct evidence of who might have read it and when, there is enough indirect evidence to conclude that Julian’s ideas were circulating among German mystics following her death circa 1425. The German mystics influenced Ignatius through the Carhusian and former Dominican monk, Ludolf of Saxony (Gieraths 1986). Ignatius is known to have read and re-read a four volume Spanish translation of Ludolf’s Life of Christ and to have been profoundly influenced, even converted, by what he read there (Ignatius 2000, p. xiv; Loyola 2000, p. xiv).

The references to Julian’s writing in this paper come from a “Long Text” version translated from the manuscript found in the British Museum. As I read Revelations of Divine Love (Julian 2002), I noted about sixty passages expressing ideas similar to those found the Spiritual Exercises, far too many passages to discuss here.[3] I am concentrating on five concepts that point parallel notions of God as friend; in particular, I am limiting myself to the best examples that reveal similarities in their views of how people carry on friendship with God various media/modes. I use quotations from the work of each to document my argument that friendship with God is created and maintained through intimate communications which take at least five different forms: imagery, senses, colloquy, consolation/ desolation, and prayer. In the conclusion of the paper, I also point similarities in how they describe the nature of this friendship in their discussions of sin, love, goodness, choice, and the indwelling of God in our nature.

Communication is the sine qua non of any friendship. To have a concept of friendship with God, therefore requires that there be some form of media which constitutes that communication. For both Julian and Ignatius, imagery is the most important media and the Passion is the most important topic of that imagery. In examining Julian and Ignatius’s imagery of Jesus’ Passion, such in the illustrative passages below, it is easy to dismiss their perspective on friendship. After all “Body of Christ” imagery was a common theme of medieval piety yet friendship with God was not. I have little knowledge of other writers in the “Body of Christ” genre, so I cannot say that the friendship imagery of Julian and Ignatius is unique. What I observe in their imagery, however, is its intimacy. Both show intimacy with Jesus’ body; this use of imagery signals closeness, friendship.

… All the precious blood was bled out of the sweet body that might pass therefore, yet there dwelled a moisture in the sweet flesh of Christ as it was shewed (Julian 2002, p.). 

… Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus hear me. Within Thy wounds hid me (Ignatius 2000, p. xlv).

Simply imagining another in a prayerful way can also create a close relationship with the one imagined with the need for conversation as we typically understand that term. A few months ago my husband and I were contacted by a friend to provide direction to on-line medical information for a friend of his with a rare bone marrow disease. We started to email with both Jim and his wife about Jim’s illness and potential resources in Palo Alto. Mostly we prayed intensely for Jim and also for his wife; we never spoke with them even by phone. When Jim died unexpectedly from a heart attack, both Daniel and I were devastated; we still cry at the thought of Jim. We had lost a dear friend, one whom we knew only through imagery, email, and prayer. It was a dramatic Julian-Ignatian lesson for me: I felt so close to this person and that closeness was entirely the product of my imagining his circumstances and my daily prayers for him. Knowing Jim in this way helped me to experience God in a fresh way; I learned how I can know God without human encounters just as I had known Jim without these encounters.

Imagery in Julian and Ignatius is not only visual, it is also multi-sensory.

I HAD, in part, touching, sight, and feeling in three properties of God, in which the strength and effect of all the Revelation standeth (Julian 2002, p. 197). And then shall we, with His sweet grace, in our own meek continuant prayer come unto Him now in this life by many privy touchings of sweet spiritual sights and feeling, measured to us as our simpleness may bear it (Julian 2002, p. 90). 

The Fifth contemplation will consist in applying the five senses to the matter. … seeing in imagination the persons, in contemplating and mediating in detail the circumstances in which they are… hear what they are saying… smell the infinite fragrance and taste the infinite sweetness of the divinity … touch, for example by embracing and kissing the place where the persons stand (Ignatius 2000, p. 45).

Communicating with ones Godfriend goes beyond merely experiencing God through ones imagination and senses; both Julian and Ignatius converse directly with God. Throughout the Julian text, she is posing questions to God, and God is answering her, for example: “AND thus our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts that I might make, saying full comfortably: I may make all thing well, I can make all thing well, I will make all thing well…”(Julian 2002, p. 61); the result of this is conversational. Ignatius uses the term “colloquy” to refer to conversations with God (and also with Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Spirit on occasions): “The colloquy is made by speaking exactly as one friend speaks to another” (Ignatius 2000, p. 24). These two examples exemplify a pattern of “shewing” vs “exercise” that I find over and over as a distinction between these two books: Julian shows her communication with God; Ignatius instructs the maker of the exercises to perform these same kinds of communications. Thus, “revelation” in Julian becomes “exercise” in Ignatius.

God has special kinds of communication with Julian that I would call, following Ignatius, “consolations” and “desolations.” In Ignatian spirituality, consolidations and desolations are the movements of the spirit—“internal movements” by which we can discern God’s will in our lives. Those making the exercises are taught how to listen or feel for these movements and thereby to guide their lives in accord with God’s will. Again, we see that Julian experiences these interior movements but makes no methodical use of them. Ignatius’s biography describes how he initially experienced them much as Julian did and then learned to put them to use in his own communications with God.

AND after this He shewed a sovereign ghostly pleasance in my soul. I was fulfilled with the everlasting sureness, mightily sustained without any painful dread. This feeling was so glad and so ghostly that I was in all peace and in rest, that there was nothing in earth that should have grieved me. …This lasted but a while, and I was turned and left to myself in heaviness, and weariness of my life that scarcely I could have patience to live. This Vision was shewed me, according to mine understanding, sometime to be in comfort, and sometime to fail and to be left to themselves. God willeth that we know that He keepeth us even alike secure in woe and in weal. And for profit of man’s soul, a man is sometime left to himself (Julian 2002). 

God alone can give consolation to the soul without any previous cause. It belongs solely to the Creator to come into a soul, to leave it, to act upon it, to draw it wholly to the love of His Divine Majesty (Ignatius 2000, p. 119 section 330). ...When one is in desolation, he should be mindful that God has left him to his natural powers to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy in order to try him. For though God has taken from him the abundance of fervor and overflowing love and the intensity of His favors, nevertheless, he has sufficient grace for eternal salvation (Ignatius 2000, p. 116, section 320).

On the topic of prayer, Julian and Ignatius could not be more similar. Yet, it is not as simple to point to parallel passages as with the preceding topics. For them, prayer is not just a “doing” – not just a message we send to God, in the form of a petition, for example. Rather, prayer is a way of being in which ones very foundation, ones “ground” is God and therefore prayer is fitting ourselves to that Ground of our being. Julian puts it this way:

OUR Lord God willeth that we have true understanding, and specially in three things that belong to our prayer. The first is: by whom and how that our prayer springeth. By whom, He sheweth when He saith: I am [the] Ground; and how, by His Goodness: for He saith first: It is my will. The second is: in what manner and how we should use our prayer; and that is that our will be turned unto the will of our Lord, enjoying: and so meaneth He when He saith: I make thee to will it. The third is that we should know the fruit and the end of our prayers: that is, that we be oned and like to our Lord in all things; and to this intent and for this end was all this lovely lesson shewed. And He will help us, and we shall make it so as He saith Himself; Blessed may He be! For this is our Lord’s will, that our prayer and our trust be both alike large. For if we trust not as much as we pray, we do not full worship to our Lord in our prayer, and also we tarry and pain our self (Julian 2002).

“Grounded in God” has several implications. First, that prayer is about the will of God and our place in that will. From this the next implication, only implicit in the statement above, that God is eternally present and has already “answered” our prayers in our very existence, our salvation, and in all that we enjoy: “The first is our noble and excellent making; the second, our precious and dearworthy again-buying; the third, all-thing that He hath made beneath us, [He hath made] to serve us, and for our love keepeth it. Then signifieth He thus, as if He said: Behold and see that I have done all this before thy prayers; and now thou art, and prayest me” (Julian 2002). Julian cautions us not to go looking for this or that way that God might have answered our small petitions, but to understand that God is answering even the prayers we have not yet asked. So how then should we pray? We should pray that “our will be turned unto the will of our Lord.” The true end of our petitions is that we become like God, indeed that we are at one with God.

William Barry describes the same understanding in Ignatius in his chapter entitled, “Grounded in God: The Principle and Foundation” (Ignatius 2000, pp. 33ff.). God is up to one action; we can experience the creative action of God which is always at work (Barry 1991, p. 39); Ignatius draws out the implications of our place in God’s one action in the Principle and Foundation: “We must make ourselves indifferent to all created things… Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a short life. … Our one desire and choice should be what is conductive to the end for which we are created (Ignatius 2000, p. 12, section 23). In other words, it is about God’s will; our prayer is our participation in that will. We are engaged in the world of God’s creating and God is already answering the prayers we have not yet made.

We have seen in both of these late medieval mystics a central concern with our relationship with God and how that relationship is continuously created through various media. The relationship is one of love. While both mystics write extensively on sin, theirs is not the sin of the medieval church or of Jonathan Edwards. Indeed, Julian comes as close as one might in her day to saying that her Church is misguided in its notion of sin and salvation (Julian 2002, p. 104). Ignatius’ first week of the Exercises is devoted to examining ones sin, but the point is not to berate or belittle the maker of the Exercises. Rather, the grace of the first week is the experience of love. “Ignatius expects that God will reveal our sins in such a way that we will actually be consoled. We are to have an increase of faith, hope, and love, be moved to tears of sorrow for our sin, but also to tears of love for a God who has been so good to us” (Barry 1991, p. 51). The heart of the message from both Julian and Ignatius is the goodness of God, the love of God, and the freedom which God gives us in the hope that we will choose to put God at the center of our lives, and participate in God’s mission.

Both mystics are saying that we must look in the world and in ourselves to find God. Their piety is finding God in all things, starting with finding ourselves IN God. “For our Soul is so deep-grounded in God, and so endlessly treasured, that we may not come to the knowing thereof till we have first knowing of God, which is the Maker, to whom it is oned” (Julian 2002, p. 133). This is such a contemporary message; it is not surprising that both mystics are being read more in our time than in any time of the past, including their own.

I have argued here that both Julian and Ignatius provide us with kataphatic paths to relationship with God as friend, one in which we are constantly called to God’s mission, but never coerced or threatened. We are called to examine our own sins, not the sins of others; we communicate with God who already God loves us and forgives us already. This is a contemporary theme. These are mystics for our time.

Notes:

1 Since this is not a “personal reflection paper,” I will not discuss further my own experiences. Suffice to say that the parallels I find in Julian’s writings to my own experiences were the motivation for my choosing this topic.

2 “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my father.”

3 References to “Pages” in Julian are to the original manuscript pages; references to Ignatius are to pages in the Vintage-Random House version with section numbers referring to Ignatius original sections.

References

Barry, W. A. (1991). Finding God In All Things A Companion To The Spiritual Exercises Of St. Ignatius. Notre Dame, IL, Ave Maria Press.

Gieraths, G. M. (1986). "Life in Abundance: Meister Eckhart and the German Dominican Mystics of the 14th Century." Spirituality Today 38 (August): Supplementary Book.

Holloway, J. B. (1996) The Westminster Cathedral/Abbey Manuscript of Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love. http://www.umilta.net/westmins.html.

Holloway, J. B. (1997) Godfriends: The Continental Medieval Mystics. http://www.umilta.net/godfrien.html.

Ignatius (2000). The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. New York, Random House.

Julian (2002). Revelations of Divine Love. Grand Rapids, MI, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Walsh, R. (1909). Friends of God. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Online Edition, K. Knight. 6.