The Power of Love
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Thus wrote Julian of Norwich during the pandemic that came to be known as the Black Death, sweeping in the middle 1300s with terrifying speed from Asia to Europe, and leaving in its wake a staggering death toll and severe economic dislocation.
Julian felt an irrevocable call to dedicate her life to prayer, contemplation, and union with God, and so she became an anchoress. Anchorite were individuals who withdraw from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, or Eucharist-focused life. Anchorites were required to take a vow of stability of place, opting for permanent enclosure in cells often attached to churches.
Anchorites lived in cells without doors, only with two little screened windows facing the altar of the church and another one or two for light and for their physical needs. They were subject to a religious rite of consecration that closely resembled the funeral rite, following which they would be considered dead to the world, never to leave their cell until the end of their natural life.
It is interesting to note, that in a church dominated by males, anchoresses were very much sought after by all those – even priests and bishops! – who were searching for spiritual wisdom and closeness to God.
The anchorite’s life and testimony were an anchor of faith to a world in turmoil.
According to Julian, Jesus inspired in her the assurance that all things will ultimately be put right in Him. And because nothing can stand in the way of the Divine Love that God continually pours on us, his beloved children, even in the direst of circumstances we can set aside fears and anxieties.
When Julian says, “‘All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’ it is not the Hallmark-card statement of someone putting on rose-colored glasses, or sticking their head in the sand pretending all this bad stuff will go away, but the voice of one who has deeply experienced suffering and tried to make sense of it. And the way she does so is through a brutally honest trust in the love of God.”
Centuries before her, another saint wrote about God’s love. “Perfect love drives away fear,” wrote St John, not from a comfy studio or the ivory tower of academia, but from the cruel exile – both literal and figurative – that he was experiencing.
And even St Paul, in writing to his converts in Thessaloniki shares with them that the harsh punishment and persecutions that he suffered motivated him to continue his mission all the more. And grounded in his experience he would write, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”
Today our Gospel reading is the well-know “Summary of the Law” — “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
It appears to me that a lot has been said about the second commandment. And, indeed, there is great need to stress our calling to love our neighbor – especially those who turn out to be our actual neighbors!
And if individually and together we were to live up to this commandment the world would be completely different to the one we face when we open our eyes every morning. For the kind of love that God meant goes beyond feelings. Yes, indeed, we need to continue focusing on loving our neighbors not out of our own goodness but because, “God is our God.”
Today, however, I would like to address our calling to be lovers of God.
In the words of Jesus, like Julian, John, and Paul we are living live like “lambs in the midst of wolves.” For Julian it was the plague. For John and so many others it was religious intolerance. Paul was kicked out of Ephesus not so much for preaching Jesus but because his message of “no other gods” ruined the local economy.
The wolves of intolerance, sickness, and injustice around us may have changed their colors and ways, but wolves still they are. And, for sure, healthy fear is nothing to be afraid of. But when fear turns irrational and paralyzing, and whenever we begin to see a wolf behind every shadow, or whenever we start believing that those around us are turning themselves into wolves ready to destroy us, then it is time to recall the power of love.
“Love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” should not be understood so much as a commandment, but as a reflection of God’s own love for us. Love that knows no boundaries and suffers no questions.
It is the light of God’s love that will cast away fears of the knowns and the unknowns. It is the light of God’s love that will illumine our paths helping us to see ways where we thought there was none. It is the light of God’s love that will help us to see our neighbor as a brother and sister in creation, and not an enemy to be destroyed.
It is under the light of God’s love that we will start believing that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” And even if we grieve that we may not be able to gather, to sing, and to enjoy the fellowship and the blessing that there is in being together in church, the light of God’s love will help us to see that “church” is not what we do or where we go, but who we are and whose we are.
Heavenly Father, we are the handiwork of your loving self. Fill us with your love in such a way that there may be no room for fear but a joyful confidence that we are in your loving hands and that in the end, only it is in You that all manner of things shall be well. Amen.