Touching peace in everyday life:

wisdom from Julian of Norwich

A girl holding a hazelnut in her open palm indicating the famous metaphor of Julian of Norwich in A Revelation of Love
A Revelation of Love by Julian of Norwich is one of the world’s greatest spiritual texts. Increasingly recognised as an extraordinarily sophisticated and original theologian, it is Julian’s ability to guide us into contemplative awareness, a new way of seeing, that explains her immense appeal to so many today.
Alice (not her real name) found herself caught-up in various troubles.

A new senior manager at work seemed to be taking every opportunity to criticise her. One of her children was taking a year out of university due to anxiety. Her elderly parents, who wished to remain in the house that had been their home for over 50 years, were facing serious health issues and challenges with independent living. And Alice’s brother, who lived considerably closer to her parents, was more than happy for her to take the full weight of “sorting things out.”

Alice decided to take some time off work and stay with her parents for a week to help them make plans for the future. After dinner together on the first evening, she took a walk to clear her head. And following a path through fields and winding country lanes she’d known and loved since childhood, she let the tears run freely.

When she reached the highest point on the walk, she sat down on the grass, leant back against the trunk of a tree, and began to meditate.

At first, all she was aware of was a feeling of sadness and a deep weariness. It crossed her mind to go back but she decided to stay sitting there a little longer, that this might be the best thing she could do.

Somewhere deep inside, Alice told me, she could hear the steadying rhythm of her prayer word quietly sounding, as if woven within the flow of her breath, helping to gently disentangle and release her from the churning thoughts and emotions that had followed her through the day.

Looking out across the sweep of darkening fields and scattered towns to the distant horizon, she let herself touch the vastness before her. “I suddenly felt less alone. Somehow, I knew that everyone, everything, every atom of this beautiful, delicate world, is held within a limitless field of love.”

In chapter 5 of A Revelation of Love, Julian of Norwich describes being shown how intimately God loves us – and the whole of creation – and where we might find peace.[1]

“I saw that he is to us everything that is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing that out of love enwraps us and enfolds us, embraces us and wholly encloses us, surrounding us for tender love, so that he can never leave us.”

Julian says she was shown a “little thing” the size of a hazelnut lying in the palm of her hand, and looked at it trying to understand what it was, and received the answer, “It is all that is made.”

She marvels at how it could even exist, thinking it might suddenly have fallen into nothingness because of its littleness. And then she is answered in her understanding, “It lasts and always will, for God loves it.  And so, all things have their being by the love of God.”

She says she saw three properties in this little thing: that God made it, loves it, and keeps it, that God is “the maker, the keeper, the lover” of all that is.

Julian realises that she will never have full peace and joy until she is “oned” to God, so “fastened,” that nothing created can appear to come between them [2].

This is the lesson of the “little thing” that is everything, shown in the palm of Julian’s hand. And we need to understand this lesson. All created things are continually changing, arising and departing, so “little” in this sense that were it not for God’s ever-present-Presence as the Being of all beings, the Life of all life, everything would fall into nothingness. Knowing the nature of created things, we can know and love the uncreated ground and source of all creation.

The reason we are not entirely “in ease of heart and soul,” Julian teaches, is that we seek peace in created things, in what is “little” and always changing. Trying to find peace in what is always changing, causes us to overlook the unchanging ground and source of everything, who is true peace.

Whenever we feel overwhelmed, lost, weighed-down with pain or sadness or fear, we can come home to the sanctuary of our practice. We can let God show us how to meet the always-changing flow of our life more peacefully and compassionately. It is not so much the fact that things change which causes us to suffer, but our resistance to this change.

God wishes us to know him, Julian says, to rest in him, to receive the gift of spiritual peace.

In meditation we learn to greet our thoughts, our feelings and the content of our moment-to-moment experience, without comment, without resistance.  We learn to meet our life (however it happens to be) with the prayer of simple, loving awareness.  We come to God, to peace, “Nakedly, plainly, and intimately.”

Alice’s meditation practice helped her come to a new relationship with all that was changing, challenging and painful in her life – and touch what never changes.

“I suddenly felt less alone. Somehow, I knew that everyone, everything, every atom of this beautiful, delicate world, is held within a limitless field of love.”

The hand and eye icon from the School of Contemplative Life logo denoting 'seeing clearly, acting with compassion'.

If you feel inspired to meditate, you’re very welcome to join one of our free online meditation sessions or download a practice guide.


[1] All quotations below are translations from the Middle English text of A Revelation of Love in The Writings of Julian of Norwich: A Vision Showed to a Devout Woman and A Revelation of Love, Edited by Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), Chapter 5.

[2] Oned (“Oynd”) a Middle English term indicating the realisation (unveiling) of our essential oneness with God.

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