Chapter 1: Reflection 2 – One of My Best Friends

It appears that Thomas Merton (TM) began reading – or possibly, re-reading – Julian’s writings in 1961. 1 In a journal entry of Easter Sunday (April 2nd) of that year, TM notes briefly that he had been “reading bits of Dame Julian of Norwich” the day before, Holy Saturday. 2 By the end of that year, he affirms that the Norwich anchorite is a “true theologian,’ and he shares, with a lovely and almost sibling-like intimacy, his evolving connection with her:

I think the gift of this Christmas has been the real discovery of Julian of Norwich. I have long been around her and hovered at her door and known that she was one of my best friends, and just because I was so sure of her wise friendship, I did not make haste to seek what I now find. 3

One of the things that may have helped to form this “friendship” is a shared affinity for the vast vision and energies compacted into the tiny word “all.” The word appears throughout TM’s writings. An excerpt from his essay, “A Body of Broken Bones,” in which he directly references the Pauline passage, “that God may be all in all,” provides a wonderful example of his affection:

When we all reach the perfection of love … our inalienable personalities, while remaining eternally distinct, will nevertheless combine into One so that each one of us will find himself in all the others, and God will be the life and reality of all, Omnia in omnibus Deus. 4

The word is found everywhere in Julian’s writings as well, with the first chapter being no exception. The following excerpts offer an invitation for meditation on the breadth and expanse of the canvas on which she portrays her “revelation of love”:  

“our Lord God, all mighty, all wisdom, and all love”

“he has made all things that are, so truly he does and performs all things which are done”

“he rewards all his blessed servants in heaven”

all the deeds which he has done in the most noble work of creating all things”

“turning all our blame into endless honor”   

“’I shall make well all that is not well, and you shall see it’”

“we shall suddenly be taken from all our pain and from all our woe.” 5

With glowing admiration, TM discerns and names this aspect of the anchorite’s spiritual vision:

The theology of Lady Julian is a theology of the all-embracing totality and fullness of the divine love. This is, for her, the ultimate Reality, in the light of which all created being and all the vicissitudes of life and history fade into unimportance. Not that the world and time, the cosmos and history are unreal: but that their reality is only a revelation of love. 6 

Endnotes

  1. Image One below is the front page of TM’s copy of Julian’s text. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Paul Pearson, Director of the Bellarmine University’s Thomas Merton Center in Louisville, Kentucky, for making available a scan of the pages that TM marked and highlighted in his copy. The edition that TM was reading is a 1961 modern English translation by James Walsh, S.J. published by The Broadwater Press, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. A full copy of this particular edition can be found at Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/revelationsofdiv0000juli/mode/1up?view=theater
  2. Thomas Merton, The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals. Edited by Patrick Hart and Jonathan Montaldo. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, page 172. The full sentence is: “Yesterday – reading bits of Dame Julian of Norwich, and today I began Gregory of Nyssa’s homilies on the Canticle.” For online access to an English translation of Gregory’s homilies, see: http://ch.catholic.or.kr/pundang/4/Homilie_on_the_Song_of_Songs-Gregory_of_Nyssa_St_&_Norris_5413.pdf
  3. Thomas Merton, The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals. Edited by Patrick Hart and Jonathan Montaldo. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, page 192.
  4. Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Dimensions Books, 1961, page 70. “A Body of Broken Bones” also appears in TM’s earlier version of this book, Seeds of Contemplation (1948), where this quotation is also present in almost exactly the same form. Even an informal review of both versions of TM’s classic text reveals the extent to which the word “all” is so central to TM’s core spiritual and theological vision: “What is Contemplation” – “Touched by Him Who has no hands, but Who is pure Reality and the source of all that is real! Hence contemplation is a sudden gift of awareness, an awakening to the Real within all that is real” (page 3). “Everything That Is, Is Holy” – “The eyes of the saint make all beauty holy and the hands of the saint consecrate everything they touch to the glory of God …” (page 24). “Solitude Is Not Separation” – “Love comes out of God and gathers us to God in order to pour itself back into God through all of us and bring us all back to Him on the tide of His own infinite mercy” (page 67). “The Woman Clothed with the Sun” – “Mary alone, of all the saints, is, in everything, incomparable. She has the sanctity of them all and yet resembles none of them … she, of all creatures, most perfectly recovered the likeness to God that God willed to find, in varying degrees, in us all” (page 169).  “What Is Liberty?” – “All good, all perfection, all happiness, are found in the infinitely good and perfect and blessed will of God” (page 200). All these quotations are taken from: Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Dimensions Books, 1961. And emphases are mine.
  5. Middle English: “our lord God, al mighty, all wisdom, and all love” (line 10); “he hath made all thinges that is, right also verily he doeth and worketh all thinges that is done” (lines 11-12); “he rewardeth all his blessed servants in heaven” (16-17); “all the deedes which he hath done in the great noblete of all thing making” (31-32); “turning all our blame into endless worshippe” (34-35); “’I shall make well all that is not well, and thou shalt see it’” (37); “we shall sodenly be taken from all our paine and from all our wo” (44-45). Julian of Norwich, The Writings of Julian of Norwich, Eds, Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins. University Park, The Pennsylvania State University Press, Chapter 1, pages 123 and 125.  Emphasis mine.
  6. Thomas Merton, Mystics and Zen Masters. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1961, page 141.
Image One

Post last updated on 5.21.22.

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