The Lady Juliana, A Short Biography
The Lady Juliana of Norwich was a Christian mystic and anchoress who lived in nearly total solitude in the town of Norwich, England, in the late 14th century. As an anchoress, or "woman hermit", she spent all of her time in her "cell", which was essentially a room built into or onto the side of her church. In this cell, in the company of her maidservant, she prayed, ate, worked, wrote and lived as a recluse, almost totally isolated from other human beings. Julian was a mystic of her time, a soul favored by God to receive certain revelations of the nature of the divine essence and substance. It is thought that she received these visions at the age of thirty. Unfortunately, there is no written account of her birth, her family and relatives, her religious history or her death.
God As Mother: The Quasi-Feminine Aspect Of God
Julian referred to God as "Mother", which was a concept well known in Catholic tradition, even going back to the life and times of Saint Augustine. Essentially, the traditional concept is this: that God is neither a woman, nor female in gender, because the divine nature infinitely transcends all gender, and indeed all categories of classification. However, contained within the divine essence are attributes which are infinite in excellence and measure, and which bear a certain analogous relation to the feminine aspect of mankind. For example, in a woman there is usually found a loving and providential care for her own child or children, and we see the divine analogue of this motherly love when we read,
"As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you" - Isaiah 66:13 (RSV, SCE)
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!" - Luke 13:34 (RSV, SCE)
Our lady Julian goes on to state that in the Triune God, motherhood is manifested as "wisdom" and "lovingness", terms which fit the description of "God as mother" given in the two scriptural texts above. Julian, while referring to God as "Mother", also calls God "true spouse", "beloved wife" and "fair maiden". And so God, in his relations to us as "Mother" and "spouse" both at once, might seem very odd to those who do not keep in mind that the divine nature is neither male nor female, that the supernatural essence of God is neither a man nor a woman. Because God's divine nature possesses no gender, there is no moral problem with God being one's own "Mother" and "spouse" at one and the same time.
God As Father
The attribution of fatherhood to God is obvious enough. For God is perhaps most commonly known as "God the Creator", and thus the Father of everything in existence. Our favored mystic says of her God, "And so in our making, God almighty is our loving Father. . .". She says that God is our Father "in our making" perhaps because, like so many of us, we associate the beginning of procreation with the action of the human father, for it is the man who must initially impart his seed to the woman, who then takes over from there the passive process of procreation within her womb. In an analogous way, God becomes the Father of every act of procreation in so far as the direct and immediate creation of the human soul is concerned. And then, after the creation of the human soul ex nihilo, the human couple participates in and oversees the physical side of procreation.
Julian goes on to say that God is called "Father" for another reason as well: the divine strength. She states that ". . .the high might of the Trinity is our Father. . .". And she speaks of divine protection as one would speak of the characteristically powerful protection which a human father would provide for his children.
Yet again, since our mystic calls God both "Father" and "spouse", we run into an awkward image of God being both our lover and "father" at one and the same time. But as given above, the reason we should not be alarmed or scandalized at this coupling of relations is that the divine nature is neither male nor female, neither man nor woman. And so God can be our Father and lover/spouse at once without any taint of immorality.
God As Friend
Julian of Norwich's vision also included a vivid knowledge that God is our friend, but she chooses to employ the term "brother" instead of "friend", stating that ". . .Christ rejoices that he is our brother. . .". That God is the friend of man and woman is a truth that can supported by several passages in Scripture, but perhaps the most moving is found in the Wisdom of Solomon, where God is described as Holy Wisdom, or Sophia, therefore being characterized metaphorically as a woman. We read in the book of Wisdom:
"Though she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God. . ." -Wisdom 7:27 (RSV, SCE)
And so God is our friend and brother, the two terms being synonymous and interchangeable. Here, the mingling of the "friend" and "spouse" relationships is not something which abhors us. So often in our lives our friends become our lovers and spouses, and our lovers and spouses are our friends. For the human soul, God is both friend and spouse according to Julian's revelation, according to the vision she received from On High.
God As Spouse: The Divine Soul Mate
Finally, Julian of Norwich tells us that God is our spouse, or lover. This image is found in several places in the Bible, and is especially powerful in The Song of Songs. But in the prophet Isaiah we have more than one reference to the concept of God as our spouse or "husband":
"For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name"
- Isaiah 54:5 (RSV, SCE)
". . .and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you"
- Isaiah 62:5 (RSV, SCE)
Julian tell us that ". . .God rejoices that he is our true spouse, and that our soul is his beloved wife". Thus, God is our lover, our spouse and our soul mate. Bythis image, she tells us that God is closer to us than any creature can possibly be, and loves us as a spouse loves a spouse. God is infinitely close to us, and so the lover and spouse image fits perfectly. This follows from the fact that of all the types of relationships which human beings can enter into, that of the lover, that of the spouse, is the most intimate and satisfying.
God: The Spiritual All-In-One
In essence, Julian of Norwich had a vision of God as a single being whose relation to each and every soul is that of father, mother, friend and spouse, all at one time and together. God does not love the soul as a father one moment, and then as a friend, then as a mother and then as a spouse. When God loves, it is with an all-inclusive and all-embracing love which contains within itself all the elements of these four kinds of relations.