COMMENTARY: Julian of Norwich probably experienced a near death experience on May 13,1373 AD. Julian of Norwich, her real name unknown, lived in relative seclusion as an English anchoress (a type of female monk) during the tail end of the middle ages. Although not a household name, she has been revered by Christian mystics throughout the centuries. Few books survive from that era of 641 years ago. Of particular note, 'Showings' was the first book written by a woman in the English language. I find it intriguing that the first book written by a woman in the English language was about a near death experience. The quality of Julian of Norwich's shines in both literary complexity and spiritual maturity. In my opinion, the writings of Chaucer, her contemporary, pales in comparison.
Edmund Colledge says this: 'Julian's book is by far the most profound and difficult of all medi'val English spiritual writings.' (P. 22) I will begin by relaying Julian of Norwich's possible near death experience from her own words sometime after her last rites were read. 'After this the upper part of my body began to die, until I could scarcely feel anything. My greatest pain was my shortness of breath and the ebbing of my life. Then truly I believed that I was at the point of death. And suddenly at that moment all my pain was taken away from me, and I was as sound, particularly in the in the upper part of my body, as ever I was before. I was astonished by this sudden change, for it seemed to me that it was by God's secret doing and not natural; and even so, in this ease which I felt, I had no more confidence that I should live.'
COMMENTARY: During this time of possible death, the room became black except an image of the room's crucifix lit up by unnatural light. Jesus came to Julian of Norwich a series of revelations, or showings. The validity of these showings are based on transcendent revelations consistent with modern day NDE revelations. It is important that the reader note that Julian of Norwich was subject to a strict religious code, both in belief and spiritual expression, consistent with 14th century Catholicism. Perhaps the only reason she was not killed as a heretic was that few people read her book at that time. Few took her book seriously, perhaps, because she was a woman in a man's world. In any case, let's review a small sample of her writings. One commonality of most NDEs seem to be the interconnected or united essence between God and every person as well as every thing. Consistent with this theme, Julian writes the following: 'God is everything which is good, as I see, and the goodness which everything has is God. (p 190) 'For God is in man and God is all. And he who loves thus is all.' (p 192)' And so is man's soul made by God, and in the same moment joined to God.' (p 284) COMMENTARY: If human souls are really aspects of God, then nothing can destroy this substance, this unity - not even death. 'Our soul is united to him who is unchangeable goodness. And between God and our soul there is neither wrath nor forgiveness in his sight. For our soul is so wholly united to God, through his one goodness, that between God and our soul nothing can interpose.' (p 259)
COMMENTARY: Consistent with the modern NDE, God is not angry. Likewise, a non-judgmental God does not need to forgive. In terms of divine interconnection, Julian works this line of logic further to conclude that unity assumes equality for all people. 'For in the sight of God all men are one man, and all man is all men.' (p. 270)
COMMENTARY: Although Julian learned that we are part of God in substance, there is a difference between God and creature regarding individual development. She writes...'And I saw no difference between God and our substance, but as it were, all God; and still my understanding accepted that our substance is in God, that is to say that God is God, and our substance is a creature in God.' (p 285) 'Our soul is created to be God's dwelling place, and the dwelling of our soul is God, who is uncreated.' (p. 285)
COMMENTARY: It seems to me that we are partly disconnected from God when our soul enters the human body. We believe, falsely, that we are individual humans divorced from divinity. How do we reconnect to our true nature? Julian says this.
'And so I saw most surely that it is quicker for us and easier to come to the knowledge of God than it is to know our own soul. For our soul is so deeply grounded in God and so endlessly treasured that we cannot come to the knowledge of it until we first have knowledge of God, who is the Creator to whom it is united.' (p288)
COMMENTARY: The NDE experience seems to smack against religious teachings regarding sin. True, there are behaviors inconsistent with the eternal and all encompassing love of God. Yet, I believe that 'sin' should be redefined as a part of reality to be overcome over time through mission and growth staggered throughout eternity. Behaviors inconsistent with God are met with new learning opportunities and not subject to God's wrath or judgment (even through natural consequences may be painful). In the eternal plan, NDErs consistently report that everything will work out perfectly. Imperfections, ironically, are part of the perfect plan. Likewise, Julian writes. 'For a man regards some deeds as well done and some as evil, and our Lord does not regard them so, for everything which exists in nature is of God's creation, so that everything which is done has the property of God's doing.' (p 198) 'Sin is necessary but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.' (p225) 'For our Lord does everything which is good, and our Lord tolerates what is evil. I do not say that evil is honorable, but I say that our Lord God's toleration is honorable.' (p 237)
COMMENTARY: Julian touches on self-destructive nature of hopelessness in the material realm. In turn, she offers hope...'There are many deeds which in our eyes are so evilly done and lead to such great harms that it seems to us impossible that any good result could ever come of them. And we contemplate this and sorrow and mourn for it is so that we cannot rest in the blessed contemplation of God as we ought to do. And the cause is this: that the reason which we use is now so blind. For the blessed Trinity created all things from nothing, just so will the same blessed Trinity make everything well which is not well.' (p 232)
COMMENTARY: For Julian, hope derives from the eternal connection with God through the power of unconditional, never-ending love... 'For I saw that God never began to love mankind; for just as mankind will be in endless bliss, fulfilling God's joy with regard to his works, just so has the same mankind been known and loved in God's prescience from without beginning in his righteous intent.' (p 283) 'We are sinners, and despite this, I saw truly that our Lord was never angry, and never will be. Because he is God, he is good, he is truth, he is love, he is peace; and his power, his wisdom, his charity, and his unity do not allow him to be angry.' (p 259)
COMMENTARY: Unconditional love requires a new definition of mercy - contrary to God saving sinners from deserved damnation. Julian writes: 'For the foundation of mercy is in love, and the operation of mercy is our protection in love; and this was revealed in such a way that I could not perceive, about mercy's properties, in any other way than if it were all love in love. That is to say, as I see it, mercy is a sweet, gracious operation in love.' (p 262)
COMMENTARY: Unlike the predominant religious belief of her day, Julian did not view humanity as wretched, the fallible individual deserving purgatory and the evil individual deserving hell. She learned that people have incredible value. She writes...'We are His bliss, we are his reward, we are his honor, we are his crown. And this was a singular wonder and a most delectable contemplation, that we are his crown.' (p 216)
COMMENTARY: Julian saw the role of Jesus as an extension of that love... 'For I saw most truly that all the works which God has done or will ever do were fully known to him and foreseen from without beginning. And the love he made mankind, and for the same love he himself wanted to become man.' COMMENTARY: Speaking of Jesus, Julian saw the feminine qualities of God in Jesus: nurturing, restoring, reforming. Obviously, her view railed against the patriarchal stance of the church... 'And so our Mother is working on us in various ways, in whom our parts are kept undivided; for in our Mother Christ we profit and increase, and in mercy he reforms and restores us, and by the power of his Passion, his death and his Resurrection he unites us to our substance.' (p 294)
COMMENTARY: Consistent with today's NDE, and the biblical teachings of Jesus, ego takes us away from God whereas humble service brings us closer to God. Jesus has a large role in modeling this servant leadership. She writes that Jesus told her this: 'For He says: I shall completely break down in you your empty affections and your vicious pride, and then I shall gather you and make you meek and mild, pure and holy through union with me.' (p 227)
COMMENTARY: Consistent with the NDE life review, she further writes: 'He wants us to know that he takes heed not only of things noble and great, but also of those which are little and small, of humble men and simple, of this man and that man. And this is what he means when he says: Every kind of thing will be well. For he wants us to know that the smallest thing will not be forgotten.' (p 231)
COMMENTARY: Trying to understand mankind's special worth was difficult for Julian. After all, her world view had been shadowed by the 14th century church teachings. Jesus helped her understand through allegory. I appreciate the impact of this allegory enough to include a large section of this section as follows...'The servant (created spiritual being) stands before his lord (God), respectfully, ready to do his lord's will. The lord looks on his servant very lovingly and sweetly and mildly. He sends him to a certain place to do his will (life on earth). Not only does the servant go, but he dashes off and runs at great speed, loving to do his lord's will. And soon he falls into a dell and is greatly injured; and then he groans and moans and tosses about and writhes, but he cannot rise or help himself in any way. And of all of this, the greatest hurt which I saw him in was a lack of consolation, for he could not turn and face to look on his loving lord, who was very close to him, in whom is all consolation...(five pains are described)...
The sixth was the pain most astonishing to me, and that he lay alone. I looked all around and searched, and far and near, high and low, I saw no help for him. The seventh was that the place in which he lay was narrow and comfortless and distressful. I was amazed that this servant could so meekly suffer all this woe; and I looked carefully to know if I could detect any fault in him, or if the lord would impute to him in any kind of blame; and truly none was seen, for the only cause of his falling was his good will and his great desire. And in spirit he was as prompt and as good as he was when he stood before his lord, ready to do his will. Then this courteous lord said this: See my beloved servant, what harm and injuries he has had and accepted in my service (the inevitable suffering of physical existence) for my love, yes, and for his good will (personal growth toward the divine through acts of free will). Is it not reasonable that I should reward him for his fright and his fear, his hurt and his injuries and all his woe? And furthermore, is it not proper for me to give him a gift.' (pp 267-268)
COMMENTARY: This allegory elevates hope, not despair. It is a message of love. On the topic of love, I will end on this quote from Julian of Norwich: I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why did he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end.' (p 342) REFERENCE: Julian of Norwich, Showings. Translated and introduced by Edmund Colledge, O.S.A., and James Walsh, S.J. (1978) The Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, New Jersey.
Date NDE Occurred: May 13, 1373 AD
At the time of your experience, was there an associated life-threatening event? Yes Illness. Other: Probable clinical death. Possible life threating event but not clinical death.
How do you consider the content of your experience? Both pleasant AND distressing
Did you feel separated from your body? Uncertain
How did your highest level of consciousness and alertness during the experience compare to your normal everyday consciousness and alertness? More consciousness and alertness than normal Unknown
At what time during the experience were you at your highest level of consciousness and alertness? Unknown
Were your thoughts speeded up? Faster than usual
Did time seem to speed up or slow down? Time seemed to go faster or slower than usual
This is an assumption. Julian gathered a great amount of transcendent information in a very short time.
Were your senses more vivid than usual? More vivid than usual
Please compare your vision during the experience to your everyday vision that you had immediately prior to the time of the experience. This was not articulated.
Please compare your hearing during the experience to your everyday hearing that you had immediately prior to the time of the experience. Julian repeatedly said she heard Jesus through the 'knowing of my mind.' I assume this refers to telepathy.
Did you seem to be aware of things going on elsewhere? No
Did you pass into or through a tunnel? No
Did you see any beings in your experience? No
Did you encounter or become aware of any deceased (or alive) beings? No
The experience included: Darkness
The experience included: Unearthly light
Did you see, or feel surrounded by, a brilliant light? No
Did you see an unearthly light? Yes Unearthly light associated with Jesus
Did you seem to enter some other, unearthly world? Some unfamiliar and strange place Julian alluded to vague visions of heaven.
What emotions did you feel during the experience? A wide variety of emotions, but primarily peace
Did you have a feeling of peace or pleasantness? Incredible peace or pleasantness
Did you have a feeling of joy? incredible joy
Did you feel a sense of harmony or unity with the universe? I felt united or one with the world
The experience included: Special knowledge or purpose
Did you suddenly seem to understand everything? Everything about the universe Perhaps not everything, but Julian gained many spiritual revelations. Unlike NDErs sharing information today, she was alone in her beliefs.
Did scenes from your past come back to you? No
Did scenes from the future come to you? No
Did you come to a border or point of no return? No
God, Spiritual and Religion:
What importance did you place on your religious/spiritual life prior to your experience? Greatly important to me
What was your religion prior to your experience? Christian- Catholic
Have your religious practices changed since your experience? Yes
What importance do you place on your religious/spiritual life after your experience? Greatly important to me
What is your religion now? Christian- Catholic
Did your experience include features consistent with your earthly beliefs? Content that was both consistent and not consistent with the beliefs you had at the time of your experience Julian readily admitted that she significantly changed her spiritual views as a result of divine revelations.
Did you have a change in your values and beliefs because of your experience? Yes
The experience included: Presence of unearthly beings
Did you seem to encounter a mystical being or presence, or hear an unidentifiable voice? I encountered a definite being, or a voice clearly of mystical or unearthly origin She heard the voice of Jesus. She saw symbolic reproduction of the passion, but in terms of the infinite and universal.
Did you see deceased or religious spirits? No
Did you encounter or become aware of any beings who previously lived on earth who are described by name in religions (for example: Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, etc.)? Yes Jesus
During your experience, did you gain information about premortal existence? Yes Julian alluded to souls being sent down from heaven.
During your experience, did you gain information about universal connection or oneness? Yes Prevalent throughout her writings.
Did you believe in the existence of God prior to your experience? God definitely exists
During your experience, did you gain information about the existence of God? Yes
Do you believe in the existence of God after your experience? God definitely exists
Concerning our Earthly lives other than Religion:
During your experience, did you gain special knowledge or information about your purpose? Yes Prevalent throughout her writings.
Did you believe that our earthly lives are meaningful and significant prior to your experience? Are probably meaningful and significant
During your experience, did you gain information about the meaning of life? Yes Prevalent throughout her writings.
Did you believe in an afterlife prior to your experience? An afterlife definitely exists
Do you believe in an afterlife after your experience? An afterlife definitely exists Yes Julian went into some detail about the blissful nature of heaven.
Did you fear death prior to your experience? I slightly feared death
Do you fear death after your experience? I do not fear death
Were you fearful living your life prior to your experience? Moderately fearful in living my earthly life
Were you fearful living your life after your experience? Not fearful in living my earthly life
Did you believe that our earthly lives are meaningful and significant prior to your experience? Are probably meaningful and significant
Did you believe that our earthly lives are meaningful and significant after your experience? Are meaningful and significant
Did you gain information about how to live our lives? Yes See narrative
During your experience, did you gain information about life's difficulties, challenges and hardships? Yes Prevalent throughout her writings.
Were you compassionate prior to your experience? Greatly compassionate toward others
During your experience, did you gain information about love? Yes Prevalent throughout her writings.
Were you compassionate after your experience? Greatly compassionate toward others
What life changes occurred in your life after your experience? Unknown Julian readily admitted that she significantly changed her spiritual views as a result of divine revelations.
Have your relationships changed specifically because of your experience? Uncertain Uncertain Unknown
After the NDE:
Was the experience difficult to express in words? Uncertain
How accurately do you remember the experience in comparison to other life events that occurred around the time of the experience? I do not know how my remembrance of the experience compares to my remembrance of other life events at time Unknown
Do you have any psychic, non-ordinary or other special gifts after your experience that you did not have before the experience? Uncertain Unknown
Have you ever shared this experience with others? No
Did you have any knowledge of near death experience (NDE) prior to your experience? Uncertain Probably not.
What did you believe about the reality of your experience shortly (days to weeks) after it happened? Experience was definitely real
What do you believe about the reality of your experience now? Experience was definitely real
At any time in your life, has anything ever reproduced any part of the experience? Uncertain