It was the sort of day when all I could do was worry about Julian of Norwich.
“Ah, yes,” said the shade of Lady, drifting over towards my table. “’All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ Words immortalized by T. S. Eliot, in his Little Gidding, the last of the Four Quartets.”
She’s just given a class on poetic transitions, so of course she would know this stuff.
“Did you know Julian was the first female author in English?” I asked her. “At least, she’s supposed to be, or maybe so far as we know. Anyway, there she was, walled into her little room, which had a window out to the world, and a window into the church. Quite a metaphor, really. But what I didn’t know is that you had to have the money to support yourself. Oh, and that at the time, Norwich had 35 anchorites all living in their little cells.”
“She got walled in?”
“Yup, part of the process. Had to go get the bishop to approve; then, once it was done, that was it. No leaving until they carry you out to the graveyard. The question, of course, is what she did all day. Because it sounds quite simple to pray all day, but have you ever tried it? It takes a hell of a lot of discipline.”
“Well, I’ve been in pain. So much so that there was nothing I could do but focus on my breath, and count the inhalations from one to ten, and then start over again. And I did it for hours….”
I remember that, since I had done much the same thing last December, just after I had fallen and broken my back. And I wonder, sometimes, whether prayer isn’t just a response to pain, be it physical or spiritual.
“Well, that could be, but what about all that devotional literature and poetry? You know, George Herbert and all the rest? They didn’t seem to be in any particular pain, they were just devout, and sort of drunk on exaltation….”
“I guess,” I said. “But really, at times I wonder if becoming an anchorite really wasn’t some sort of spiritual stunt. You know, the really hard thing about following a spiritual path is to do it without anyone knowing you’re doing it. But Julian attracted a lot of attention by withdrawing. Oh, and by having all those visions, of course….”
“Well, I have a vision,” said Lady. “Ten or twelve Poet’s Passages, in all corners of the world. Then, I’ll visit each Passage for a month, each year. Do you suppose if I locked myself into a little room in each Passage….”
“It might work,” I told her. “Anyway, it worked for Julian, since everybody and his brother—religiously speaking—hoofed it over to hang out with her. Oh, and to get her to pray for them. You know, I wonder if God wasn’t good and tired of her? She was, after all, a guest who refused to leave. And every time God just wanted to sit down and put up his feet, there was Julian, praying away, clamoring for attention. I imagine him sighing and asking, ‘don’t you have some embroidery to do?’”
“So you think it was kind of a stunt, walling herself in?”
“I think it was one of the few ways that a woman could gain fame,” I said. “Though I suppose she could have become an abbess somewhere, or a scholar, like Heloise. Anyway, it’s always curious to me which revelations or visitations get accepted by the hierarchy, and which don’t. Why should we credit Julian with her sixteen visitations, but not that nutso up there in Wisconsin, who got 100,000 people up to wait for the Virgin Mary in 1950?”
“Oh dear, you’re not still hung on that woman, Marc. It can’t be healthy. You have to move on….”
“I suppose,” I said. “But there is a certain snobbishness in religion, you know. Julian is all very well, because she is all very dead, and has been for six hundred years of so. So if she tells us that she saw God, who showed her something the size of a hazelnut, and then got the answer “in a general way,” that that was all that was made….well, that we take seriously. But why should God or the Virgin Mary not be appearing today? And really, do you think either of them would bother to run by the bishop, and explain that he or she would be doing a little visitation up at the van Hoof farm?”
“Well, I certainly would,” said Lady. “Imagine if the Holy Blessed Virgin, or whatever it is that they called her, appeared in a vision to the pope, and gave him the Google coordinates to the farmstead, all the better to pin it down? Having the pope on your side goes a long way to getting the visitation approved, you know.”
“It certainly does,” I said. “Remember all that business about Fátima, and how John Paul II convinced himself that he had been the bishop seen by the three little kids in 1917? And then there was all that weird business about ‘consecrating’ the entire country of Russia, which apparently the Virgin was heavy into. So John Paul did it, and poof! In six short years, communism was toast! The wall had fallen, and the USSR dissolved.”
“Wonderful what these Marian visitations can do,” said Lady. “You don’t suppose she could drop buy the Passage, one of these days, or maybe drop in at Poetry Night? You know, appear as a bright light coming out of the mirror above the piano? Seen by all, and wearing the ‘True Love’ medallion? Though really, if she did, I’d really like some advanced warning, so I could order up a few thousand of them.”
“Right,” I told her. “But be careful what you with for. Do you know that every lunatic would be coming into the café, not spending a dime, but using the restroom and taking a little sliver of the piano? Oh, and then after that was gone, they’d start on the stage, and pretty soon the whole place would be demolished! And can you imagine what 100,000 people must have done to that farm up in Necedah?”
So I show her!