Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nearing a Breakup with Julian

“Love’s Trilogy?” said Lady. “What is this, Marc, a Christian book!”

“It is a little surprising,” I told her, “since oil and water are far more compatible than I and Christianity. Anyway, this is all about Julian of Norwich—circa 1470—and her revelations, or showings, as she called them. So I figured I would walk as far as I could down the road with Julian, and then, when I could do no more, I’d sit by the side of the road and wish her Godspeed. Which may be today, since we’ve got to two major hurdles—the Trinity and the Passion of Christ—and she soared right over them. Clever woman, though dead these many centuries. And here I am, slacking back and wondering if I can tiptoe around them.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Well, they’re both sort of central to Christianity—at least most people think so—but I’ve never quite bought in. Given that Julian and I got along until the fourth revelation, and there are 86 or so, it means that we’ve barely gotten out of the driveway. Or put it this way: we parted ways on page 13, and the book has 333 pages.”

“What—333! That’s your favorite number! Marc, that’s a sign!”

“Not really, 333 is the page that the last revelation starts, so it goes on for a bit longer….”

“Still a sign!”

“Listen, can we just drop it? I tried, I really tried, but I just can’t.”

“So what’s the problem with the Trinity?”

“The problem is that I used to know why it was important, historically speaking, and I know that everybody got into a big to-do about it, and there were conferences and diets and schisms and charges of heresy and excommunications—the entire religious smorgasbord. But here’s the deal: I’ve never seen the point in it, even when I could understand it, which I mostly couldn’t. I mean, I think it was Karen Armstrong who said, ‘we never really got the Trinity in the West,’ and who also said that a person would have to meditate most of a lifetime to understand the Trinity. Oh, and I was perfectly fine with the old song, “Three in one and one in three, oh, the noble Trinity!”

“Not sure that ever made it down to Puerto Rico,” said Lady.

“Trust me, it was never on Dick Clark’s hit parade. So I muddled around with the Trinity for years, until I discovered that somebody in the 13th century had come up with a great design for it all, so much so that they were evening wearing it on the shields. In fact, it’s called the Shield of the Trinity, or Scutum Fidei, in Latin.”

“Yeah? What’s it look like?”

“Check it out—and the guy who designed had a serious career waiting for him on Madison  Avenue, many centuries later….”


“Not sure I get that….”

“OK—try this….”

 “Slightly better. Explanation?”

“Well God is at the center, and goes into the three components of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And vice versa, since the arrows go both way. Which mean that the three elements of the Trinity are also God. But the Holy Ghost is not the Son, or the Father. ‘Est’ being ‘is’ and ‘non est’….”

“Do let me guess that one,” said Lady, more dryly than the Sahara Desert. “Anyway, since we’ve cracked the Trinity, why jettison poor Julian?”

“In the fourth revelation, she waxes ecstatic about the Trinity, and why is it that the Trinity just leaves me cold? Granted, I haven’t put my lifetime into it—but why would a simple creature, by her own definition, care about it? Much less go nutso over it?”

“What does she say?”

“’And in the same showing (revelation) suddenly the Trinity almost filled my heart with joy…’”


“Bingo—I picked up on that, too. Curiously, the commentator didn’t mention it. But then Julian goes on a riff, at one point describing the Trinity as our ‘everlasting lover.’ Did I tell you ecstatic? Anyway, why should she care? Why should anyone care? And why were all those medieval crusaders putting it on their shield?”

“I’m not sure I’ve met too many people so occupied with the Trinity.”

“I’m not occupied, and that’s the problem. And don’t even get me started about the Passion—which is the whole thing about the crucifixion, loosely—because I don’t get that, either. Though I will say that I can think of no other religion that is as narrative-driven as Christianity. I mean, look at Buddhism: what happens there? Guy sits under tree. Guy receives wisdom. Guy teaches wisdom. End of that story!”

“Right—might be hard to tease out an hour and forty minutes of film on that.”

“It’s been done, but not without some stretching.”

“So what’s your problem with the Passion?”

“Well, Julian gets totally into it. You can almost feel and smell the blood. And of course, I’m such a smart-ass about it all. Tell me that Christ died for my sins, and my first reaction is, ‘how very presumptuous of him.’ Which doesn’t go over big, theologically speaking. Anyway, until Susan suggested that the whole point of the passion was not suffering but vulnerability, the whole thing left me cold. So now I’m lukewarm, which doesn’t feel quite so good, next to Julian’s blast furnace.”

“So you didn’t get anything out of the revelation?”

“Yeah, I did, but it sort of slipped by the commentator, so it’s probably nothing. Anyway, what do you make of this: ‘For it seemed to me that it could well be that I would—by the permission of God, and with his Protection—be tempted by fiends before I died.’ All that, by the way, being tossed off in a parenthesis, whereas I would stick that right up that at the top of the revelation. In fact, I’d bang a concerto out of that drum, and stick the Passion and the Trinity in a footnote.”

“What’s so interesting about that?”

“Seems like a more fertile field than the other two. Interesting that Julian sees the temptation by fiends as something occurring with God’s permission, and with his protection.”

“Free will?”

“Yeah,” I said. “But I think it’s more than that. I think that temptation by fiends is necessary, and always has been, throughout the Christian narrative. There’s that snake, you know….”

“I’ve met many a snake,” said Lady.

“No, the one with the apple…”

“That, too, though every snake, you can be sure, has his apple. Haven’t you? Met the snakes, I mean.”

“Seems like I have; I think we all have.”

“And what apples have you bit into? With or without God’s permission and protection?”

I consider this.

“I spent years crippled with self-doubt about my talent. Think that counts?”

“Remember the light and the bushel?”

“I think I refused a lot of love that I should have accepted. How about that?”

“Remember the fatted calf?”

“Not sure that works….”

“It absolutely works. We go off, we stray, we make mistakes, and then, somehow, we get home again. And yes, the brother gets his nose out of joint, but there is also the father, who hasn’t stopped loving, even when his child was straying. The story would have worked better, by the way, if the author had eliminated the other brother, and made the possible rejection internal to the Prodigal Son….”

“Quite possibly….”

“There’s something I’m missing, here,” I told her. “I know there’s a snake I’ve overlooked in the grass, though I’ve grown drunk on his fruit. But what is it? What am I missing?”

“Maybe,” said Lady, “if you get to the end of the road with Julian, you’ll find out.”

Could she be right?