(With thanks to Gill Butterworth, who is a Companion with Julian of Norwich, for this article.)

The experience of Julian of Norwich is relevant ‘for such a time as this’. (Esther 4.14) and I find she is a great comfort. Mother Julian lived through three waves of the Black Death, in 14th century Norwich.  She knew people who died.  She may have lost some people very close to her and mourned them – perhaps at a distance – unable to attend their funeral.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many people to self-isolate.  Julian knew, by vocation, obedience and choice, what it is like to live isolated from others.  She may have had access to a small enclosed garden, but we don’t really know. Those of us with gardens can get some fresh air and see nature growing, but that is less easy if you live in an apartment or high-rise flat. The solitary, limited, enclosed life has become a reality for many this year, with no choice in the matter.

Today we can keep in touch via e-mails, texts, Facebook, What’s App, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, phone calls, post, etc.  Julian had none of these in the 14th century. She had limited contact with her priest, spiritual director and servants. Also with the many people who came to her for spiritual counsel, but whom she did not see as her window was heavily curtained.

The Black Death spread differently from Covid-19, and we now know much more about hygiene and infection control, medical and scientific research, epidemiological mapping and vaccines.  But we seem to be as susceptible to panic, fear, despair, selfishness and believing misinformation and ‘fake news’ as our mediaeval sisters and brothers were. The media is two-edged – a good way to disseminate helpful advice and information but also capable of whipping things out of proportion and worrying people. We are also seeing the best is being brought out in people in wonderful instances of love, care and self-sacrifice and community awareness..We should all follow the official advice we are given to stay as safe as we can. But perhaps we can follow Julian by filling time with thoughts of the love of God rather than being lead off-track by the media circus.

The God she shows us in the suffering and compassionate Jesus is the same God for us. “He did not say, ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted.’ But he said ‘You shall not be overcome’. God wants us to heed these words so that we shall  be strong in trust, both in sorrow and in joy.               

Source : Association for Church Editors