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Rector's Message

Updated: May 11

May 4, 2024

Dear friends,

Two years ago my wife and I led a pilgrimage to England, visiting churches and cathedrals in the counties of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. We spent several days in Norwich, the county town of Norfolk. Along with its magnificent cathedral, Norwich is famous for a 14th century Christian anchoress called Julian. 

Julian lived in a cell attached to St Julian’s church. The church has been substantially rebuilt since medieval times. In World War II the church was badly damaged during a bombing raid and the new church is built on the site where it is believed Julian had her cell. 

Julian lived in interesting times. In the 1340s bubonic plague is believed to have killed half the population. Julian was also alive during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. She was well known at the time for her spiritual wisdom, and people would visit her for advice and direction. Her writings about her relationship with God, entitled Revelations of Divine Love, were only published in the 19th century, but have since had a lasting influence on Christian thought and practice. 

One of the most well known of Julian’s revelations concerns her meditation on a hazelnut. Here’s an extract from the relevant passage (with the Old English updated for modern ears):

“And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has been through the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it. But what did I see in it? It is that God is the Creator and the protector and the lover. For until I am substantially united to him, I can never have perfect rest or true happiness, until, that is, I am so attached to him that there can be no created thing between my God and me.”

Julian had a holy desire to understand the nature of reality. She prayed ardently, and many of her revelations came after she had been, in effect, “pestering” God. She was not to be discouraged, and God rewarded her persistence by sharing many of the secrets of the world. 

I know of no anchoress or anchorite existing in the church today - in Julian’s day there were around 200 across the British Isles. There are some hermits left, in remote locations, but none that is purely confined to living in a single cell attached to a church. For many people today, such practices seem strange and unthinkable. But at the time it was one of the ways of responding to the call of God to serve.  

Our pilgrims visited St. Julian’s church, which is not much bigger than a small chapel, and prayed together in silence. At the end of our short stay, the Rector invited us to take a hazelnut from a basket on the table of the cell. The hazelnut is a surprisingly effective aide to prayer; the practice of holding a hazelnut in your palm, and focusing on it, helps to still the mind. 

Julian discovered that God’s love was greater and deeper than she had imagined. When you turn to God in prayer, turn in love - our prayer is simply a response to God’s love. Let it shape your own understanding of reality, for love is at the center of the universe.

With prayers and blessings

Father David

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