By Rev. Christina L. Wright, Ph.D, Associate Director of the Department of Spiritual Care at Michigan Medicine
Over 600 years ago, the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich wrote her now famous words, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” I have repeated these words countless times to ground myself in difficult times, and so it is not surprising that these words have offered me comfort and a foundation as we journey through the uncharted territory of the covid-19 pandemic. The words are so simple, but one of the things I love about Julian’s work is that these words are not offered as a platitude meant to gloss over reality. Indeed, she continues her writing by arguing with God about how things actually aren’t well. Julian fully understands the depths of life’s difficulties and yet is still able to proclaim that “all shall be well.” How?!
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to write a devotion to be included in a book of prayers and devotions. As I re-read the devotion, I am reminded that the lessons in her words apply just as much today as they ever have. The world feels anything but “well.” We crave certainty and the familiar, control and normalcy. And yet a virus with no yet known cure has ravaged our lives and worlds, which will likely never be “normal” again. How can we possibly find peace? How can anything be well in this time? I offer Julian’s words and this devotion as one path.
Excerpt from We Pray With Her: Encouragement for All Women Who Lead. Peck-McClain, E., Trexler, D., Tyler, J., Boyer, P., and Sullivan, S. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018:
As a hospital chaplain, I spend a lot of time with people for whom all is not well. Their stories are often heartbreaking: their bodies are not well, and frequently ,as a result, their emotional lives are not well, their relationships are not well, and their souls are not well. To say to them, “all shall be well,” feels insensitive to the pain they are experiencing. And yet, those are precisely the words that Julian of Norwich heard from Jesus in a vision during a time when she suffered from a grace illness and was prepared to die. Instead of death, she experienced God speaking to her, offering visions or unending love. God reminded her that although there are reasons to worry, reasons to feel exhausted by life’s struggles, God will provide for us.
The first time I heard these words was in a song we performed in my church choir. From the moment I first sang her words, they struck a chord deep within my soul. It felt counter-intuitive to say “all shall be well” at a time in my life all was very much not well. But something was grounding and affirming in repeatedly singing that phrase against a simple yet powerful melody. Julian’s visions remind us that amid all our struggles, God provides us unending love, hope, and peace, no matter what. Indeed, all shall be well.
We all have those moments, seasons, and even years when all is not well. We face struggles that churn up those gut-wrenching feelings of unrest, times when we cry out to God for peace and wholeness and rest amid pain, uncertainty, and chaos. One of the hardest things to do is to sit with that “unwellness,” to realize we are unable to fix it and, yet still, to find some measure of peace. Julian’s visions remind us peace isn’t the absence of struggle; rather peace is remaining grounded in the strength of our faith, in a belief that tells us God is our ultimate source of peace and that, through God, all shall indeed be well.