A in words an experience that is

A Revelation of Love relies on language, an ultimately human and physical mode of expression, to describe its spiritual experience.

Julian’s use of language draws attention to the very clear delineation between physical and spiritual modes of communication, while simultaneously existing as a metaphorical representation of the word becoming flesh. Julian both describes the spiritual in physical terms and uses physical metaphors to convey her spiritual experiences.This confusing relationship which swings between the literal and the metaphorical is synthesised in Julian’s discussion of ‘sight’. There is a clear distinction between ‘bodily’ sight and ‘gostly sight’, a spiritual way of gaining ‘understondyng’ and becoming closer to God through a communication that exists outside the confines of language as we know it. This attempt to describe in words an experience that is literally indescribable is perhaps what makes Julian of Norwich’s writing so remarkable.

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The spiritual experiences she communicates are ineffable; it is a mode of knowing which ‘transcends the normal faculties of sense and intellect. ‘1 Several characteristics of the language suggest that Julian dictated the work to an amanuensis: the rhythms and inflexions of a speaking voice inherent in the language, her repetition at certain points in the text (‘Se I am in althing, Se I doe althing. Se I left never myne hands of myn werks, never shall, withoute ende.

Se I lede al thing to the end.’ [11]) and her habit of interrupting herself: The nombre of my words passyth my wit and al my understondyng and al my mights, and it arn the heyest, as to my syte; for therein is comprehendid- I cannot tellyn; but the ioy that I saw in the shewyng of them passyth al that herte may willen and soule may desire; and therefore the words be not declaryd here but every man after the grace that God gevyth him in understondyng and lovyng receive hem in our lords menyng. [26]The fact that the words of A Revelation of Love were spoken perhaps brings us as readers one step closer to their physical source, ‘a primary mental process, and this in itself is an essentially creative element in the response evoked by Julian’s account of her revelations. ‘2 There is a sense that Julian uses language in an attempt to close this gap between knowing or ‘understondyng’ and expressing, though uses it in a manner that suggests she is aware of the ultimate fruitlessness of this attempt.The passage quoted above demonstrates her awareness of the limitations and restrictions of language.

She here distinguishes between words and saying, comprehending and knowing and seeing. She is unable to describe the ‘ioy that I saw in the shewyng’, i. e. her words are incapable of reflecting the extent and intensity of what she has experienced through her physical sight, and this physical sight has led to a kind of deeper spiritual knowing, one that transcends all need for words: ‘and therefore the words be not declared here. ‘There is a sense that the human body both stands in the way of Julian’s communion with God and her attempts to close the gap between knowing and expressing, while simultaneously acting as the medium through which she does this. The body holds an intense fascination for Julian, for her ‘it is the incarnation and passion that essentially gives meaning and value to human experience. ‘3 Her descriptions of Christ on the cross are extreme in the suffering physicality they present, and Julian meditates on this suffering, this ‘bodily sight’ to bring her closer to a ‘gostly sight’ or communication with God.

In fact, her ‘bodily sight’ is in many ways more ‘gostly’ than ‘bodily’ in the sense that she is not actually physically watching Christ’s crucifixion. She immerses herself in the intensity of the vision: I saw the bodily sight lesting of the bleding of the hede. The gret dropis of blode fell doun from the garland like pellots semand as it had cum out of the veynis; and in the comeing out it were browne rede, for the blood was full thick; and in the spredeing abrode it were bright red; and whan it come to the browes, than it vanyshid; notwithstondyng the bleeding continuid till many things were seene and understondyn…

The plentioushede is like to the dropis of water that fallen of the evys after a gret showre of reyne that fall so thick that no man may number them with bodily witte. And for the roundehede, it were like to the scale of herryng in the spreadeing on the forehead. [7] The description of the bleeding of Christ is almost repulsive in its realism and accuracy. The sense of the weight of the droplets of blood falling down ‘like pellots’ and the changing colour of the blood as it spreads over the head makes uncomfortable reading for a modern audience.

Julian’s firm rootedness in the physical is demonstrated even by her comparison of the head to ‘the scale of herryng’, but this physicality exists only so that ‘many things were seene and understondyn’. The bleeding head is only the first stage in a delineated thought process that is characteristic of Julian throughout the book. There is a constant recourse to numbering things and creating lists, to the segmenting of virtues, ideas, beliefs, and even Christ’s body into its constituent parts.


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