Friday, 12 June 2009
The day we left London there was a tube strike. A dispute over a couple of sacked drivers meant an overground train, two buses and an hour and a half to get from Putney to Liverpool St. Station. It only took that long for the second train of the morning to get us halfway up the country, and into a part of England where tube strikes are something that happens to someone else on a planet far far away.
Norwich is bigger than Dunedin but smaller than Christchurch. We aren't actually staying in Norwich but just outside it where every village has a church: the old ones have square towers because they are Norman; the really old ones have round towers because they are Saxon. We are staying in a tiny cottage nestling in manicured parkland in what was once the glebe of an 18th century rectory. At the end of the drive is a church (square tower) and underneath the drive is, apparently, a plague pit. When the plague hit, more years ago than anyone can remember, the villagers of Hardingham realised that the village was a decidedly dodgy place to live, and moved all the houses away to form three new villages, leaving the church and rectory alone with the newly dug pit containing most of their friends and relatives. This is a place with serious amounts of history lying about everywhere. Like under our feet for example. People's conversations here include the plague years and the civil war and the Norman conquests and the Viking raids and the bombers of the Luftwaffe. The four horsemen of the apocalypse have galloped through here with monotonous regularity. And yet all is still and serene and there are several dozen varieties of birds and even more dozen shades of green in the countryside all around. There is a rich deep sense of spirituality which comes from constantly facing life in light and shadow over a very long time.
It is there in the Norman cathedral which feels like a place of daily worship in a way which Westminster Abbey simply does not. It is there especially in the little room where Mother Julian of Norwich lived and prayed for most of her adult life.
The tiny church of St. Julian was bombed in 1942 and Mother Julian's adjoining cell with it, but both were rebuilt in the early 1950s so that it is possible to sit exactly where she lived. This little holy place is open to the public and free. There are meditation stools and a bench to sit on, and votive candles continually burning before a crucifix. There is a window out into the same garden where the citizens of Norwich came, to sit outside her cell and ask the holy mother for her wise counsel.
'If there be anywhere on earth [where] a lover of God is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in the same precious love.'
'He did not say, You will never have a rough passage, you will never be over-strained, you will never feel uncomfortable, but he did say You will never be overcome. '
There is a tiny window into the church where she listened to the mass being said through the wall. There is that small space where she slept and ate and sat to write the Revelations of Divine Love, the first book ever to be written in the English language by a woman. Her living space is small but beautiful and somehow deeply powerful. Like the city of Norwich. Like this ancient landscape. Like the simple Gospel truth of death and resurrection which has faced bombs and disease and invasion and thrived through them all.