05 September 2008

All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. – Julian of Norwich

Patrick Comerford

Over the last few weeks, as I faced up to personal difficulties, and continue to wrestle with them, my mind keeps returning to those reassuring words from Dame Julian of Norwich:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

When she wrote those words, Dame Julian of Norwich was expressing her attitude toward life and her spirituality. Julian’s spirituality is filled with hope and confidence in the God “who loves us and delights in us,” the God who “will make all things well,” the God who created us to live fully the life we have been given.

Those words were going around in my head yesterday afternoon after going to the opera .

And then, as I went looking for another book in Hodges Figgis in Dublin city centre this morning – Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s new book, St. Paul’s Ephesus (Collegeville: Michael Glazier/Liturgical Press, 2008) – I accidentally stumbled on a new edition of a delightful little book, All Will be Will: Julian of Norwich (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2008), compiled by Richard Chilson.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) is one of the greatest English mystics. When she was 30, she suffered a severe illness and, believing she was on her deathbed, had a series of intense visions that ended on 13 May 1373. She recorded these visions and then reflected on them in theological depth 20 years later in Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love – the first book written in English by a woman.

Julian’s positive outlook does not come from ignoring suffering or being blind to it, but arises from the clarity she attained as she struggled with her own questions. This struggle gave her the ability to see beyond the pain and suffering and to look into the compassionate face of God. Only this gazing could reassure her that – despite pain, and sorrow – in God’s own time, “all shall be well.”

Julian had a heartfelt belief in a God who loves and graces us with an abundance that only God can give. And God’s love and grace placed Julian’s words before me again this morning.

According to Julian, the unfathomable mystery of love is the supreme sign of the reality of God, and sin is necessary so that we can become, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “instruments of love in the hands of God.”

T.S. Eliot adapted these ideas in Little Gidding (the fourth of his Four Quartets), when he wrote:

Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well …

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

Mother Julian wrote: “What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never, know different, without end” (342).

Her optimistic theology speaks of God’s love in terms of joy and compassion as opposed to law and duty. Suffering is not a punishment inflicted by God, but God loves and saves everyone. Her great saying, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” reflects this theology. It is one of the most individually famous lines in all theological writing, and is one of the most well-known phrases of the literature of her era.

Julian asked: “Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great harm which has come through sin to your creatures?” (227).

This was God’s response to her: “And so our good Lord answered all the questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortingly: I make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well; and you will see for yourself that every kind of thing will be well. ... And in these words God wishes us to be enclosed in rest and peace.” (229)

Despite these present problems, I am sure God wishes me to be enclosed in love and rest and peace, and that I will see for myself that every kind of thing will be well. And I thank God for the friendship and love I have in life.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College


Edwin said...

Dear Rev. Comerford,

Thank you for a poweful post. I was Googling the quote from Juliana of Norwich when I found your site. As an emergency physician, and father of four, I find myself between between a world of young hope and a world of suffering. Only Christ offers us hope in that place; and a great hope it is. Thank you for the reminder! It is a quote I intend to teach to my children.

Your brother in Christ,

Edwin Leap, MD

lyd said...

Wow, Edwin, it scares me silly that you are an ER physician. I would not be reassured to find, especially in a time of emergency and trauma, that my doctor believed in magic.

Anonymous said...

lyd - you are so wrong - I would only hope for a physician who puts his faith in God the Almighty.

claire F said...

i happened across your blog while researching the poem. Lovely.
Oh, and I don't know whether or not faith would sharpen a doctor's surgical skills but it would most definitely improve their bedside manner (which is healing to a patient in its own right.)
Claire F

Heather said...

Hebrew's 11 v1
"Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of that not yet seen"

The quote from Dame Julian of Norwich "All shall be well" embraces those very sentiments.

After all, Jesus said "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I make all things new. My word is trustworthy and true."

I enjoyed this post and the comments from a physician that has faith in Jesus as the ultimate healer is very comforting indeed.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this gift. Received very difficult news this past week and kept looking for a silver lining - some way to give thanks to God for what has happened in my life as a chaplain. I read Dame Julian's writings in the 1990's and while not forgetting them, they have not stayed with me. In reading the words "All shall be well . . ." was a great reminder of the hope that Christ gives us and as well, that Christ is with us each second of the day. Thank-you again for the reminder of "God with us" no matter what.

In Christ,

Wandering Caravans of Girl said...

Thank you for your inspiring words, Reverend. I enjoy and find much hope in Dame Julian's inspiration in suffering. And impermanence. All will indeed be well, in time.

Anonymous said...

At a difficult time Googled "All shall be well" and came across this blog post. Had a sense of peace as I read it that had not been there before I started. May be able to sleep now.Thank you

Carl J. Schroeder said...

Thank you for this post of your sweet heart Patrick, which I found by googling Julian's quote. I believe she refers to the apocatastasis, the tikkun olam, the restoration of all things to divine plan. This is both a future and eternal event, for it is found in the depth of the soul's knowing of the peace here and forever now. 300 years later Jane Ward Leade, another English mystic born near Julian, spoke too of the love of the God which is so great that even the devils shall be saved. My heart knows that when all the dark stars of the sinners so blind have burned themselves out, only God's love shall remain. There is only One Plan that has ever been made, that all the lost and found children of the divine shall live in the perfection of Heaven's joys forever and ever expanding amen.

Lisa said...

I just stumbled upon this in time of need -- how very comforting, and thank you for posting :)

And thank you, Carl, for a lovely addendum.

Unknown said...

Rev. Comerford,

I was trying to find more information about Mother Julian after having come across the quote in a book in a random bookstore near my house. It greatly intrigued me as did Julian. Thank you for your post. Beautifully written.


kelly said...

It matters not when comforting words are written - 1300's or 2009 - they comfort nonetheless. Thank you for putting your thoughts to paper/ blog, Rev. Comerford. Thank you for including Julian's words, and thank you to you who commented upon this blog. All a drink of cool water for this one.

Lizzi Large said...

I love the words of of Julian of Norwich. It was lovely to find this blog how these words have helped you through difficult times. I am not a Christian, and do not feel that these words are only for Christians....they are for us all to hear the truth that all things pass in time and eventually everything heals. The comfort these words hold for me is just that. I may be in the middle of difficult times, but these times will pass and easier times are ahead.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev Comerford

Like others, I came across this while googling the quote to go in my own blog. My husband was killed in a car crash aged 40, leaving me alone with two children in a foreign country. All is not well - and I have lost my previously deep faith....I welcomed your thoughts and appreciated them today. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Widowspique, I am so sorry for your loss.
And like most, I came across this trying to remember Julian of Norwich's name, for I remembered the quote and say it often to myself.

I also love the writer Ann Lamott's take on prayers, that there are only two: the first is "help" and the second is "thank you"...

Anonymous said...

Julian asked the Lord what did he mean when he said All is well; and all is well and all manner of things will be well. She was asked to put her faith in what he said because we don't that believe when simething reallly bad happens, we will ever get over it and it is not fair that this should happen. But if you put your trust in the Lord you will know tha in time it will become easier and we come to realise that all things happen for a reason and for our highest good even if we don't recognise it at this moment in time. I believe she did come to this understanding that is why she quoted these words all that time ago, which are now famous. But to anyone coming across them they don't seem to really understand what seemed like a puzzle of words to them. Love Light and Rainbows. Maz

mageetu said...

After some time first practicing Zen meditation and now Christian contemplative prayer, my understanding has become that she was passing on her learning of the fact that no matter how evil things seem to be on this earthly plane, in the ultimate sense there really are no problems. All is always already well. We get tiny glimpses of this unitive state occasionally, if rarely. Contemplative prayer opens the possibility for us to live in this oneness with God more fully.

Anonymous said...


It Is Well With My Soul - Audrey Assad

For me, this song expresses what Mother Julian has written.

Yestolife said...

Lovely to read the writings 'over the years' since the original post by Rev Comerford.
When I read the words by Julian of Norwich many years ago, (before the Internet and Google search!) I had a superficial relationship to the quote. However, more recently, longing to immerself myself more deeply in the Christian mystics - and indeed, mystics of other fairh traditions such as the Sufis, I have read more about Julian of Norwich. At a time when the world is assaulted and confronted with the multiple sins of war, destruction of other species and massive consumerism of the West without care for the people who suffer from this plundering of resources, it is of deep comfort hopefully leading to more trust for me to read Jesus' words to Julian in one of His showings or revelations that sin is necessary to show humanity of the depth of our need of God's grace and love and that 'All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well' ultimately.

Rosie said...

Amen!! 😀

Unknown said...

Thank you for this message of hope that "All will be well,and All will be well and all manner of thing will be well".These words comfort me now going from good health to an unexpected illness in a very short time.It helps me come closer to acceptance and to my God.God bless you all..

Paul Soffe said...

On Good Friday it is wonderful to come across this post and all the hope filled reflections