Novak (novak) wrote,

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Personal/Theological Notebook: Slow days and Teaching Julian

Things have been quiet the last few days. I'm still in a bit of that state of shock that I described earlier, at having finished exams and suddenly having that huge hole in my schedule. And I admit that I've been slow to jump into the grading process, but have still taken a few days to myself. I had office hours this afternoon, sitting on the Bridge at Raynor Library with the cold grey of November rain outside, and had a tutoring/brainstorming appointment with Meg Rothbart tonight for her paper for Ralph Del Colle's Explorations In Christian Theology course, but that was the extent of the official work.

I taught Mickey's class yesterday, building on his Friday lecture giving a sketch of medieval history in order to set Julian of Norwich in her context. I tried to highlight themes that they were running into in her book, and then use the themes to build additional context for her life and perspectives. So I started on her "Christ our Mother" language, and used that to also describe the huge advances women had made in medieval society before the Renaissance's renewal of Roman law along with Roman arts reduced women to the utter legal disenfranchisement that the 20th century really began to break down. Although the University of Hollywood impression is "medieval women were chattel, modern women are free!," the greater irony is that in many respects women today have yet to equal the status of women in the 13th or 14th centuries. I noted in passing the similar elimination of slavery in the early Christian era in Europe and its rebirth under the renaissance of Roman law as well. With her theme of hope, I talked about the impact of the Plague in her lifetime, and the waves that went through Norwich, giving a context to her challenge to God of how it was that "all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things shall be well." I also tried to highlight the rich Trinitarian nature of her spirituality, to not make the mistake of reading her repetitions as bad style, but to notice that they were consistently woven in patterns of three and that she saw this triune Presence throughout reality as richly engaged with our lives. There I noted chapters 41-43 as examples of her own complaints of the dryness of prayer, and that a society like hers that had achieved a cultural synthesis of secular and spiritual concerns was not a naive one, or one that had no struggles in maintaining some simple-minded faith in the way that moderns opine in their prejudices against the medieval. In taking her seriously as a person, we can see instead a culture that was interwoven with a rich, critical, and incredible fecund spirituality, one that might take us some imaginative effort to understand while we exist in a society were spirituality is too often reduced to illusory feeling-good-about-oneself, or advertising images of orange-swathed Buddhist monks selling us cars or real estate.

I could only wish that they had the A Lesson of Love edition of the Showings, and not the Penguin Classics one. I'm all for Penguin in most cases, but the editor's choice to lay out her language in poetic forms in A Lesson of Love was a stroke of rarely-equaled brilliance in an editor: the way it highlights and reveals the patterns in her "repetitions" that I mentioned above is one of the most illuminating treatments of a text I've ever seen. I'm delighted that it has been reprinted as a paperback: I had bought copies of the 1988 hardcover edition for people, but they were ever-increasingly hard to find. I don't know that I care for the new cover, though, shallow judge that I am....
Tags: books, julian of norwich, media, personal, students, teaching, theological notebook

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