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Julian Biography

Amy Frykholm's new contemplative biography of Julian of Norwich strikes the heart of both a compelling narrative of a Julian's life (visions included) and the culture in which she grew up. Frykholm begins the narrative by telling the readers that "The parish church was the center of life, and most parishioners believed in both God and the devil" (8). Julian and her mother were not only regular attenders of the parish church but they ordered their lives through the feasts and observances, prayers and penitence. Yet, as Frykholm clearly lays forth, Julian desired something beyond the routine prayers and masses, she sought three desires. These desires, a "minde" of Christ's passion, a bodily sickness to draw close to death's door and a three "wounds" (contrition, compassion, and longing for God")(8-9). Frykholm goes onto bring out the rich details of life in Norwich, both the everyday dealings (including smells) and the orders of friars. The book is rich in the historical picture we draw from 14th century Norwich. Frykhom is not afraid to enter into the historical and theological discussion of the times including the idea that pestilence was God's work. Yet, as the author indicates, many were not sure what sins God was bringing pestilence for (26-28).

As we come to May 13th, 1373 the beginning of Julian's visions, we see the movement of her heart in both the questions she asks and the overwhelming feeling of identifying with Jesus and his sufferings. Frykholm states in this part that "Of the three desires that she had expressed in her youth, all of them wer fulfilled in this vision, at once terrible and lovely" (34). The interesting note that I found in these visions were the fact that Frykholm has seemingly drawn a distinction between the visions and their cross centered direction and the priest and his heaven pointed direction. It seemed as if the church and its priests were causing were an obstacle to her view of the spiritual life and her visions.

Prior to becoming an anchorite, Julian began meeting regularly with a friar who wanted to know of her visions and her ideas. It was not an easy time in this period of history in the church for women, for they had to be very careful about their learning. Yet, this friar was able to read to her from the Scriptures and in translation, give her portions of Augustine and listen to her visions, a kind of spiritual mentor (50-52).

The biggest beauty of this short contemplative biography was the last chapter. Frykholm opens up for the reader Julian's message of the spiritual life that has great theological impact as well. "People's view of God often seemed to her lacking in one crucial area: love" (98). In theological jargon, people viewed God as transcedent, holy, righteous, and just and yet they failed to see the immanence of God, that he came down from Earth in love to die for a people whom he loved. As Julian says, "God wants us to root ourselves in His being, in His love. All gifts that we long for come from that" (98). This kind of love is something all Christians can learn from as they read this book, not just in word but in deed also.

Julian became a kind of mentor to those traveling down the journey of the spiritual life and Amy Frykholm has opened our eyes to her life, struggle, and visions. This book is a great resource for learning about Julian's life, the parish church life in the fourteenth century, and the visions that captivated a church.


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