The Mbird Book Club: Revelations of Divine Love

This Sunday with Simeon Zahl!

Mockingbird / 5.16.23


The next session of Mockingbird’s monthly Zoom book club is coming up this Sunday, and it is one you will not want to miss! Our favorite Cambridge professor, Simeon Zahl, will be leading us in a discussion of the classic 14th century text, Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.

Not only is Julian the earliest woman whose writing in English can be identified, but these interpretations of her mystical visions are as powerful and provocative today as they must surely have been to her medieval readers. Yet, it is incredible that these works survive at all, having been composed by a lowly anchoress — a female recluse who lived for decades enclosed alone in a small cell beside St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, likely not leaving that cell until her death sometime after 1416. The Revelations she describes and interprets are based on mystical visions she experienced while deathly sick in the 1370s.

By way of introduction, having just marked another Mother’s Day, it is perhaps worth contemplating one of Julian’s most memorable themes — the “motherhood” of God in Christ. As Julian writes in chapter 60 (longer text), “Jesus is our true mother, feeding us not with milk, but with himself, opening his side for us.” She continues:

[I]t is necessary to say a little more about […] how we are redeemed again by the Motherhood of mercy and grace into our natural state, where we were made by the Motherhood of natural love; a natural love which never leaves us. Our mother in nature, our mother in grace — because he wanted to become our mother wholly and in all things — undertook the foundation of his work very humbly and very gently in the Virgin’s womb. […] [O]ur great God, the supreme wisdom of all, made himself ready in this humble place and dressed himself in our poor flesh, himself to perform the service and the office of motherhood in everything. The mother’s service is closest, most willing, and most sure: closest because it is most natural, most willing because it is most loving, and most sure because it is most true. No one ever might nor could perform this office fully, nor ever did, but he alone. We know that our mothers bear us and bring us into this world to suffering and to death, and yet our true mother Jesus, he, all love, gives birth to us into joy and to endless life — blessed may he be! So he sustains us within himself in love and was in labor for the full time, he who wanted to suffer the sharpest pangs and the most grievous sufferings that ever were or ever shall be, and at the last he died. And when he had finished and so given birth to us into bliss, not even all this could satisfy his marvelous love; and he revealed that in these exaltedly surpassing words of love: ‘If I could suffer more, I would suffer more.’

He could not die any more, but he would not cease from working. So then he has to feed us, for a mother’s precious love has made him owe us that. The mother can give her child her milk to suck, but our precious mother Jesus, he can feed us with himself — and does, most courteously and most tenderly with the blessed sacrament that is precious food of true life. And with all the sweet sacraments he sustains us most mercifully and graciously […].

The mother can lay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender mother Jesus, he can lead us intimately into his blessed breast through his sweet open side and reveal within part of the Godhead and the joys of heaven, with spiritual certainty of endless bliss.

Amen to that! The book club meets on Zoom this Sunday, May 21st, 3:30 Eastern Time.

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Future books, discussion leaders, and dates are:


June 25th — Will McDavid, Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling (1843) (160 pgs)

July 30th — Meaghan Ritchey, Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace (1947) (248 pgs)

August 27th — Sam Bush, TBD

September 24th — Jason Micheli, Robert Jenson’s A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live? (2016) (152 pgs)

October 29th — Stephanie Phillips, Heather Havrilesky’s Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage (2022) (304 pgs)

November 26th — Todd Brewer, T. S. Eliot’s The Elder Statesman (1959)

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One response to “The Mbird Book Club: Revelations of Divine Love”

  1. Marty Chapman says:

    Was this discussion recorded of Julian of Norwich’s writings? I would love to watch if so! Thank you,

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