Anchoress

Wikipedia: An anchorite or anchoret (female: anchoress) is someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, or Eucharist-focused life. Whilst anchorites are frequently considered to be a type of religious hermit, unlike hermits they were required to take a vow of stability of place, opting for permanent enclosure in cells often attached to churches.

Or, in our cases, a living room?

The last post I wrote was one written in a time of doubt, sadness, disappointment. In other words, last week.

The only thing that has changed from last week is that the restrictions for our state have tightened. Restaurants are closed to indoor dining again, gyms closed, and perhaps most painful of all, indoor gatherings with anyone other than who is living with you right now are prohibited through mid-December, to try and stem the tide of new Covid infections. Rates of infection are up. Families are separated again. Holed up. Hunkered in. I just told my stepdaughters not to come for Thanksgiving. And I hate that.

So why do I feel better today than last week, when things are looking even worse?

I have no freaking idea.

But the words written by the Middle Ages anchoress Julian of Norwich have started running quietly unbidden in my head, over and over…

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

So I looked her up, to find out why her words are in my head right now. Haven’t thought about her since I lost my ancient copy of Baker’s Lives of the Saints.

Apparently Julian, along with more than half of Europe, contracted the Black Death, the plague; unlike so many, she survived it. But in the middle of her illness, at the very moment of deepest sickness and despair, near to death, THAT’S when she received the visions of Christ that she wrote of, for the rest of her life. THAT was when she heard him say that all shall be well.

ALL SHALL BE WELL???

It’s the kind of ridiculous thing people say when they are beyond logic, splashing merrily about in the River of Denial. It’s what you think in delirium. Woo-hoo, pour me another gin and tonic, all shall be well. It’s unhinged. It’s potentially pathological. It’s the thing the Black Knight of Monty Python says – “It’s just a flesh wound!” MAYYYBE it will be well later. But now? In the middle of the disaster? I don’t think so. It’s silly. It’s irresponsible. It’s absurd. You smack someone saying that while the ship is sinking. “GET A GRIP!” If you would have heard that in your plague-induced fever, you certainly wouldn’t admit it once you’re past the whitewater, out of danger. You wouldn’t give it a second actual thought, right??

Unless of course it’s true.

Then it’s insane.

It’s even stranger when you think about the history of this woman. Again, Wikipedia says of her, “An important church ceremony would have taken place at the church, in the presence of the Bishop of Norwich. During the ceremony, psalms from the Office of the Dead would have been sung for her, as if it were her own funeral, and at some point Julian would have been led to her cell door and into the room beyond. The door would afterwards have been sealed up, and she would have remained in her cell for the rest of her life.”

Damn. Who does that level of crazy?

I am glad that I’m not feeling “the call” to become an anchoress. Don’t be singing no Office of the Dead for me, yet. As soon as they laid in the last brick in the wall, I’d be a hysterical hot mess.

But this quarantine thing….well. Not to compare, not to exaggerate, but sometimes, it feels like the bricks are stacked nearby…

I guess the calm I feel isn’t really mine, anymore than the words “all shall be well” were Julian’s. It’s safe to say I am not that mature, or that crazy. But Jesus apparently is. Jesus is insisting that all is still well. Right now.

So. What do I do with that?

I honestly don’t know. I doubt that I’m going to get some mystic vision like Julian, and the fact that she had it while having THE PLAGUE doesn’t inspire me to step up and volunteer. But it’s good to know that someone heard that, and had the wisdom to repeat it, to write it down. It doesn’t make sense, but it rings true. Go figure.

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

Get up from your couch. Wrap your bathrobe around you. Put down the tumbler of wine. Use the peephole on your door. Look out there. Up and down, as far as the peephole allows. There are truths bigger than what we know out there. There is love beyond what we can feel out there. There is space and wind and power and joy that goes far past our horizon of sight. All manner of things beyond. And inside too, where we are. There too. Look.

All manner of things.

Shall.

Be.

Well.

Postscript. Apparently Julian had a cat for company. Wise girl.

One thought on “Anchoress

  1. Thank you soooo much for this reflection! I really needed these words this week, as I deal with my mom’s failing health and cognition, realizing that I may lose yet another family member in the hell scape that is 2020. Bless you, my friend!

    Like

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