Strange as the combination may seem, Julian of Norwich, recent Christopher Nolan movies and the Book of Mormon (Alma's story specifically) have all blended together this week to teach me more deeply about some of those mystery words: love, light, and faith.
First, Julian. I've written of her before, but if this is the first you have heard her name, I'll fill in the blanks: the oldest surviving English writings by a woman are authored by Julian of Norwich (c. 8 November 1342 – c. 1416) who at about the age of thirty had a series of visions as she lay on what she thought was her deathbed. One scholar of her writings, Father John-Julian of the order of Julian of Norwich (can you tell he adores Julian?), believes she may have been Julian Erpingham Phelip, recently widowed at the time of her illness. After her miraculous healing, she would have then remarried, become a mother of three children, was widowed again, and to honor her second husband's wish for her not to remarry (if she was Julian Erpingham Phelip), chose to become an anchoress of St. Julian's church in Norwich. There, she would spend her seclusion pondering the visions she had written when they first occurred (what is called the short text), expanding upon them and writing what is now referred to as the long text, or Showings of Divine Love.
Truly, her writings do witness of the love of God as nothing I have ever read before. It is a profound theme throughout her work. Reading her "Showings" deepens and broadens my understanding and gratitude of the Savior's "dearworthy" atonement in ways I do not have words for. Julian was a devout Catholic (the only Christian denomination at the time), and what God showed her, was seen through that lens, but with my lens, I see the same principles I have always believed (many that are uniquely LDS).
I also learn to see old things in new ways that astound me with their beauty and power. Julian's symbolic comparison of Christ as our mother, for example. In my faith, we often speak of Christ becoming our Father through the atonement and spiritual rebirth which process begins with sacred ordinances and covenants, like baptism:
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. (Mosiah 5:7)
Julian sees no reason why this would not be best described as Christ symbolically becoming, instead, our mother:
We are aware that all our mothers give us birth only to pain and dying; and what is it but that our true Mother Jesus, He--all love--gives us birth to joy and to endless life. Blessed may He be! Thus He carries us within Himself in love, and labors until full term so that He could suffer the sharpest throes and the hardest birth pains that ever were or ever shall be, and die at the last. And when He had finished, and so given us birth to bliss, not even all this could satisfy His wondrous love. (And that He showed in these high, surpassing words of love [earlier given to her in a vision]:"If I could suffer more. I would suffer more.")
He could die no more, but He would not cease working: therefore, it behooved Him that He feed us (for the dearworthy love of motherhood has made Him owe us that). The mother can give her child suck from her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with Himself: and He does it most graciously and most tenderly with the Blessed Sacrament, which is the Precious Food of true life. And with all the sweet Sacraments [here I think of the saving ordinances and the covenants we make] He supports us most mercifully and graciously...
The mother can lay the child tenderly on her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus can more intimately lead us into His blessed Breast by His sweet open Side [the spear-wound in his side], and show therein part of the Godhead and part of the joys of heaven, with spiritual certainty of eternal bliss...(And that was shown in the tenth showing...where He says, "Lo, how I love thee," gazing into His side and rejoicing.)...
To the quality of motherhood belongs natural love, wisdom, and knowledge--and this is God; for though it is true that our bodily birth is but little, lowly, and simple as compared to our spiritual birth, yet it is He who does it within the created mothers by whom it is done... And He wishes us to know it; for He wishes to have all our love made fast to Him. In this I saw that all our debt that we owe by God's bidding to fatherhood and motherhood (because of God's Fatherhood and Motherhood) is fulfilled in true loving of God, which blessed love Christ works in us. (And this was shown... where He says: "It is I whom thou lovest.") ~ The Complete Julian, ed. Fr John-Julian OJN, pgs.287-289
Of his love when we sin:
For we shall see truly in heaven without end that we have grievously sinned in this life, and notwithstanding this, we shall see that we were never lessened in His love, nor were we ever of less value in His sight. ~ Ibid., p.293
The words in this passage of Julian's stand out to me particularly in connection with the liken thoughts I wish to share:
Thus I understood that whatever man or woman willingly chooses God in this life for the sake of love, he can be certain that he is loved without end with endless love which creates in him that grace... It is God's will that I see myself just as much bound to Him in love as if He had done all that He has done just for me. And thus should every soul think in regard to His Love: that is to say, the love of God creates in us such a unity that when it is truly understood, no man can separate himself from any other. ~ Ibid., p.307
And that's where Christopher Nolan's movies come in. A few nights ago, I walked in the house to find my family watching Inception. It is a movie about the power of ideas planted in a person's mind through accessing their dreams. The thread that glimmered this time as I caught the last half of the movie was the power of the main character's love for his deceased wife. It had been the impetus for the events of the movie. In fact, it had been a power of creation.
In a more recent Christopher Nolan movie, Interstellar, the character Dr. Brand expresses profound thoughts on this power with these words:
Cooper: You're a scientist, Brand.
Brand: So listen to me when I say love isn't something that we invented. It's observable. Powerful. It has to mean something.
Cooper: Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing...
Brand: We love people who have died. Where's the social utility in that?
Brand: Maybe it means something more - something we can't yet understand. Maybe it's some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can't consciously perceive. I'm drawn across the universe to someone I haven't seen in a decade who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing that we're capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can't understand it.All these pieces swirled around in my head the other night and kept me awake with how they connected to the word: faith. I went to my laptop and began to write... (continued in part 2)