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Wireless Reception – Can you hear me now?

Dear friends, 

Wednesday, May 8, is the day when we remember Mother Julian of Norwich, who was an English mystic, known for her astounding visions, or as she called them, “Showings,” first experienced in May of 1373, of which there were sixteen, and she ended her description of these in her “Revelation of Divine Love,” with this: 

“I was taught that love is our Lord’s meaning, and I saw very certainly in this and in everything that before God made us he loved us, which was never abated and never will be.  And in this love he has done all his works, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us, and in this love our life is everlasting.  In our creation we had beginning, but the love in which he created us was in him from without beginning and all this we shall see from God without end.” 

Julian was a deeply theological woman who suffered great illness, which may have lent itself to her visions, or may simply have given her cause to surrender herself to God.

But this does open for us the nature of contemplative prayer, and a hope that we will get the deep encounter that Mother Julian and others have experienced.  I hope that we all do.  There are many practices toward this end, but Mother Julian taught that loving God, and awareness of the love of God, are the key.   I think that we are given an opening to this in the General  Thanksgiving in the Daily Office, where blessings and thanks are given to God for “all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the gift of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.”

What this starts to indicate is that the encounter with God, and with God’s love, is all around us, in nature, in the seasons of nature and our lives, in the faces of those we encounter, in our joys and our struggles.  The secret is, again, being aware (I imagine that other traditions call this being mindful).  I am reminded of a memorial to the architect Christopher Wren in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral In London, which Wren designed.   It simply says, “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”   If you seek God, look around you, and listen around you.  As Sister Wendy Beckett said when an interviewer asked if she talked to God, she said, “I listen.”  The interviewer asked her, “What does God say?”  She said, “God listens.”

Long before COVID started, the Society of Ordained Scientists, a religious order to which I belong, who normally meet in person every two years, asked me to arrange Zoom meetings for the North American Chapter, and I did so, and we still hold monthly Compline over Zoom.   But then came a wish that we should give the North American Chapter the opportunity to Zoom into a meeting of the UK Chapter that would be held at Sneaton Castle, where the Sisters of the Holy Paraclete had resided, and is now a retreat and conference center close to Whitby Abbey (where the agreement for the date of Easter for the Roman and Celtic churches was reached in 664 CE).

Everything was in place, and we tried to join those of us in North America with the evening Compline service in the UK using Zoom, and owing, I think, to network configuration difficulties and a very weak wireless signal at the Castle, it didn’t work.  (You know, abbeys and castles are better optimized for things like agreeing on calendars in person than for wireless transmissions at scale.)  It was a failed communication in some ways.   As an engineer, it was a reminder to me that one should always test first.   But the communication of the prayer service did work for a moment, and those of us dialed in from this country briefly heard a resonant English voice, speaking with great clarity, the words “Our Lord Jesus Christ,” as Cranmer had intended them to be spoken, absent any American twang.  (I confess that I have a twang.)  And then silence.

I was at that moment reminded of a night in 1972 when I was on a college choir tour, singing our way through England and other countries, and I had telephoned home from the Mostyn Hotel in London to my parents in Pennsylvania.   It was in the days of international operators, and in the electric night there came a clear, resonant, English voice of the operator trying to make the connection, “Hello, London!   Hello, London.”   The connection was eventually made and I chatted with my parents and in fact our Old English Sheepdog.   But there I was, some 45 years later, trying to make a connection with England, and it appears that the old telephone system may have been superior to our internet attempts.

I write this as we near Pentecost, the time when communication through the spirit allowed the disciples to be heard in tongues from far and from near.  Perhaps that moment was overcoming ancient miscommunication, an absence of connection, weak and misinterpreted signals that had caused harm and pain for a very long time.  A lot of contemplative prayer, and a lot of Common Prayer, is just tuning in, and configuring our hearts so that we can hear the true message.  

I think that God is always trying to connect with us, always saying, “Hello, Julian,” “Hello, Wendy,” “Hello, London,” “Hello, England,” “Hello, Concord,” “Hello, Trinity,” “Hello, <INSERT YOUR NAME HERE>, and even, “Our Lord Jesus Christ!,” sometimes, we may only have the sense that we are being listened to, and the spiritual challenge for us is to simply know that, to have our souls and minds open to God’s connection.   Perhaps we will only hear “Hello,” perhaps we will only hear “Our Lord Jesus Christ,” perhaps, sometimes, like the Pentecost disciples, we will be so blessed as to hear the entire broadcast.  But I do know that if someone is trying to communicate with us, we are not alone.



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