Given our illusions of
invincibility and greed;
Fears of scarcity leading
to the darkness of hoarding;
Our unceasing efforts to control
and master nature’s elements;
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Given our illusions of
We know little about her life. Even her name remains a mystery to us, since we know nothing of it. We call her after the name of the small parish church in medieval Norwich, St. Julian’s, where she spent much of her adult life as a woman who had taken a lifelong vow of prayer. Her vocation would not have been at all unusual for the England of her day: she would have been one of hundreds of such women (and men) across the country, living in small cells built onto the side of great cathedrals or small parish churches like hers. Her life would have been shaped by prayer, prayer, and more prayer, embodying what the American poet Maurice Manning describes in a little poem taken from a long sequence entitled “Lent”:
The Celts had a prayer for everything, for going to bed, for rising from bed, for kindling the fire, for putting out the fire. There were prayers for planting, for harvesting, for walking along the road. One particular type of prayer was the breastplate prayer. It was a prayer you put on like a protective cloak. Those of us old enough to have worn the religious habit are familiar with one example of such a prayer. When donning each part of the habit an appropriate prayer was said. One robed oneself in grace as well as in clothing.
We often think of fruit ripening, but we might well imagine this of ourselves as we grow and change through the years. One of the great poets of our times, the late W. S. Merwin, once wrote a lovely little gem of a poem, aptly entitled “Worn Words,” where he confesses that it is “the late poems/ I turn to first now/ following a hope that keeps/ beckoning me.”i Why the late poems? Because, as he answers in the poem’s final lines, they “have come the whole way/ they have been there.” Where have they been? Presumably there where they always were, where we always were, even if they give voice to what lies at edges of the imaginable, giving us glimpses of a measure of their wisdom that was “almost in sight,” as Merwin puts it.