“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Although I have known this quotation for a while, I never knew anything else about Julian of Norwich or read her works. An anchoress in Norwich, England who lived from around 1343-1416, she’s most famous for her record of divine visions recorded in Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written by a woman in English.
The book recounts her visions which occurred during a severe illness when she was thirty. The visions explore God’s role as creator, the meaning of sin, Christ’s suffering, and the nature of love. There isn’t much historical context given in the book. Near the end, she mentions the reverent reaction of someone taking care of her in her illness. Otherwise, we are mostly given a description of the visions and nothing else.
In 1993, Sr. Wendy Beckett recorded this abridged audio version for the BBC. Somewhat famous in her own right, Sr. Wendy was hailed as “becoming the most unlikely and famous art critic in the history of television” by The New York Times. This version of Julian’s work has now been remastered and published by Donna K. Triggs. I include the background because it’s new to me. I don’t know anything about Sr. Wendy, but her reputation may appeal to other listeners.
For me, I approached it without any prior knowledge. I didn’t even know that this version was abridged. Whoever edited the text did a good job, as it didn’t seem to be missing anything. The central point of the work remained clear: God is love. Each vision defines some aspect of that love. Sr. Wendy’s British accent and inflection felt authentic, like I was listening to Julian herself.
I only wish the tracks were separated at different points. I found it difficult to listen to the audiobook in pieces or to remember what happened in each chapter, because it wasn’t split according to vision, theme, or any other obvious factor. She sometimes seems mid-thought when the track changes. For listeners like me who can have trouble focusing on audio alone, the lack of clear breaks poses a small challenge.
On the other hand, this abridged version only lasts around one hour, so it isn’t too hard to commit to finishing it in one sitting. But it’s still a dense hour, as I suspect they tried to cover all the major events of the much longer original. (For context, an unabridged audio version runs about five hours).
As with any writings of a visionary mystic, it isn’t straightforward in content, either. Every listener will likely find one or two statements that are difficult to understand. In this genre, it’s important to remember that even though the visionaries share their experiences, God often speaks to them in a way that makes sense to them. Listeners may have questions and should feel free to take those items to prayer and discussion.
Julian of Norwich is an early enough figure that certain Protestants may respect and enjoy listening to this glimpse of the past. The best audience is any Christian – Protestant or Catholic – who wants an introduction to Julian’s visions. I think many will be curious to read or hear the full version afterwards. It would also be a great, short work for a book group.