Article for The Church Times on A Prayer by St Julian of Norwich
I am Ground of thy beseeching:
first it is my will that thou have it;
and after, I make thee to will it;
and after, I make thee to beseech it and thou beseechest it.
How should it then be that thou shouldst not have thy beseeching.
Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) (Uncommon Prayers collected by Cecil Hunt)
This prayer is made from words spoken to Julian of Norwich by Christ in the fourteenth ‘Revelation of Divine Love.’ To use it therefore is to speak from the view point of God. A practice which is undoubtedly challenging but particularly helpful in Lent, Passiontide and Holy Week.
Before I reach for this prayer, I am aware of the intention behind it. Julian had this vision whilst praying to find the desire for God, or even the desire to have the desire, when she felt none. It is a companion in what can be barren times. And if in prayer I do find a measure of desire for God, which seems to come and go of its own volition, these words help me petition for it to grow.
If it were not for the intense humility of Julian, I often think I would find beginning the prayer difficult because of the perspective. Using the words of Christ from the Bible is supported by the whole of the Gospel they come from, but here I am asked to believe that Christ continues to speak throughout the ages. Julian’s devotion to that belief gives me hope that there is a continual relationship throughout time.
The first line resonates through every line of the prayer to join with the last. It is such a beautiful line, I often take it on its own and pray it in repetition. To beseech in this prayer is to allow myself to become aware, even burdened with all my suffering and desire and plead for salvation. In her writings, Julian describes it as an endless thirst akin to the thirst of Jesus on the cross.
The statement that God is the ground of my beseeching reminds me of the vision of St Augustine when he converted to Christianity. Exhausted and ill from trying to find God through meditations and studies, he sat desperately weeping in a garden when he had a vision of Christ prostrate in front of him. The only response Augustine had left was to lay himself with Christ on the ground.
The second line leads with the word ‘first’ which, especially as it is spoken by Christ, alerts me to the position of receiver or follower as if I am being called to wake up to the point being made. When it is then followed by the words ‘it is my will thou have it,’ I feel a almost ceremonious sense of gift. During Lent, Passiontide and Holy Week, it is this line which helps me see Christ’s invitation to join Him as not born solely from my sin, but as overwhelmingly from his desire to give himself to me. With these things in mind I feel encouraged to enter into the rituals that enable me to walk with Christ in Holy week such as the nations of the cross.
The third and fourth lines begin to show me how to walk with him. I am like a child being taught to will and then beseech, one step at a time. On Ignition retreats we pray through the life of Christ, re-forming our lives through his. Our childhood alongside his childhood, our teenage alongside his. In Lent, Passiontide and Holy week, we are taught to beseech by our divine parent in the language of his example. And through these times, we are given the chance to endure, stumble and grow into facing life with all its trials to find the relationship Julian discusses when she writes : ‘the power of this longing in Christ enables us to respond.’.
‘How should it be then that thou should not have the beseeching?’ calls again. Though sometimes it can fell asked with the kindness of a friend as a reminder, on other days, it feels called with strength into the most empty of places. Like the call of Christ on the cross: ‘Father, why have you forsaken me?’ The shock of this question demands a response. I can find I was asleep even without realising. If I am deaf to the words, I am standing in front of love without sight. If, in hard times I am able to do no more than notice the possibility of that fact, I may in some way be affirming a divine presence, even if it is not always felt.
But if I have been able to walk some of the way with Christ through Lent, Passiontide and Holy Week, this line affirms my desire for God. And while alongside Christ, with hope and grief bound together, I am given the words again as a response to the world and the destructive things we do. But the word ‘ground’ returns in the prayer, and when the lines are said, I am left with Christ taken down from the cross, the prostrate Christ appearing to Augustine, the arms of Mary in the Pieta, the open tomb and the gardener quietly waiting for me. The circular feel to the words of the prayer with the repetition of beseech now brings comfort. Almost like being rocked back and forth as a babe and I am reminded of Julian’s vision of Christ as divine mother. The strength and consistent presence of a wise mother patiently guiding me to heal and stand on my own two feet, knowing I am loved. The strength of standing on trampled mud, reminded of the hidden seeds and bulbs waiting for spring.
‘Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder-everlastingly….
God being with thee when we know it not.’
It is a Beauteous Evening, by William Wordsworth.