St. Michael’s, Ham


And then I was here.

After a busy term at school, a typically hectic end to it, a rush to pack and a flight back to the UK, a few magical days in Northumberland and a train journey down to London and across the city to Richmond, I was here, back at St. Michael’s Convent.

A number of years ago, my spiritual director had asked me where I went on retreat, and I had told him, sheepishly, that I didn’t. His reaction was straightforward; that won’t do. And he followed that up with two recommendations for places I could easily go. Since my brother lived in London at the time, I decided to come to St. Michael’s.

I remember arriving for the first time and feeling rather anxious, because I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do, and I was wondering how on earth I was going to spend the next three days. The sister who showed me around gave me all the information I needed then left me in my room. I knelt to pray and found myself crying, not knowing why or for what, but just letting it all come out.

That first year I attended some of the daily offices, but was quite new to the rhythm of the day and felt a little awkward. I spent time in the garden, reading Julian’s Revelations, and generally being quiet. At that time, almost all the meals were taken in silence, with only one supper a ‘talking meal’. It was the end of my second day and as I sat down one of the elderly sisters said to me, “Are you on retreat? Because we’re talking!”

The following year I was back, this time with a version of the Cloud of Unknowing and a bit more idea of what to do and how to use my time. I felt more comfortable attending the daily offices, and found that attending them all gave my day a focus and a rhythm that very quickly took me away from all the cares and concerns I had arrived carrying. More of the meals were ‘talking meals’ and one evening the sisters had a lively discussion about who would go to Compline and who would be able to go straight to the sisters’ private sitting room to watch Midsomer Murders.

I continued for several years, but in 2012 and again in 2013 I just couldn’t make the dates work and had a retreatless summer. Last year I went to Norwich and called it a retreat, but then spent a lot of time talking to people and felt irritated that I didn’t have the same feeling of peace and slowing down that I had after my visits here.

And so I decided I really needed to make the dates work somehow this year, and just managed to squeak in for a retreat before the house closes for the summer. I also arranged a visit to Norwich, but decided I needed to reframe that as a short pilgrimage, rather than a retreat.

So here I am. I arrived almost twelve hours ago, just in time for the midday Eucharist. I have once again come here with a copy of Julian, but this year I have the Mirabai Starr translation. I attended Evening Prayer and Compline, and while neither was the form I am used to, since I am more familiar with the Episcopal Church’s BCP daily offices, the form no longer has me stranded or caught in the headlights. I know I can find my way through and know what I’m doing.

This afternoon I spent some time in the garden and walked the small labyrinth. Not really knowing what to do, but having the space all myself, I took off my shoes and walked slowly, reciting one word of the Jesus Prayer for each step, then stopping to pray for whoever or whatever came to mind. I went slowly, gently, and found myself unpacking all the prayers that have been part of my daily intercessions, round and round, until I had prayed them all out. A squirrel sat in the grass only a few metres away and watched me intently. It was nice to have a little company in that green space.

I shall do it again tomorrow, and try to find a way to incorporate some kind of walking meditation into my prayer life in Tokyo, because it just felt so right to walk, and pray, and raise each person or concern up and let God take care of it.

I put my shoes back on and walked through the garden feeling reassured that I had given my concerns to God and that truly, all shall be well.


My second Julian

Julian2I don’t remember when I bought this book, but it was my second Julian, and my first full translation. Now I have a number of different translations, but for many years it was the only one I had. Today it seems a little battered and worn, but considering it has accompanied me for what must be over twenty years it doesn’t look too bad.

I don’t know how many times I had read it, but when I was thinking about a text for my Lenten meditation this year it struck me that it would be a good idea to read Julian again, but this time to read her aloud. To lend her my voice during Lent. What a wonderful idea that turned out to be, one I do not take credit for, simply because it seemed so right and worked so well.

This Penguin Classics translation by Clifton Walters was published in 1966. Clifton Wolters was Provost of Newcastle Cathedral and translated not only Julian’s Revelations but also The Cloud of Unknowing and The Fire of Love by Richard Rolle. It has since been replaced in the Penguin Classics series by a more recent translation by Elizabeth Spearing, but it is still easy to find a second-hand copy.

The first thing I liked about this translation was the introduction. Only thirty-four pages long, it is a wonderful overview of the church and society Julian knew, the little information known about Julian herself, and the main themes of the Revelations.

The translation itself is modern, it flows naturally and is easy to read aloud. This book contains only the long version of Julian’s writing, and each chapter is headed with an analysis of the contents, which it is noted at the beginning of the book was compiled by ‘a later scribe’ and was ‘not part of the original book’. I find these headings useful and miss them when they are omitted. The short text does not have them, and other translations sometimes omit them or use other forms.

Reading this text aloud I found it spoke to my heart. I could hear Julian’s voice and to my surprise sometimes found her funny and always down-to-earth. The great let-down for me was the translation of Julian’s most famous words: ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’. In this translation it becomes, ‘it is all going to be all right; it is all going to be all right; everything is going to be all right’.

It was rather shocking to realise that ‘all shall be well . . . ‘ was nowhere to be found in this translation, since this is Julian’s best-known quote, but at the same time I felt that this is truly what we would say, and therefore it does fit. You miss out on ‘all shall be well . . . ‘ and if you know Julian from anywhere you are expecting to find it, but wouldn’t we reassure someone with ‘everything is going to be all right’? I understand why the writer of a modern translation would use these words. And yet, and yet . . . I missed the quote. For me, it is the weakness of this translation.

Having said that, this is a wonderful translation, and one I know I will read again and again. I am still trying to find the one that best suits my way of reading Julian, and my third Julian is my favourite so far, but Clifton Wolters’ translation is definitely worth reading.

June 4th 1989


Tian An Men Square, June 4th 1989.

‘How could all be well, given the great harm that has been done to humankind by sin?’         – Chapter 29, Revelations Of Divine Love

Twenty-four years ago, the pro-democracy movement in China was brought to a violent and bloody end. How many died? No one knows. Hundreds? Thousands? I remember them today, I remember their optimism, their sacrifice. A generation who hoped things could change, who had something to say, even if it was only half thought-out and naive.

I pray that we can all have such optimism. I pray that we can all have the courage to speak truth to power.

I pray for all the people who lost someone they loved that day. For the hearts that ache and the minds that still spin trying to make sense of what happened, because someone is missing, for the ones who were lost who have no grave, no full stop at the end of the sentence describing their life.

I pray for the next generation, and the next, and the next. I believe in the people of China, in their love for their country and for each other, in their shared history.

I believe that it shall be well, it shall all be well.