Seek, suffer and trust

Seek, suffer and trust

I have two blogs. I started the first one last year because I wanted to archive the e-mails I had sent to family and friends after the Great East Japan Earthquake, and also to continue writing about Japan. I started this blog recently, because I wanted to explore different topics, and specifically to write about Julian of Norwich. Her Revelations Of Divine Love have been part of my life for many years and are always close to my heart.

I have just spent some time writing about suicide in Japan, and posted it on my other blog; now I find myself pulled here, to bring some light to the darkness I have explored this evening.

I was clinically depressed at university for two years. It was a dark time in my life, and I remember very little from that time, but what I do know is, the person I am, the person I was meant to be, came out of that time. It was during that time that my faith finally struggled through. Somehow I managed to attend confirmation classes through the autumn on 1987 and was confirmed on Advent Sunday that year.

I wanted to find a quote from Julian as the title of this post, and when I opened the edition of Revelations Of Divine Love that I’m reading at the moment (Penguin Classic, translated by Elizabeth Spearing) I saw on page 57, ‘the soul can do no more than seek, suffer and trust’. Although I am over twenty years free of depression, and am incredibly thankful that it has never come back, I can still remember more clearly than I care to just how hard that period of my life was. For those two years I really did ‘seek, suffer and trust’. I had no energy for anything else. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

There are many things that make me thankful that God didn’t give up on me, that He kept trying to get through until I finally listened. Looking back on my teenage years I can see now that my faith was trying to get through, but that the depression ¬†was also on its way. There was only one way through and it was tough, but I needed to go through it. It opened my heart to the concerns of the world, it taught me empathy, it showed me how to live.

There have been times in my life since then that have left me praying only for resilience to keep going until God’s plan reveals itself. Times when I have been unable to imagine how everything could possibly be sorted out. Of course, when I saw how everything fell into place I could look back and think, yes of course, I see why that had to happen. The seeking, the suffering can be a challenge, the trust is sometimes the only thing left, but as a formula to keep going through difficult times it speaks to me.

Seek. Suffer. Trust. Then be thankful that there is light.

From Sheffield to Tokyo, via Lhasa and Norwich

Mt. Fuji

In September 1985 I came to Asia for the first time. I arrived in Shanghai towards the end of a sticky summer, just in time for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Shanghai has changed a lot since then; I’ve changed a lot.

By the time the following February rolled around, and the university gave us time off over Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), I knew exactly where I wanted to go: Tibet. Specifically, I wanted to get there before I turned twenty, for some reason I’ve long forgotten, if indeed I ever had one. It may have been an arbitrary challenge to myself. I’ve always thought bloodymindedness to be an underrated virtue.

Having hung around in Chengdu for a few days over Spring Festival (and shared my hotel room with a rat) I flew to Lhasa, and from the airport outside the city we were put on a bus into Lhasa itself. I remember waking up just as the bus stopped, and looking up at the Potala Palace towering over us against a bright blue sky.

At the time, the Holiday Inn was being built, and there were only two hotels where tourists stayed; the Banok Shol and Snowlands. I stayed at Snowlands for a week. I hired a bicycle and went out to Sera and Drepung monasteries, climbed up the steps to the Potala Palace, ate fresh yogurt made from yak milk delivered to the hotel courtyard every morning, met the great-neice of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, watched the sun set over fluttering prayer flags and sent triumphant postcards back to the UK. I’d made it, about ten days before my twentieth birthday.

At the airport waiting for the flight back to Chengdu, I met a North American woman and a South American man. They were Christians, of which denomination I don’t know. I don’t remember their names, but I can still see their faces. Waiting in line, the woman insisted I pray with her. More to humour her than with any great purpose, I went along with her prayer: Lord Jesus, if you’re real, come into my life. I returned to Shanghai, finished the school year and went back to the UK.

Over the summer I visited my godmother in East Anglia. Although growing up my family had been C & E (Christmas and Easter) Christians, (probably because my father was the headmaster of Church of England primary schools), we had stopped going, and although I can see now that my faith had stirred itself on several occasions, I had not been to church in years. Somehow my godmother recognised in me a need, a longing, I don’t know what, and while I was staying with them I went to church with them and she encouraged me to look for a church in Leeds when I went back to university in September.

I found a church; Wrangthorn, a huge, cavernous, dark building. I also started attending confirmation classes in the parish where I grew up, and on Advent Sunday in 1987 I was confirmed. I remember there were six of us, all women. That day we were all given a book, and this is where Julian found me. I received a copy of Enfolded In Love, a short, pocket-sized book, which I took with me to China when I went back after graduation. It came with me too, when I came to Japan for the first time in 1991.

Slowly, gently, Julian settled in my heart. Her most famous sentence, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” gave me strength when life was difficult, and when I returned to the UK after two years I visited my godmother again. By then they had moved into Norwich and her son had designed a walking tour of the city as a school project. No one had done the tour, and I agreed to be his guinea pig, as long as he included a detour to St. Julian’s and the shrine on the site of Julian’s cell. That day I became a member of the Friends of Julian, and twenty years later I still am.

Through Julian I have gained so much. I have met inspiring people. I have read the full text of her Revelations Of Divine Love and found so much there which resonates in my soul. After twenty-five years, I want to find the words to explore what she means to me, and what she has shown me. How I have grown in faith and learnt how to pray. How Julian has sometimes reassured me and sometimes surprised me. How I have found connections through her that have changed my life.