St. Michael’s, Ham

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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 eighth Julian

Mirabai Starr:Julian

And just like that, I found ‘my’ Julian. The translation which sounds to me like Julian’s authentic voice, the one that feels like home, the one that touches my heart: The Showings Of Julian Of Norwich, A New Translation by Mirabai Starr, published by Hampton Roads.

When I first started reading different editions aloud of Julian as part of my daily devotion I had 2 aims. One was to find the edition I could take to read from every day, and the other was to be able to give or recommend a full text to anyone who was looking for one.

So this is my eighth Julian, but only the sixth complete text. The first was the pocket-sized Enfolded In Love book, and I keep a stack of them at home to give as a taster of Julian’s writing. I have given the current Penguin Classic (Elizabeth Spearing translation) a couple of times, and the John Skinner translation, but while I really liked them I didn’t feel I had found a translation to live with.

There have been translations I had expected to love which have left me cold, and so I came to this one without many expectations. The biography of the translator at the back of the book describes her as being ‘at the vanguard of the emerging Interspiritual movement’ and I read it with a sinking feeling, anticipating some kind of New Age woolly version of Julian.

How wrong I was. One of the quotes on the back of the book describes it as a ‘faithful but freeing’ translation, and while I haven’t read Julian’s original version I agree that this version is wonderful. It flows, it is poetic, it is easy to read and read aloud has the easy, musical cadences of a woman speaking of things she has meditated upon and knows well, of things she loves deeply and wants to share. This, to me, is Julian’s voice.

I still have a number of translations to read, but I have found  a translation to live with, to return to again and again. A translation as good as this is a wonderful gift to the world; to achieve it required a sensitivity to the material, but also a humility, a willingness to step back, to remove the self from the equation and facilitate another’s communication. This is Julian’s voice, and only Julian’s voice, and this is what makes this book stand apart from all the others I have read. All the others, to some degree, for me had a feeling of control, of another voice or mind beside Julian’s.

Mirabai Starr has crafted a wonderful translation, she has given Julian her voice.

My seventh Julian

Revelations:S Upjohn

I bought this translation while I was in Norwich last summer. It is published by the Friends of Julian, has a forward by Robert Llewelyn, and is translated by Sheila Upjohn. It is arranged as daily readings, with most chapters set out over two or three days. I really wanted to like this translation very much, but in the end was a bit disappointed by it.

My first experience of Julian’s writing was the small Enfolded in Love book, and I have always loved the way the words flowed. For a long time I didn’t realise that it was Sheila Upjohn who had done the translation, I was more aware of the fact that Robert Llewelyn had been the editor of that and the other books in the series. When I found out that there was a longer translation available I was excited to read it, and I must say that the translation itself is wonderful, but there are other things which don’t work for me.

First of all, this is not a complete translation. Most of the text is here, but it is not all here, and unfortunately for me, some of my favourite passages have been omitted, so as I read I was very aware that some things were missing.

Like the Grace Warrack translation, this is quite a sparse version, with no footnotes and no headings. The chapter numbers are printed at the bottom of the page, but that is all. I usually read two chapters of Julian every evening, and so this format didn’t really work for me, I suppose because I was not using it in the way it was intended.

In the end I had very mixed feelings about this book, but in large part I think this is due to the way I read Julian and the structure of the book being incompatible. The translation is wonderful, and if you are looking for a structured text for daily meditation, maybe a step on from Enfolded in Love, then this might be the translation for you. However, if you are familiar with the full text then this will seem a little lacking, and if you read it in any way other than the one for which it was intended then it will feel a little disjointed.