Mysticism

Julian of Norwich: On the importance of prayer

This extract from Revelations of Divine Love is chapters 41 and 42 from the fourteenth revelation. Here Julian discusses the difficulties and importance of prayer. She shows that prayer comes from our divine nature in union with God and that God is the essence of everything.

From chapter 41: God is the foundation of our prayer

“Then our Lord revealed this about prayer which, I believe, has two qualities: righteousness and trust. But often our trust is not perfect because we are not sure that God listens to us. We think this is because we are so unworthy and because we do not feel anything, for often we are as dry and barren after prayer as we were before. This perception of our dullness is the cause of our weakness. For this is how I have experienced it myself.

Our Lord introduced this idea into my mind immediately, when he revealed these words, ‘I am the ground in which your prayer is rooted. First I want you to pray and next I make you want it. After that I enable you to pray and so you do pray. How, then, can you possibly not have what you ask for?

Our Lord is made happy and cheerful when we pray. He waits for it and wants it because, by his grace, he makes us like himself in our human nature. This is his blessed will. So he says,

‘Pray inwardly, even if you don’t enjoy it; it helps you even if you don’t feel it or see it. For when you are dry and barren, sick and weak, your prayer is especially pleasing to me, even though you don’t enjoy it very much. That is true of all prayer made in faith.’

Because he wants to give us a reverent and endless gratitude, he is eager to see us pray continuously. God accepts the good will and effort his servant makes, no matter what we are feeling like. He is pleased that we struggle with our prayers and our lives, with the help of grace, and that we consciously direct all our powers to him until we possess him whom we seek in complete joy.”

From chapter 42: Our prayer is a gift from God

“There are some particular things that God wants us to understand about prayer. The first is that we should know through whom and how our prayer begins. He showed us ‘through whom’ when he said, ‘I am the ground’, and he showed us ‘how’ when he said, ‘It is my will.’

The second thing he wants us to know is the best way to use our prayer. In fact it means that our will should be joyfully directed to our Lord’s will. That is what he means when he says, ‘I make you want it.’

The third thing is that we should know the fruit and purpose of our prayer; that is that we should be united with our Lord and become like him in all things. This was his intention and purpose in that lovely lesson. He will help us and we will make his word true. Blessed be he!

This is what our Lord wants: that we should be magnanimous in our prayer and our trust. If we do not trust as much as we pray, we are not really giving honour to God in our prayer. We also torment ourselves and do ourselves harm. I think that the reason is that we have not fully realised that our Lord is the ground from which our prayer grows, nor do we realise that our prayer is itself a gift of his love. If we knew this, it would make us believe that we will have everything we want as a gift from our Lord. I am certain that nobody asks for mercy and grace in good earnest unless grace and mercy had already been given to him.

Sometimes it seems to us that we have prayed for a long time and have not been answered. We should not be depressed about this. I am sure that our Lord’s intention is that we either wait for a better time or for more grace and a better gift. He wants us to have a deep knowledge of the fact that God himself is the essence of everything. He wants us to root our understanding in this knowledge as strongly, deliberately and sincerely as we can. He wants us to plant ourselves in it firmly and permanently and live in this fact.”


Quoted from The English Mystics by Karen Armstrong, referencing the 1901 text by Grace Warrack.

Next extract: God is never angry

Read the whole series here

Image: Lighthouse

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