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Mirabai Starr on 'The Showings of Julian of Norwich'

The Showings of Julian of Norwich

What made you decide to breathe new life into your translation of "The Showings of Julian of Norwich?"

Julian of Norwich was forgotten for six hundred years before “The Showings”—her account of a series of mystical visions she had during a near-death experience—was re-discovered in the twentieth century. Not only did Julian’s words hold up over time, but in many ways the teachings she shares are more relevant now than ever. She speaks of God as the Mother—a breath of fresh air for the 50% of the population who may feel left out of the Judeo-Christian story. She also dismisses sin as being “no-thing,” which is a powerful antidote to the notion of endless judgment by a wrathful God. Julian’s theology is radically optimistic, and I knew it would bring comfort to many, regardless of religious affiliation (or lack thereof). A contemporary of Chaucer, Julian was the first woman to write in English. But the Middle-English vernacular in which she wrote, while charming, is very difficult for contemporary English-speakers to absorb. As a translator of the Spanish mystics, known for the lyricism and readability of my translations, I felt I could use a similar approach in helping to make this great Medieval English anchoress accessible to a much wider audience.

Who was Julian of Norwich exactly?

There is very little historical information about her. Julian was not even her real name. She was an anonymous contemplative who, sometime in her thirties or forties, cloistered herself in a cell attached to the Church of Saint Julian in Norwich, England, to dedicate her life to prayer. This was the fourteenth century, and Julian had witnessed three rounds of the Plague, as well as endless war. She may have lost much of her family. She survived a severe illness that nearly took her life. And yet her book resounds with hope in the unconditional love of a Mother-God who continuously assures us that “All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.”

What does she share in her writings about the divine feminine when it comes to God?

Julian sees the second person of the Trinity not as the Son but as the Mother. She concludes that God has to be feminine, because who but a mother would break herself open and pour herself out for the sake of her children? She describes the Passion of Christ as a mother giving birth. The labor pains are excruciating, yet it is more than worth the suffering for the love and joy that spills into this world. And then she continues to feed us from her own body. Incarnational theology is feminine theology. It’s about embodying the divine, rendering every moment sacred, blessing the human experience and sanctifying the ordinary.

How are our failings an opportunity to grow and how can we honor them?

Julian repeatedly encourages us to stop obsessing on our transgressions and turn our attention to loving God with all our hearts. When we do miss the mark, she suggests that we face up to the truth of what happened and glean whatever lesson we can as an opportunity to humble ourselves and love more, and then move on. When you fall, she says, pick yourself up and rush into the arms of the Mother, who is waiting to enfold you and cover you with kisses. God would never punish us for being human beings. Rather than being condemned to endure divine retribution for our errors in some afterlife, we suffer the consequences of our actions here on earth, Julian says, and that is our penance.

This is a wild card question. What would you like to share from the book with our readers?

One of the most beautiful aspects of Julian’s vision is that she perceived the Divine not as stern and aloof, but rather as “friendly, sweet, and courteous.” The face of Christ radiated kindness and warmth. This “homey” quality relaxed Julian and has a relaxing effect on her readers. In this spirit, she reminds us that we do not have to wait until after death to discover that “all will be well;” all is well right now, she insists, if we could simply rest in the unconditional love of the Mother.

What are you up to next book wise or projects wise and any links you'd like to share? Thanks for this interview.

I have two other new books out: Saint Francis of Assisi, Brother of Creation and Saint Teresa of Avila, Passionate Mystic, which combine short passages from the original writings of these great mystics with my own poetic reflections on their essential teachings. Now I’m working on a memoir about the connection between the death of my daughter and the Dark Night of the Soul. I teach workshops on the mystics and contemplative retreats around the country, abroad, and online.

My website is

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