Julian Meeting for Easter 2021
We are occasionally invited momentarily to step outside the taken-for-granted reality of everyday life. It would seem, then, that not only am I capable of being open to mystery, but the mystery appears to have given us some tiny element of its own essential nature so that we can speak both of our need to search and of a sense of being met. In the words of the poet Rilke, ‘everything beckons to us to perceive it’.
Now I am not about to take off into some mystical flight of fancy. On the contrary. What I am speaking of could not be more common in the experience of earthbound people like us. It would seem – and the evidence is overwhelming – that many, perhaps most, people have experiences of the transcendent, numinous experiences which may or may not be recognised by those concerned as authentically religious. Some are quite commonplace, others more striking. Sometimes these moments are so unexpected and revealing that people remember them all their lives: moments of transcendence which John Taylor calls ‘annunciations’, and which usually take the form of a brief heightened perception of reality. He writes: ‘Experiences of God are experiences of the ordinary seen in the context of an otherness which enfolds them all and lies within them all……The secularisation of the human outlook may have banished the supernatural from the day-to-day conversations and calculations of millions of people, but that is no reason for supposing that the beyondness at the heart of things discloses itself any less widely or frequently.’
Two common features of such recorded experiences are that time seems to be temporarily suspended and that you are in harmony with the whole creation. You lose your sense of self, you are united with a greater whole. The two commonest triggers for such times of heightened perception are nature and music: and almost all those questioned felt the experience to be life-affirming and good. Like Julian of Norwich, the medieval anchoress who had a series of mystical ‘visions’ of Christ which resulted in her deep conviction that, despite much that was painful and destructive in her life, in the end ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’, many who write of their experiences use very similar words to describe something that is positive and strengthening.
What such beguiling and unshakeable experiences suggest is a kind of momentary lifting of the veil between a seen and an unseen world, sudden moments of illumination which are gratuitous and unsought for, when things seem transfigured. But they are glimpses of a destination that we shall never know fully until we reach it.
Let me sum up what most would recognise to be the characteristics of these rare, life-changing moments of seeing or hearing things with heightened perception. They seem to have a rightness and inevitability about them; they feel like an experience of reality, though of a different order from what we normally perceive; there is a sense of communion: for a moment you feel you are one with what you see or hear; they appear to transcend time as we know it; and they leave you with a joyful sense that ultimately ‘all will be well’. There may also be in them what some have felt bound to describe as a sense of recognition. They almost always happen when a person is alone, and they come when they come and cannot be created.
God knows we need some moments of reassurance at this moment in time as we strive to remain positive and faithful to our God as we journey again through Passiontide to Easter.
At the end of April we say farewell to our Rector Ian. Ian has been a stalwart supporter of our Julian Meetings. We shall aways remember him as a very generous host at the Rectory, putting all of us at ease as we grappled with the demands of contemplation. He often referred to the Meetings as ‘being the powerhouse of grace in the parish’ and frequently encouraged parishioners to join the group. We hope to continue the Meetings when the world returns to some sort of normality. So, many thanks Ian for your inspiring leadership and good wishes for a happy retirement.