Reviewed by Stephen Wollaston (aka Santoshan)
Matthew Fox’s creative output and influence can hardly be underestimated, and for someone who has recently turned 80, he has lost none of the energy and radical edge in this latest title on the 14th and 15th century English mystic and first woman to write a book in English, Julian of Norwich.
Matthew’s modestly priced book (especially the eBook version) is a beautiful exploration of Julian’s wisdom, how she heralded a profound perception of God in Nature, inclusivity and original goodness, and can be seen as an important writer and mystic in a time of pandemic. In this book, Matthew encourages us to look deeper into the cause of the coronavirus, namely climate change, and to consider how Julian can aid us in our spiritual understanding, especially as she herself lived her entire life when bubonic plague was rife in Europe and in the city of Norwich where she was an anchoress: The cause lies deep in the rejection of nature as sacred, in the exploitation of nature that capitalism and patriarchy have engaged in practically non-stop for centuries … Might I suggest this: maybe Julian of Norwich, and the rich tradition of creation spirituality that she carries in her bones, heart, and mind, from Jesus to Benedict, Hildegard, Francis, Aquinas, Mechtild, and Eckhart – maybe she is the vaccine that is truly needed today. It is not enough to ‘return to normal’ after this coronavirus, even if it does finally go away. That ‘normal’ was far from healthy to begin with.
Matthew importantly reminds us how Julian saw Nature and grace as one, and how her love of Nature is interwoven with the Goddess tradition and various spiritual insights that he believes we can draw upon for guidance:Julian is a stunning thinker, a profound theologian and mystic, a fully awake woman, and a remarkable guide with a mighty vision to share for twenty-first-century seekers. She is a special chaperone for those navigating a time of pandemic…
… Julian is a champion of the return of the divine feminine… We cannot ignore it any longer if we are to survive as a species. Recovering a healthy balance of the divine feminine and sacred masculine is at the heart of our survival and sustainability as a species, and Julian can lead the way.
In other sections, Matthew highlights Julian’s deep humanism, her ecumenical/interfaith approach, her understanding of the Cosmic Christ in all beings, and how her being a champion of non-dualism means she can also be looked upon as a feminist: for as feminist theologian Rosemary Ruether has made clear, non-dualism is the essence of feminist thinking.
The book includes a foreword by the mystical writer Mirabai Starr, which Matthew follows with a detailed and extensive introduction, and eight chapters. The first seven chapters are described in his introduction as ‘Seven Lessons for Thriving Spiritually in a Time of Pandemic’. These are rounded off by a summary of Julian’s teachings in chapter eight, followed by a conclusion and epilogue on Julian’s relevance for our time. The following is from Matthew’s summary of the first seven chapters:
Chapter 1 instructs us not to flee the darkness but to stick around for everything that the suffering, chaos, un-knowing, and the dark night of the soul have to teach us. Chapter 2 instructs us not to forget the deep-down goodness of things and that pervades existence itself, which should elicit joy, awe, and wonder… Chapter 3 calls us to deep reflection on and appreciation of the divinity to be found in nature as a whole (the cosmos), as well as in creatures and all beings that dwell in nature… Chapter 4 urges the return of the divine feminine and a deep sense of the motherhood of God… Chapter 5 calls us to our deepest selves, our most noble selves, our truest selves, and therefore to an experience of non-dualism between us and the divine… Chapter 6 addresses the primacy of trust and courage – including trust in our own bodiliness and earthiness. Chapter 7 reminds us how Love unites us all.
Like the majority of Matthew’s books, I thoroughly recommend this new title. Most GreenSpirit members will be more than familiar with both Matthew’s and Julian’s heartfelt Nature-centred teachings, and will I’m sure find this new title a wonderful addition to their libraries.