“All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” These words were written by a Medieval English anchoress and mystic, Julian of Norwich. The Lord spoke them to her in one of her visions.
Julian of Norwich lived from the end of the 14th Century to the early years of the 15th Century, one of the most unstable times in European history in general and England in particular. She lived during the Black Death pandemic that wiped out around half of the European population. She even contracted and almost died from the disease herself. Aside from the plague, there was the Western Schism in 1378 with three Popes ruling at the same time and the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 that shook up the whole of England.
The world that Julian was living in shared with our current world many aspects, like the deadly reigning pandemic, political distraught, and religious crisis. In that climate, anger and hatred took hold of people as they blamed one another for the unimaginable suffering they were experiencing. Deep anxiety and fear took control of humanity, which results in devastated movements like the Inquisition. During the midst of that chaos, a soothing and gentle voice appeared to remind people that all shall be well.
In the face of so much darkness and turmoil, what could she have meant that “all shall be well”? It sounds naive and impractical to tell someone who is in a difficult situation simply that “everything’s going to be alright.” It seems to be a cheap way to comfort those who are in pain by dismissing their loss and suffering. Even more dangerous, it seems to be a way of distracting ourselves from reality and escaping to an imaginative world where difficulty and suffering don’t exist. Indeed, it is a basic human response to intense stress that many people, instead of facing reality, prefer to hide in their “castle on the cloud.” But the more we are out of touch with reality, the greater the risk we sink deeper into the hole of negativity and desperation.
The pandemic is almost two years old. It’s resulted in more than 880,000 deaths in the US and 5.6 million deaths worldwide and still counting. People are still worried about the future development of the virus and how it will affect the world and themselves. Stress and anxiety seem to be at an all-time high.
I’ve met people who expressed their anxiety and concern for the future, describing it like a snowball that rolls down a hill growing larger and gaining momentum as it goes. Before long, it feels like the size of a tank. Most of the time, I find myself trying to avoid the crushing weight of anxiety people are sharing with me. And I lack the words to provide comfort.
When I face these sorts of problems, Julian of Norwich helps give me perspective and perhaps some words to speak to others in their stress. She writes, “it is necessary for everyone to feel in this way–sometimes to be comforted, and sometimes to feel failure and be left to oneself. God wants us to know that he keeps us equally safe in joy and in sorrow, and loves us as much in sorrow as in joy.”
That faith gives me hope, not to hide in my comfort zone and wait for the good news, but to break myself from those shackles of fears and fake peace, knowing that I am not alone. Knowing that only through death that Christ resurrected. That gives me hope and allows me to face the uncertainty and anxiety so common today. In the midst of all the difficulty, I can say with a trusting heart, “all shall be well.”
God loves and cares for us, no matter what we do, even when we choose to hide in our “castle in the cloud.” However, it is up to us if we want to move forward, to overcome our fear and anxiety, to break free from the fear we experience in these times. “All shall be well” does not mean that there will be no loss, no challenge, or no hurt, but the promise is that, with Christ, in the end, “all shall be well.”