Today’s entry in the calendar of commemorations is St. Julian of Norwich. Two quick clarifications are in order. First, Julian is (in this case) a woman’s name. Second, the W in Norwich is silent, so pronounce it ‘norrich’. (Sorry, I had an history professor in college who heavily pronounced the W all the time, and it was ridiculously embarrassing.)
Saint Julian of Norwich was an ordinary medieval woman of some social status and means. She was born in England around 1342, and had a severe illness at thirty in which she received last rites and had a series of sixteen visions of Christ. She wrote about her visions, Revelations of Divine Love, shortly afterward, and near the end of the century wrote a longer treatise explaining them in greater detail.
For most of her life, after her near-death experience, she lived as an anchoress. An anchorite (male) or anchoress (female) is sort of a cross between a monastic and a hermit. As the name suggests, one is anchored to the spot, living in a small cell block attached to a church. As an anchoress, therefore, she lived simply, singly, on the charity of others. She had a window into the church building through which she could hear Mass and receive Communion, and a window to the outside through which she could speak with visitors and offer spiritual wisdom and advice. Near the end of her life she was visited by another medieval woman who came to be remembered as a Saint, Margery Kempe.
You can read more of about her life here.
Apart from her name appearing in our calendar, St. Julian shows up in one other place in our Prayer Book: the Occasional Prayers section. There, prayer #92 on page 673 reads:
O God, of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me. I can ask for nothing less that is completely to your honor, and if I do ask anything less, I shall always be in want. Only in you I have all. Amen.
In this Customary’s recommended rotation of praying these Occasional Prayers every two weeks, I came across this prayer on the day after Ash Wednesday, and immediately took a liking to it. In my own emotional and spiritual life at that point, I badly needed to refresh a sense of satisfaction in Christ alone. Words like “for you are enough for me” and “Only in you I have all” are expressions of faith and trust and reliance that I needed to meditate upon, and so this little prayer became a quiet theme for me throughout Lent. It wasn’t seasonally appropriate one way or the other, it had no connection to the liturgy as such, it was simply a piece of my private devotions for a few weeks. This is legitimate and good; the classical three-fold rule of worship identifies private devotions as necessary to the Christian life alongside the daily office and the sacraments.
And yet, common prayer, or at least a Prayer Book, can aid us in our private devotions. The 123 Occasional Prayers offered near the back of our Prayer Book include over 20 labelled as being for Personal Life or Devotion. This means that 1, they aren’t meant for common worship as such, and 2, some will befit your prayer life better than others. There are some in there that I actually rather dislike. But my opinions will change with my mood and spiritual condition over time, I’m sure, and St. Julian’s prayer may not minister to me as profoundly in another year.
So I encourage you to explore these prayers for your own prayer life, and explore the people commemorated in our calendar. You never know who and what the Holy Spirit will use to minister to you both within and apart from the liturgy!