Across the seven centuries that separate us, I hear her voice whispering to me. The anchoress Dame Julian of Norwich and I have so much in common these days that we are practically twins. Like me, she lived in a time of plague. Like me, she isolated herself in a small space, though her cell, or anchor hold, which was attached to the church of Saint Julian, was a lot smaller than my cottage in the retirement community where I reside.
Her cell, I am told, had three windows. One gave into the church, so she could follow the Mass and take communion. Another opened into the street, and through it she would speak to the people who came to her for advice. The third window was the one through which her followers would hand her food and take away her wastes.
I too have windows in my cottage. Seven centuries have seen major improvements in sanitation, so waste disposal is not an issue. But my food is delivered at my door every evening at 5:30, and although people don’t come to me for advice, friends do come and sit on my porch, where we mumble at each other through our masks. My cottage is not attached to a church, but its back windows look out into a cathedral of trees, which change their vestments with the season, and where choirs of birds sing their own versions of Gregorian chant.
Like me, Dame J was a writer. She was the first woman to write a book in English, Revelations of Divine Love. I am not even the first woman to write a blog, but I nevertheless feel a strong sense of kinship with her, and as I sit tapping at my laptop I can practically hear the scritch scratch of her goose quill on parchment.
Also, like me, she had a cat! (Unlike me she didn’t have a husband or a dog in her anchor hold, but I’m focusing on similarities here.) When the spirit moves him, Telemann jumps onto my keyboard and edits my writing. I wonder if Dame Julian’s cat ever stepped on her work before the ink was dry, and left little flower-shaped prints all over her manuscript?
Julian tells us that in one of her visions God showed her a hazelnut. “What may this be?” she asked. And He answered, “It is all that is made.” I don’t quite know what this means, but she tells us what it meant to her: “In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”