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A Prayer for Stressful Times

How a medieval mystic found peace in brutal times.

Statue of Julian of Norwich by David Holgate, west front, Norwich Cathedral. Image Wiikimedia, Tony Grist.

Stress can hit us at all times, but these days the world seems to be suffering from a great deal of it. I wondered if there was a prayer for such times and thought of a prayer often quoted from an obscure medieval source:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

The words were put down by Julian of Norwich who lived in England from around 1342 to 1416 and they came to her in a vision, one of a series of visions she received.

She was 30 years old, deathly ill, the priest had come to give her last rites and set up a cross for her to gaze on in her last hours. All at once she left this realm and ascended to another where God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary spoke to her.

Talk about stressful times. Julian of Norwich’s world was a dark, frightening and tumultuous place. Contemporary medieval festivals show us the bright color and festive life of the Middle Ages but it’s worth remember that the days were, for most, horrendous.

In Julian’s time, the bubonic plague decimated Europe, killing off nearly half of the population in a few years, the disease so contagious that families often abandoned their dying loved ones for fear they too would die in a matter of days.

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And yet, in her visions, God was reassuring, showing her a perspective that was much bigger and more hopeful than anyone could see. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

God was showing her that there is peace to be found in a life dedicated to Him, that loss wasn’t final, that the Lord was still present and loves us like a mother loves her own children. In fact, Julian compares Jesus to a Mother.

I once looked out my apartment window at a driver trying to parallel park on the street below. He drove forward, turned the wheel, reversed…and could never quite fit his car in the allotted space, although there was plenty of room.

It occurred to me that this is what it must be like for the Divine at times. God sees us struggling to make do, to find our way, to turn our wheels just right, moving back and forth and then often giving up in frustration.  If we’d only look to Him.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

I find it comforting at all times to pray those words. The days can be stressful, the fears haunting, the direction of our lives uncertain, the future impossible to fathom. But all will be well. God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit are with us.

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