“By chance, I encountered the lost lady. At that time I still believed in chance. A candle burned, and by the light of the flame I embarked upon the soul’s solitary adventure” (The Greening, p. 6, Margaret Coles).
I have always believed in chance, always loved the mystery as well as the possibility of it. Mystery and possibility wrap round each other easily, sometimes magically and other times, mystically. It is not surprising that I enjoyed Margaret Coles’ The Greening.
At the heart of The Greening is another, actual book, Revelations of Divine Love by 14th century anchoress Julian of Norwich, who took her name from the church that housed her for forty years, St. Julian’s.
As an anchoress, Julian was “a woman who devoted her life to prayer for the community.… She had [sixteen] visions…in which she received a series of messages”; she spent the rest of her life writing about these visions (The Greening, p. 11). She had a lot of questions.
The fact of Julian is the heart of Coles’ novel, and while the plot does get away from Coles from time to time, my fascination with Julian’s belief in a loving God and a human life of impermanence kept me patient with the novel.
Yet again, I was reminded of the overlapping of Christianity, Taoism, and Buddhism, and that “the divisions between the faiths are pointless” (The Greening, p. 210).
The Buddha said, “I teach one thing and one thing only, suffering and the cessation of suffering.” In the Tao, “the ten thousand things rise and fall, while the Self watches their return” (Lao Tsu). Julian’s famous words reveal the same: “‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’” (The Greening, p. 65).
Just as the Buddha did not say that he teaches pain or the cessation of pain, just as the Tao accepts that moments rise and fall, so does Julian acknowledge that pain and pleasure are part and parcel of the human experience: “he did not say, ‘you shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work weary, you shall not be discomforted.’ But he said, ‘you shall not be overcome’” (The Greening, p. 233).
What Coles captures in her novel is what has intrigued scholars for over 600 years about Julian of Norwich’s message: “’God tells you that you are beloved through all eternity and held safe in an embrace that will never let you go. But the love he offers requires us to turn our lives upside down’” (The Greening, p.87).
Julian’s vision of God is one of love, compassion, gratitude, and equanimity completely contrary to the turbulent times during which she lived. She understood that her revelations were in direct contrast to the very church that housed her. Yet, she wrote.
The “chance” of the lost lady’s writings surviving six centuries of territorial uprisings, sacking of monasteries and war after war seems slim but Julian’s revelations not only survived but after 1901 have remained in print and the subject of scholarly study.
That Margaret Coles chose Julian’s revelations as the heart of her novel is an intriguing concept. It is not a quick read but it is a thoughtful interweaving of Julian’s writing throughout the novel. The plot reveals the lives of two women–both find love and loss–but it is what they find in their individual quests that twists the story.
The plot strains at times and may be unnecessarily complicated but if one is looking for the greening of one’s soul, one will find one path to it here. For another, there is always Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love.
Here are some related links including Wikipedia as well as two other reviews.
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Hay House publishes an array of writers including Wayne Dyer, Anita Moorjani, Doreen Virtue, Julie Daniluk and, of course, its founder, Louise Hay. These writers’ subjects range from the Tao to angels to nutrition to near-death experiences.
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10 thoughts on “Maybe Not Such a Mystery After All”
Sounds like a book well worth reading! Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
Actually, I thought of you while I was reading this book. I think you would enjoy it.
I’ll have to find a copy! Thanks!
I have always felt there was considerable depth in the idea that the “one thing” is two things: suffering and the cessation (or end, in some translations) of suffering.
Coming close behind your fog and flare post, this one–and I shall have to look up this novel–reiterates many of your earlier explorations in to the concepts that suggest an overlapping of Christianity, Taoism, and Buddhism. I suppose you’ve read Karen Armstrong on the “great religions”?
Like you, I agree that the “one thing” concept is rather expansive. As Deb notes below, it is the acceptance of impermanence that is so key to our degree of suffering. Obviously, it is a concept that fascinates me.
This post, for me, reflects some of “Do You Believe in Magic?” post that was part of a group that considered the overlapping of ancient traditions.Then, I was involved in an online course that started out well but just stopped, abruptly; however, I continue to read many on my own. In a way, it was like being given the keys to the kingdom….
As for Karen Armstrong, I have read her, in particular
The Battle For God
, which is such an interesting discussion regarding fundamentalism. Some argue that this book takes her better-known
The History of God
further; the history is part of my always growing reading list. Your mention of her, however, just may move it up a few notches as I enjoy her writing. I believe she is also now involved with a compassion project and may have some TED talks available.
Finally, you may find Margaret Coles’ novel interesting for she does an excellent job, I think, of accurately representing Julian’s work, at least from my interpretation of reading Julian’s original work but then, I am not concerned whether the interpretation is filtered through one tradition over another. Rather, I found it interesting that Coles wrote a novel around the timeless words of Julian.
Thanks, Ann, for reminding me of Karen Armstrong.
History of God is a good book. She’s also written books on Buddha and Mohammed.
For the most part, I agree with “’God tells you that you are beloved through all eternity and held safe in an embrace that will never let you go. But the love he offers requires us to turn our lives upside down.’”
I believe the Love surrounds us, always, but in order for us to notice the Love while we are living, we are required to accept life means being upside down. (It is so easy to forget!) I don’t think life is a requirement, but a mutual gift. Happy Sunday, wonderful Karen. Thanks for the thoughtful review.
Once again, Deb, you provide me wonderful words for thought: “I don’t think life is a requirement….” What a wonderful sentence! Moreover, you get to the heart of the matter, acceptance. If we accept that life is impermanent, and we understand that life is not a requirement, then we start peeling back the labels for there is no need of judgment, much less categorizing. But as you say, it is so easy to forget.
Thanks so much, Deb.
Have you ever heard of the hymn, Come, come ye saints? The message is similar. I can never sing it without choking up. It definitely emerged from “lives turned upside down.”
I always find your blog posts thoughtful and intriguing. 🙂
I do not know the hymn, Pauline, but it sounds as if the message is similar. It really is something to get choked up about, isn’t it? For in accepting that our lives are upside down, we get to see our lives through a broader, more objective lens. Always great to have you stop by and thanks for the kind words about my posts.