All Shall Be Well: Joyful Prayer With Julian of Norwich

We are please to welcome back Carl McColman for this virtual weekend retreat, offered through Zoom Videoconferencing.

MAY 14-15
Friday, 7-9 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Presenter: Carl McColman
Investment: $75
To register, please call 608-791-5295 or click here.

Julian of Norwich was a 14th century mystic and author who, even in her own lifetime, was renowned as a visionary and spiritual director. She was the first woman to write a book in the English language, and her reflections on the Motherhood of God continue to inspire us today. This virtual retreat will weave together Julian's joyful, optimistic spirituality with contemplative prayer practices inspired by her teachings and by the wisdom of The Cloud of Unknowing.

Carl McColman is a contemplative writer, speaker, teacher, soul friend and storyteller, based near Atlanta. He is the author of numerous books, including The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, An Invitation to Celtic Wisdom and Unteachable Lessons. His latest book, Eternal Heart, will be published in the summer of 2021. He is a Life-Professed Lay Cistercian: a layperson under formal spiritual guidance with the Trappist monks. Learn more about him and his work at

Five Questions with Carl McColman

1. How does Julian of Norwich, who lived in the 14th century, speak to us today? 
Julian was tremendously ahead of her time. She spoke of God as "Mother" and saw the spiritual life as a joyful response to love, not a burdensome duty to appease an angry God. She is especially relevant to our time because she lived through a horrific pandemic: the bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe multiple times during her lifetime. The fact that she maintained such a joyful spirituality in the wake of such a difficult time is truly inspirational for us here in the 21st century.

2. What does joyful prayer mean to you? 
Joy is the second fruit of the spirit, second only to love. So, I see it as a dimension of love. Teilhard de Chardin said, "Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God." It's more than just feeling happy or blissful. Just like love is a choice even more than it is an emotion, so too joy is an orientation of life toward hope, trust and optimism. The fact that joy often feels, well, joyful, that's a perk. As for "joyful prayer," that's prayer oriented toward an understanding that God is Love, and we are therefore beings of Love, created in Love's image and likeness. Prayer that trusts in Love and understands that spirituality means finding the eternal Love within our own hearts that responds to the eternal Love of the Divine — such prayer is based in joy and returns us to joy, no matter how much we may be suffering or struggling at the present moment.

3. You've written elsewhere that Julian introduced you to the God who loves. Can you elaborate? 
I was raised in a very strict church that stressed the idea that God is wrathful and that human beings are barely saved only by the extraordinary actions of Christ. This image of God may be "orthodox" in a technical sense, but it never communicated God's lavish love and joyful care for us human beings, God's own creation. I struggled with this limited image of God as a young adult, but then a priest advised me to read Julian just to find a new way to envisioning God. Needless to say, Julian gave me an entirely new way of understanding God — and of discovering, really for the first time, that "God is Love" really does mean that God is joyful, compassionate, caring and truly cherishes and takes delight in us human beings, even despite our failings. Julian doesn't rewrite theology, but her emphasis on what really matters truly gave me an entirely new way of approaching faith. In doing so, I learned to fall in love with God, which means to fall in love with Love. It's been an adventure ever since.

4. What do you hope people "take away" from this virtual retreat experience?  
If you're new to Julian, I hope you will discover just how extraordinary she is, as a teacher, a mystic and a spiritual director (we know she had a ministry of spiritual direction, one of her directees wrote about it). And even if you and Julian are old friends, I hope that you'll learn something new: I've been reading Julian for almost 40 years now, and I certainly keep learning new things from her. Most of all, I hope we will all support one another in orienting our spiritual lives toward love, prayer and joy — which is truly a lifelong journey, so hopefully this weekend will be a beautiful step along the way.

5. What is a favorite or especially helpful prayer practice for you? 
I love silence. I've been a practitioner of Centering Prayer for many years now, and I find that it never gets old and it continues to offer me subtle insights into my own journey of learning to respond more and more to God's love. It's so simple: 20 minutes of silence, twice a day — and yet it is challenging, because it involves a continual process of gently setting aside distracting thoughts. It's really a simple gesture of resting in God's loving presence. While Julian herself does not speak about the prayer of silence, her contemporary — the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing — really "wrote the book" on Centering Prayer. So, it means a lot to me, continues to nourish me, and I'll be inviting the participants on the retreat into restful silence as well.

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