The Astounding Accomplishments of Julian Norwich

Column by Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox on 29 October 2020 0 Comments

Most people, if they know anything about Julian of Norwich, know two things. First, that she said “all things will be well, every manner of thing will be well,” a testimony to hope or what Mirabai Starr calls “radical optimism” that arises near the end of her book Showings and ought not to be understood as “spiritual bypass” or denial of suffering. Second, people have heard that she talks about the “motherhood of God” quite often.

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With the restrictions of gathering because of COVID-19 what are your thoughts on other ways to worship?  Can you experience the same benefits by attending an online service or in an outdoor service where everyone is spread out safely?


Dear Reader,

I believe COVID-19 will prove to bring many ‘disruptive innovations’ to the church and culture in general. As a pastor, it really overturns and clarifies the usual malaise and lack of imagination (my own included) regarding worship, liturgy and preaching. For one thing it creates space and opportunity to push us beyond our walls into the online social space. The ‘message’ can no longer be for insiders only but outsiders to the theological rubric and habits of a closed loop, insular, church culture. Most religious leaders I know have experimented with shorter, punchier, more meaningful music and messages. I wonder if more religious and spiritual leaders are feeling more emboldened in this liminal, pandemic time, to speak truth to power, to confront issues of systemic racism, and ecological devastation, regardless of the consequences, and if technology can assist that courage? Hybrid forms of online and in-person are pushing us to experiment, innovate, and build our tolerance and learning for creative failures. Online groups and practices can still have a powerful effect, but the flatness of the technology makes it more challenging than in-person community, in my opinion.

We have worshiped outdoors all summer in a park and community garden space we developed a couple years ago. Worship went immediately from a private experience with people ‘like us’ to a visible and public experience, right in the middle of our neighborhood witnessed by people of all sorts of different backgrounds, beliefs, and socioeconomic factors. Our first Sunday outdoors, early this summer, I got angry calls from neighbors who said we were too loud. A week later we had neighbors walk across the street to thank us and give us pastries. Some neighbors started attending worship with us because of the need for human connection, belonging in the neighborhood, and a desire for justice and to be meaningfully involved during this pandemic.

I have a smaller wilder gathering called Church of Lost Walls, which is affiliated with the Wild Church Network that has been working on an alternative vision for spirituality and community for a number of years before the pandemic. Our gathering is designed for greenspaces, open spaces, parks, and wilder places. Opportunities for more immersive experiences in nature can help people reconnect with a life and world deeper than our frenzied, unraveling human culture. Time outdoors, particularly immersed in wildish places, even if it is a well-touristed State Park or greenspace can help cultivate a certain level of psychological healing and spiritual wholeness in these pathological times.

~ Rev. Matthew Syrdal




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