I learned that love was our Lord's meaning.
And I saw for certain, both here and elsewhere,
that before ever he made us, God loved us;
and that his love has never slackened,
nor ever shall.
In this love all his works have been done,
and in this love he has made everything serve us;
and in this love our life is everlasting.
Our beginning was when we were made,
but the love in which he made us
never had beginning.
In it we have our beginning.
All this we shall see in God forever.
May Jesus grant this.
(Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love. (1342-c.1416)
Julian's Revelations of Divine Love is amongst the half dozen or so classic texts of Christian Spirituality that I've read and pondered regularly for years. Call it my devotional canon. Such reading isn't informational but formational and transformational; these texts, along with Scripture, nourish the theological imagination, sustain spiritual passion, recall dissipated affections to a new focus, touch us in those deep recesses of love and hopefulness about ourselves, that only grace can galvanise and organise.
Sometimes folk ask how I get the time to do all the reading I do. Here's part of the answer. How we love God and follow faithfully after our Lord will be different for each of us, as different as we are from each other. Not everyone finds reading brings them closer to God - though I think more could. But I am persuaded (I love the AV rendering of Paul's certainties!) - that good pastoral care includes amongst its goals enabling and encouraging a community to think, reflect, read and learn together of the wisdom to live for Christ faithfully and well. Many don't read deeply and slowly because no one has ever helped them make the connection between such reading and the way they view the world, their faith and the essential connections between our understanding of the world, our knowledge of God, our prayers, and the quality of our Christian faithfulness.
Time for reading, time for work, time for the people at the heart of our lives, time for sleep, time for serving others, time for music, exercise, eating, TV, surfing - but in the end much of what we do with time comes down to choices, preferences, priorities and life circumstances. Some of the great Christian spiritual teachers had a fixed habit of 15 minutes a day for slow reading of classic spiritual texts. Forget The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and The Purpose Driven Life. I've often enough disparaged such culturally determined life management books - at times unfairly. They do what they do. But when it comes to the necessary deepening of our relationship to God, a surer less partial grasp of our faith, a more reflectively compassionate looking out on the world, a more cherishing attitude to the Body of Christ, a more penetrating analysis of our time and place in the purposes of God in a world like ours - when it comes to all that, such books don't do what needs to be done.
These Christian spiritual teachers approached their reading of classic texts with a 'give us this day our daily bread' urgency. They knew they needed nourishment, strength, energy, and they felt and befriended their hunger as a necessary inner reminder that they are not self-sustaining, or self-propelled or capable of growth without food. Food for the heart, the imagination, the conscience, the mind - food for thought, food for energy, food for strength, and thus, food to live. And for a quarter of an hour a day, week on week, month on month, year on year, they made time to slow down and wait in the company of Christ, learning from the cloud of witnesses what it is to be loved by God and to love God. And in that Love to understand more what it meant for them to be called to be part of God's mission to redeem and renew, to reconcile and restore a fallen but God-loved creation.
So, Julian again:
"In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought "What may this be?" And it was generally answered thus: "It is all that is made." I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: "It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it."