All Shall Be Well - An Advent Reflection


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

I stood there, dumbly staring down at my open hand. Through vision blurred by tears, I gazed at the hazelnut in my palm. All shall be well? How?

In 1373 AD a young English woman named Julian of Norwich had an intense, mystical experience in which she claims to have received a divine revelation of the love of God. Julian had set herself apart as an anchoress, a woman devoted to God and prayer who lives isolated from culture while simultaneously being in the centre of a community. Cloistered in a single room attached to a cathedral, Julian never left her cell. She had one window that linked her to the outside world, a portal through which she counseled friends and strangers alike. 

But despite her chosen solitude, Julian was by no means sheltered from the chaos and distress in her world. 

As a child, she lived through the Bubonic Plague that killed over a third of her town’s population. Fifteen years later, a second wave of Black Death swept Norwich, once again claiming the lives of men, women, and children. 

In addition to surviving Europe’s largest known pandemic, Julian also lived during a time of protracted political and military conflict - England was bogged down in the Hundred Years War, a five generation battle for control of the throne of France. And it wasn’t just foreign hostilities that troubled England - the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 spoke to the deep inequalities and injustices being suffered by the common person. 

If all this wasn’t enough, the Church Julian had devoted her life to was filled with corruption. Two popes vied for authority, and for 68 years there was no consensus on who was in control.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Rampant disease, political turmoil, military violence, religious corruption, economic and social injustice. I think that pretty much sums up today’s headlines. It’s hard to imagine having a revelation of divine love when I turn on my phone and see notifications of yet another violent attack, another suffering child, another sex scandal.

Mostly, I feel overwhelming sorrow, sometimes to the point of being incapacitated. How can humanity take any more suffering? 

Here on the cusp of the Advent season I find myself stumbling toward Christmas, blinded by the pain of the world, grasping at any shred of hope that might still be out there that the world can actually get better when every morning the headlines scream that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. 

But just when I am tempted to finally despair of all hope, I hear the words of Julian of Norwich echoing in my ears, and they tug at my heart. 

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


With eyes wide open to the realities of the suffering in her world Julian found the faith to pray.

And in response to her prayer, she received a vision of all that was made gathered into a tiny hazelnut balanced in the palm of her hand. It was so little and fragile, Julian wrote that she thought it would fall into nothingness. But she heard God declare that it would never be lost because God made it, God loves it, and God keeps it. 

God made us. God loves us. God keeps us. 

And so God can say, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” 

He can say it because of Christmas morning; because he saw all the pain and destruction our hands had wrought, and he came down, put on flesh, and made himself vulnerable to our world. He embraced us in all our beauty and brokenness. And he will never let us go.

There is hope. And it is not a blind hope - it is very real.

The first person who told me Julian's story gave me a hazelnut. To this day, I carry it with me in my purse and when I feel overwhelmed with sorrow I take it out, hold it in my hand, and remember.

For every horror story the headlines assault us with, there are a hundred untold stories of healing, overcoming, reconciliation, joy. There are stories of poverty being ended, of marriages being healed, of children thriving in school.

This Advent, I choose not to be overwhelmed by the headlines, I choose not to be swallowed up by the sorrow. Instead, I will breathe it all in as Christ took in my sorrow, and I will breathe out hope. I will be faithful to tell the stories of transformation that are rising up all over the world because of Christmas morning. 

So the next time you read the news, remember Julian and take heart: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”



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Food for the Hungry: All Shall Be Well - An Advent Reflection
All Shall Be Well - An Advent Reflection
Food for the Hungry
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