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Julian of Norwich and the God of Dirty Diapers

Julian of Norwich and the God of Dirty Diapers

Terry Dye

Cari Donaldson - published on 12/10/13

As Julian of Norwich articulated 700 years ago, God is there in the simple, the common, the homely. Translation: You can prepare for Advent while changing your kids' diapers.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a mystic.  I longed for magnificent visions and manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s healing coursing through my hands.  Instead, I was called to be a wife and mother, where I was privileged to participate in the miracle of creation six times.  Think: less rapturous visions of Heaven and Hell and more preternaturally horrifying diapers.

One day, years after reading her in a college literature course, I remembered Julian of Norwich, the 14th century mystic.  Specifically, I remembered her use of the curious word “homely” in reference to God.  There I was, elbow deep in diapers and dinner and long division lessons, and the words of a mostly anonymous anchoress from hundreds of years ago suddenly filled my head.

Our “homely” God is just that – one who is familiar and simple and has none of His glory diminished by that accessibility.  Or, in Julian’s words, “He cometh down to us, to the lowest part of our need. For he despiseth nothing of what he hath made. And he disdaineth not to serve us in the simplest offices that belong, in kind, to our body, for love of the soul that is made to his own likeness. For as the body is clad in clothes, and the flesh in skin, and the bones in flesh, and the heart in the breast, so are we, soul and body, and more homely: for they all vanish, wasting away. But the good of God is ever whole and most near to us … For truly, it is the greatest joy that could be, as I see it, that he who is highest and mightiest, noblest and worthiest, is the lowest and meekest, homeliest and most courteous.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about Julian this week, following my snit last week at the start of Advent.  Once again, I was longing for some preconceived mystical transformation during this season, and instead, I was faced with the domestic, the mundane, and the homely.   But I could feel Julian there, nudging me to notice the Infant (and my response to him) in the details of my little life.

There was a business trip my husband had to take, leaving me to fly as a solo parent for three days.  Every night before I went to sleep alone, I uttered intense prayers of thanksgiving for the blessing of a happy marriage.  I thanked God for a man who served and protected his family like good St. Joseph had 2,000 years before, and fell asleep with visions of my husband and St. Joseph, walking side by side, speaking little, keeping a watchful eye on their respective families.  When the trip was over, and we picked my husband up from the airport, we did so with party hats and confetti, gleefully celebrating the joyous return of our beloved.  And there was God, in the homely details of the homecoming.

I heard a radio broadcast on Sunday on my way to Mass.  I live in an area with a large West Indian population, and the voice of the woman coming over my speakers was thick with an island accent.  Full of an enthusiasm and sincerity that I could almost touch, I listened to the DJ give thanks for the day the Lord had made, and agreed with her that we should give thanks and rejoice in it.  As I pulled into the windy, grey parking lot of my stark New England parish, the woman’s warm voice encouraged me to go and worship – worship the Lord like I’ve never worshipped him before.  I hunched down into my sweater a little more closely, and carried both Julian of Norwich and the West Indian DJ with me into Mass, tucking them in my heart, and worshipping our homely God like I’d never worshipped him before.

There are some that are made for visions and mystical experiences.  There are some that are called to fill their Advents and Lents with increased Mass attendance and spiritual reading and such.  These are good pursuits.  God is there waiting for them.  But, like Julian of Norwich articulated 700 years ago, God is also there in the simple, in the common, in the homely.  The Infant is pleased with me preparing a way for him in my heart through joyful participation in the less than mystical details of the life he’s called me to live.  After all, if he was pleased to become man and be born in the dark and the stink of a cave-turned-stable, why would I think that he’d turn up his nose at my house?  I have practically zero livestock living inside my house.  And if Christ would reveal himself to stinking, sweaty shepherds, why should I imagine that there’s a diaper in the world that would repel him?  

So Julian and I will be over here, preparing humble spaces in our hearts for the King of the Universe, who delights in being mighty and homely and dwelling among mystics and messes.

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