Tempest-Tossed But Not Overwhelmed

By KM Huber

Chance has always intrigued me, its mystery as well as its inherent possibility. Whenever mystery and possibility are involved, they wrap round each other like halves of a whole, as if they are anxious to re-connect. There is a spark of magic, a trace of the mystic.

“By chance, I encountered the lost lady. At that time I still believed in chance. A candle burned, and by the light of the flame I embarked upon the soul’s solitary adventure” (The Greening, p. 6, Margaret Coles).

At the heart of a current novel, The Greening, is a 14th century manuscript entitled Revelations of Divine Love written by anchoress Julian of Norwich, who took her name from the church that housed her for forty years, St. Julian’s.

As an anchoress, Julian was “a woman who devoted her life to prayer for the community.… She had [sixteen] visions…in which she received a series of messages”; she spent the rest of her life writing about her visions (The Greening, p. 11).

Julian was well aware that what she witnessed was completely at odds with the very church that housed her for Julian’s visions revealed a God of love, compassion, gratitude, and equanimity, qualities that always seem in short supply whether in the 14th or 21st century.
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While reading Julian’s Revelations, I was reminded, yet again, of the overlapping of Christianity, Taoism, and Buddhism, in particular their acknowledgement of impermanence in all of existence. We will know pain and pleasure all of our lives but if we accept the undulations of impermanence, we will suffer less.

Regarding impermanence, the Buddha said, “I teach one thing and one thing only, suffering and the cessation of suffering.” Similarly, the Tao advises us that “the ten thousand things rise and fall, while the Self watches their return” (Lao Tsu). Julian’s most famous words also reveal an undulating existence: “‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’” (The Greening, p. 65).

Just as the Buddha did not say that he teaches pain or the cessation of pain, just as the Tao accepts that all moments of experience either rise or fall, so Julian acknowledges impermanence: “he did not say, ‘you shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work weary, you shall not be discomforted.’ But he said, ‘you shall not be overcome’” (The Greening, p. 233).

The “chance” of the lost lady’s writings surviving six centuries of territorial uprisings, sacking of monasteries and war after war seems slim but Julian’s Revelations not only survived but after 1901 have remained in print as well as the subject of scholarly study.

“’God tells you that you are beloved through all eternity and held safe in an embrace that will never let you go. But the love he offers requires us to turn our lives upside down’” (The Greening, p.87).

Perhaps our lives turning upside down and then righting themselves is mere chance, regardless of the teachings of Julian of Norwich, the Tao, the Buddha or thousands of years of considering impermanence. Yet, it is a mystery that weaves in and out of our lives for no matter the generation or the state of the world, all things change, and eventually, all things pass away, no matter the path.

A Note Regarding the Citations: Margaret Coles’ novel, The Greening, is based around Julian’s Revelations but Julian is not the main emphasis of the novel. I quote from Coles’ novel rather than Julian’s Revelations for ease of reading; also, I think Cole does an excellent job of citing Julian’s writings.


KM Huber is a writer who learned Zen from a beagle. She believes the moment is all we ever have, and it is enough. In her early life as a hippie, she practiced poetry, and although her middle years were a bit of a muddle, she remains an overtly optimistic sexagenerian, writing prose. She blogs at kmhubersblog.com, may be followed on Twitter @KM_Huber or contacted by email at writetotheranch[at]gmail[dot]com.

© 2013 KM Huber. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact me at the above links to request permission.

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