Courtesy. A rare commodity in these days of me-first-in-the-fastlanedness of our 21st century. Sometimes it seems as though courtesy has virtually disappeared from our planet! Smiles are rare in the crowded stores and airports where we shop and travel in anonymity. And courtesy on our streets and highways? Forget about it!
In this feverishly impatient and discourteous world in which we live, Julian of Norwich is a refreshing voice. She calls to us from the 14th century to remind us that courtesy has certainly not disappeared for God! Over and over again, in her Showings, Julian writes of “our courteous Lord.” “For our Lord God is so good,” she sings, “so gentle and so courteous that [God] can never assign final failure to those in whom [God] will always be blessed and praised.” God is ever “endlessly surpassing all that we desire in [God’s] marvelous courtesy.” She even claims courtesy has swallowed up any wrath God might experience as God looks upon the careless destruction we’ve strewn across the globe and across so many lives.
I have to confess that I don’t usually think of God as “courteous.” But I really appreciate Julian here. Thinking this way brings God a little closer, draws God down a bit from those ethereal heights of omniscience and omnipotence (important as they are to remember as well!).
Julian also reminds me/us of the reality that God (and God-in-Christ) is as much a mother as God is a father. Julian pictures God holding us to God’s breast. She writes of God nurturing and consoling us with all God’s infinite maternal capacity to make spacious room in God’s life for our over-stretched egos and our wayward willfulness.
Julian’s imagery inspired Jean Janzen to write the words to this lovely hymn:
Mothering God, you gave me birth
in the bright morning of this world.
Creator, Source of every breath,
you are my rain, my wind, my sun.
Mothering Christ, you took my form,
offering me your food of light,
grain of life, and grape of love,
your very body for my peace.
Mothering Spirit, nurturing one,
in arms of patience hold me close,
so that in faith I root and grow
until I flower, until I know.
Will experiencing God’s courteousness and God’s mother-love help me/us to be more courteous in this impatient world of ours? I hope so, but I don’t know. I do know that I love resting in these thoughts and images; love being held in the arms and in the womb of my gentle, courteous God.