Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Ethics, United Theological College within School of Theology, Charles Sturt University
Speaking of God: Julian of Norwich’s Performative God-Talk
Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love exemplifies the kind of daring, unruly God-talk that we desperately need in light of COVID-19 and its impact. In this paper, I begin by indicating some ways in which Julian’s situation resembles our own: Julian wrote her Revelations as an anchoress, in social isolation; she wrote in the wake of a pandemic (the black death) and amidst the trauma of those who survived; and she wrote as political and ecclesial leaders were using the instability to consolidate and extend power. Second, I shall turn to some of Judith Butler’s insights into performative language and excitable speech, suggesting how Butler can help with drawing out disruptive and subversive elements of Julian’s complex theology. Accordingly, in the third section, I shall focus on two specific examples: (1) Julian’s intimate, sensual descriptions of Christ’s bodily suffering, and (2) her fluid, destabilising portrayals of Christ as mother. In both cases, I shall suggest, Julian disrupts and displaces accepted (and acceptable) ways of talking about God and how God in Christ relates to us. In my conclusion, I shall briefly suggest how Julian’s performative God-talk has ongoing relevance for today.