The Anchoress of Sterling

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Julian, or Julianne, Anchoress of Norwich petitioned God to grant her three things.  These were things no normal woman would want.  But then Julianne was not a normal woman.  She was an Anchoress.  Rather than a family and children, she chose to be celibate.  Rather than living in a village, she turned away from the world toward God.  She had herself ceremonially walled up into an anchorhold, a tiny room built against the outside wall of a church or a cathedral, with only a tiny window, a squint, as a portal to the world.  Through the squint, food came in, chamber pots came and went, and advice might be given to those who asked.  She spent her days praying to God.  She asked for spiritual blessings for one who has renounced the world, not for human blessings for one wholly immersed in it.

She sought to experience fully the pain, the suffering, of Christ, in his agony, dying on the cross.  This was the first of her petitions.

The second petition was for God to grant her a terrible illness at a young age that would bring her to the point of death.   Her petition was granted.  She faced her impending death in her anchorhold.   She was attended, it may have been, by a servant or two.  After receiving the Last Rites, she recovered from her illness.

Her third petition was to receive three specific wounds from God:  true contrition, natural compassion, and fullhearted longing for God.  Unlike the first two petitions, she attached no conditions to the third.  While it is charming — to me, at least — that she attached conditions to what she asked from God, not to attach conditions is courageous.  Perhaps the only thing more dangerous in human terms than asking God for spiritual blessings is to ask them of a lesser being.

Later in life, the Anchoress of Norwich wrote about sixteen visions, or understandings, or showings, that God granted to her.  She wrote The Revelation of Divine Love so long ago that the English she wrote then has to be translated into English we can understand today.  It was the first book by a woman written in English.  She saw God’s divine love as the love of a mother.

I know another anchoress, who is still, for now, among the living:  The Anchoress of Sterling.  (No, not the worldly-wise Catholic woman who blogs as The Anchoress!  A real anchoress.)

To the Anchoress of Sterling, all the blessings Julianne sought have been granted, without petition.

Her physical sufferings have exceeded those of Christ on the cross. His pain extended for days.  Hers are more severe, and for more years than his days of pain.

She has been granted at a young age severe physical illnesses — not one, but several — that will take her not only to the point of death, but to death and beyond.

She has born the three wounds throughout her life.  These wounds are so much a part of her, that her greatest fear facing death, is that she may be deprived of them.

She lives as a celibate, in an ashram or abbey, in a small room, in a single reclining chair.  She cannot lie down on the bed in the room, as it causes her great pain, and vertigo.

She spends her days praying to God.  She sees God as a girl or young woman.  Her rosary is from a Catholic Domitilla, her prayers a great Vedic mantram with bijas.   She also practices Theravada Buddhist mental culture.  Her squint is a notebook computer, with a wireless internet connection.

She has a rough-spoken manservant, whom she met on the internet a decade and a half ago.  He became her lover, then her spiritual teacher, then her husband, now her servant.  He sleeps on the bed next to her chair, and tends to all of her physical needs.  He also spends his life praying to God, doing the mental culture of Mindfulness of In-and-Out Breathing, cultivating love for his mistress, and working at a job to provide for her needs.

Her strength of resolve and her creativity are both increasing as she approaches the end of this life.  This blog is one of her happy conceits, a metaphor of her life.  She is a were-seal, a silkee of Celtic lore, who lives in the sea, sheds her seal skin to live and breed on dry land as a woman, then must leave her husband and children, don her sealskin, and return to the sea.  The sea is the heaven she left to suffer in this comparative hell, and to which she will return.

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