facebook icon twitter icon youtube icon

Viewing Today’s World Through The Visions of Julian of Norwich


Amy Laura Hall, associate professor of Christian Ethics at Duke University, made her first trip to Iowa to deliver the Matthew Simpson Lecture in Religion on Oct. 9.

Her conclusions about the state:

The chips and salsa at Hy-Vee compared favorably with those of West Texas, where she grew up.

And she doesn’t care at all for tornado warning sirens.

“When the tornado warning came she bolted so fast I didn’t know where she was,” said Mark Gammon, professor of religion at Simpson.

Students and guests – including Hall – took cover as the storm passed, but the lecture began after a brief delay.

“In spite of the spot of weather, I’m having a wonderful time,” she said.

What followed was a beginner’s guide to the visions of Julian of Norwich, who is believed to be the first woman to write a book in the English language.

Hall has taught about Julian for 20 years, and she is the subject of Hall’s fourth and most recent book, Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich.

“I wrote a book against fear, yet I’ll be the first one in the basement,” Hall joked.

Julian of Norwich wrote at the turn of the Fourteenth Century. Traditionally, anything written about God was to be in Latin, but “she wrote with an intention of being read by real people, and she wrote from a position of kinship, not superiority,” Hall said.

The writer’s visions told her that God will reclaim everything, large and small, in what Hall referred to as an “eschatological reclamation.”

“Julian’s visions resonate even with readers who have not grown up Christian,” Hall said. “Her words about hope and love can speak to people who are privy to secular messages of despair, despondency, competition and straight-up hate.

“This medieval woman, writing with courage when Christianity and political hierarchy were intertwined to convince people to shut up and stay in their place, can speak across centuries to embolden Christians who had been privy to a similarly toxic blend of religion and politics.”

Hall described Julian’s message as, “God did not say you will not be tormented, you will not be troubled, you will not be grieved. But God did say you shall not be overcome…. She’s created a world in which no one is irredeemable.”

A Simpson student asked Hall if that included many of history’s most notorious criminals, people responsible for the deaths of millions of people.

“I’m glad that I’m not given the job of relegating people to hell,” she replied. “And I pray there is no one who ever lived who is irredeemable.”

Before the event, Simpson recognized the contribution of $100,000 to the lecture’s endowment fund by Bruce and Bette Haddox. A retired professor and interim president, Haddox joined another professor, Roger Betsworth, to create the lecture series in 1980.