Part of the emptiness of following Jesus is going with him to the place where we need him to be everything. Julian says,
“Our Lord showed me a spiritual vision of his familiar love. I saw that for us he is everything that is good and comforting and helpful. He is our clothing, wrapping and enveloping us for love, embracing us and guiding us in all things, hanging about us in tender love, so that he can never leave us. And so in this vision, as I understand it, I saw truly that he is everything that is good for us” (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Short Text 4, italics added).
This seems to be the heart of giving things up for Lent. We all have things that we turn to that are “good and comforting and helpful.” Our clothing, so to speak, so that we don’t feel naked and exposed to the world. (When I quit smoking, the most striking thing is that I just felt naked all the time, like someone had ripped my skin off.) We don’t fast or abstain to make God love us more; we do it to open up some space in our frantic, buzzing, facebook, twitter, cell phones with internet, television, netflix, radio filled lives. I so desire for Jesus to be “everything that is good” for me. But I still want a new car, new clothes, new shoes, some fancy cream that will ward off wrinkles for a few more years. I desperately want to go back to school, to have a baby, to be popular and funny and beautiful, not truly believing that Jesus is everything that is good for me. Not believing that he is my “clothing, wrapping and enveloping [me] for love.”
Julian goes on in this section to say,
“And in this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazel-nut, lying in the palm of my hand… I looked at it and thought, ‘What can this be?’ And the answer came to me, ‘It is all that is made.’ I wondered how it could last, for it was so small I thought it might suddenly disappear… In this little thing I saw three attributes: the first is that God made it, the second is that he loves it, the third is that God cares for it. But what does that mean to me? Truly, the maker, the lover, the carer; for until I become one substance with him, I can never have love, rest or true bliss; that is to say, until I am so bound to him that there may be no created thing between my God and me. And who shall do this deed? Truly, himself, by his mercy and grace, for he has made me and blessedly restored me to that end” (ibid., italics added).
She ends the section with echoes of Augustine: “This is why those who chose to occupy themselves with earthly business and are always pursuing worldly success have nothing here of God in their hearts and souls: because they love and seek their rest in this little thing where there is no rest, and know nothing of God, who is almighty, all wise, and all good, for he is true rest… And this is why, until all that is made seems as nothing, no soul can be at rest. When a soul sets all at nothing for love, to have him who is everything that is good, then it is able to receive spiritual rest” (ibid, italics added).
These are harsh words. Those who occupy themselves with and pursue worldly goods and success “know nothing of God”? But maybe she’s right. Maybe the ones who know God are the ones who have set all at naught to be bound most closely with Jesus. Maybe when we give up sugar or drinking or tv or facebook or shopping other sources of goodness, comfort and joy we get a little glimpse of spiritual rest. The road of following Jesus and being united with him in his death (2 Cor. 4, Gal. 2:21, etc.) is the road of emptiness. The road of counting all other things as loss. The road where Jesus is everything that is good and comforting and helpful to us.