For the past several weeks, I’ve been working my way through a project that has doubled as a profound spiritual exercise: selling my house.
After almost two decades in my Northeast Philly row home, I recently discerned the Lord was leading me to find a new dwelling. Though prudent, the realization was somewhat disconcerting: I’d just finished painting the living room and creating a garden in which (after several failed seasons) plants had actually blossomed. Besides, after a long day at the laptop, I preferred to read a good book rather than scroll through Zillow and start packing.
Nonetheless, a divine directive is just that, and I dutifully started the tedious process of contacting a real estate agent and readying my house for the market.
“I’m challenging you to give away half of your possessions,” a priest friend said to me when I told him of the plan.
“Are you willing to help me haul them out of here?” I retorted.
Trawling through cluttered closets and old storage tubs, I wondered if my guardian angel might be enjoying a good chuckle. With every dust-covered box I opened, I cringed over impulse purchases (“what made me buy this?”), old photos (“why did I wear that?”) and unfinished craft projects (“what was this supposed to be?”).
At other moments, I’ve found myself blinking back tears as I’ve come across mementos of deceased loved ones and pets. In one container, I found a newspaper from 9/11, with the images of the crumbling Twin Towers covering half the front page; shadows of that awful day filled the room, and my hands fell still at their task.
The worst part for me, though, has been preparing the house to be seen by prospective buyers. My decorating style is probably best described as “shabby Victorian chic” with a dash of vertigo. Framed pictures list a bit on their hastily hammered hooks; throw pillows are routinely scattered by my squabbling cats (the dog is generally innocent of such derelictions).
My home repair skills are only fair at best; spackling and paint imperfections are numerous. And although I do clean regularly, the laundry basket can attest that I’m not exactly in line for any Good Housekeeping awards.
My agent ordered me to download a scheduling app so that interested house hunters could sign up online for walk-throughs of my home. Since housing inventory is currently limited in our area, I quickly received a number of appointments for “showings,” and I scrambled to keep my calendar updated. With the first broker and her client on the way, I was frantically praying to St. Joseph when a friend texted.
“All will be well,” she said.
A few days later, after a series of showings and while anxiously awaiting another, a second friend messaged me.
“All will be well,” he said. “And all manner of things will be well.”
Those ancient words, penned by 14th-century mystic Julian of Norwich, instantly stilled me. I had first read them as a sophomore in high school, and though my fears then were quite different from those I now faced, the reassurance I felt was the same.
Julian — likely a Benedictine nun living as an “anchoress,” or recluse — is the first woman known to have written in the English language, and “Revelations of Divine Love,” the text that became her spiritual legacy, is one of the language’s finest (even T.S. Eliot quoted it in his masterpiece “Four Quartets”). In the work, Julian reflects on the series of visions she experienced during a critical illness in May 1373, and she offers profound insight into the nature of sin, suffering and, above all, God’s merciful and triumphant love.
In the thirteenth revelation, Julian ponders why the Lord, with his “great foreseeing wisdom,” had not prevented sin in the first place. Had he done so, she concluded, “all should have been well.”
God had a different perspective on the matter, she wrote: “Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said, ‘It behoved (was necessary) that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’”
The words were spoken “full tenderly,” Julian recalled, and though the pain of man’s sinful condition is real, it serves a divine purpose, “for it purgeth, and maketh us to know ourselves and to ask mercy.”
In our sufferings, great and small, “the Passion of our Lord is comfort to us … and so is his blessed will,” Julian wrote.
Yet, she said, we must for now live with “a marvellous high mystery hid in God,” one that “he shall openly make known to us in heaven.” On the other side of death, she wrote, “we shall verily see the cause why he suffered sin to come, in which sight we shall endlessly joy in our Lord God.”
I’ve found solace in such rediscovered wisdom amid the turmoil of selling one home and buying another. In the process of packing up and paring down, I’ve experienced gratitude for the shelter I have and hope to have, along with an increased detachment from possessions. And while I still dread having complete strangers traipse through what is still my house, I’ve found a divine pun in Julian’s spiritual classic — which is also known by another and, for me, all-too-relevant title: “Showings.”
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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