Turning Words

I walked through the grocery store, loading my cart as if it were a normal day. The white paper cup in the cart cup holder was stained with dribbles of coffee that had seeped from underneath the white plastic lid. Ruby lipstick residue garishly proclaimed the cup mine. I had just set it down when a freight train of grief and anxiety overtook me. It came on so fast and shocked me as my breath began coming in gasps, the lump in my chest lurched, and the pools of tears formed, threatening to suffocate and blind me. Leaving the tepid dark roast in the cup holder, I released my hands from the smooth black handle and left a full cart of groceries in aisle seven. I was in agony. I felt like I was bleeding out. Did no one see? How could everyone simply be grocery shopping as if all manner of things were well? How could anything be well again?

“All shall be well, all shall be well, in all manner of things all shall be well.”

I read these words written by St. Julian of Norwich, a 14th century Catholic mystic, during that particularly painful season. As I crawled out from under the rubble of an imploded relationship, St. Julian’s words were indiscernible to me. Like the first time I tasted dark ale, or dry wine, or espresso, they were bitter.

Many an ending–say, of a movie or a book–include the triumph that occurs when a strong, persecuted protagonist conquers the villain seeking their destruction, usually after narrowly escaping the villain’s wicked scheme. We exhale at that moment, and with unclenched fists gratefully acknowledge that all is not lost. All shall be well. The protagonist has triumphed over the evil that was planned for them. We can once again imagine that there is always a way out, always a way around, always a solution for a savvy hero. I think it is good that stories often end this way because the reality is that life often does not. 

Divorces happen no matter how hard one tries. Beloved ones die no matter how promising the cancer treatment. Children rebel no matter how well-loved. Jobs are lost no matter how committed the work. Friendships end no matter how cherished. Dementia steals a mind no matter its former brilliance. Heartbreak happens no matter how we try to avoid it.

And yet. And yet, there is the next moment when we realize that our lungs still demand breath and our heart still beats–often to our dismay. The sun still rises, children play, dogs wag their tails, and dust bunnies collect from nowhere. Laundry forms piles. Hunger pains demand attention. Life continues, no matter how deep the pain. In truth, that is often what is most painful.

“All shall be well, all shall be well, in all manner of things all shall be well.”

My body still reacts when I think of that moment in the grocery store. 

The pain is present in the innermost spaces, even now. Yet, it is good to remember because the pain of loss and endings teach those of us who emerge from the rubble an important truth. The next moment happens and even so, the goodness of God is present in it.

The psalmists knew this too. Psalms of lament give us the words the ancient writers used as they faced unimaginable loss, oppression, danger, and heartache. They poured out their hearts, their anger, their frustration, and their despair to God. They spared no punches as they gave God the “what for.” They let God have it.

“How long, Lord?”

“Why do our enemies triumph?”

“Will you forget us forever?”

“Where are you?”

Then, when they came to the end of themselves, the very next words turned their gaze from their troubles to God. 



“Even so.”

“It is awful, yet I know You. I will see your goodness again.”

Like our seasons of loss and our experiences with endings, the 365 days of the year 2020 have called us to believe in the goodness of God anyway. Nearly impossible on some days. The climbing numbers of a seemingly indestructible virus, the ‘them or us’ soundbites that fill our newsfeeds, the economic challenges, the vitriol–all of these can move us toward anger, despair, frustration, and hopelessness. “How long, Lord?”

Still. Yet. Even so. In all manner of things all shall be well. God is present to us and we will see God’s goodness.

St. Julian insists that God “does not want us to be brought too low by the storms and sorrows that befall us, for it has always been so before the coming of a miracle.”[i]

Today, we know one thing–the days ahead are uncertain. Some of the days may be dark.

Still. Yet. Even so.

“All shall be well, all shall be well. In all manner of things all shall be well.”

May we let the turning words point us toward the goodness of God because Jesus ensured that by the Spirit’s power, the miracle of a well world will happen anyway. Believe it still. Believe it yet. Believe it, even so.

[i] Julian of Norwich: Selections from Revelations of Divine Love- Annotated & Explained (SkyLight Illuminations) by Roberta C. Bondi https://a.co/hYC9UZv


Jill English is an avid encourager of humans and lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, and in particular, while walking any beach. Her most magical moments involve being Grammy to two remarkable grandchildren, and Mom to their lucky parents. As a discerner of call in higher theological education, her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of every-day life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.