What cannot be said

Julian does not “hold back” in her writing, expressing herself succinctly and with verve, yet without overloading on superlatives. But in a few instances she was unable to express herself at all, and comments on it. Five times in her Revelations Julian uses a very particular phrase to qualify what she is trying to say. Unable to find the words to articulate her meaning, she expresses this inability by referring to how it surpasses what can be humanly grasped or felt. Here are the instances of it:

In Chapter 20, when trying to describe Christ’s Passion, she admits “no tongue can tell or heart fully think” of the pains our Savior suffered. In Chapter 49, while discussing God’s lack of wrath toward sinners (us), Julian tells of Christ’s taking our tribulations up to heaven so they can be made sweeter than “heart can think or tongue can tell.” Chapter 72 has two instances of the phrase; God enfolds us in his love and is nearer to us “than tongue can tell or heart can think,” and even if our pain were greater “than heart could think or tongue could tell” it would vanish if we only saw our Lord’s blessed face. A slight variant on the last use of the phrase, in Chapter 77, brings the immeasurable back to a more experiential level: our Lord wills that we be as friendly with him “as heart may think or soul may desire.”

All this inarticulateness is pointing to something much deeper, which undergirds the Revelations: we cannot understand everything now, and we cannot grasp the measure of God’s love for us. “For our soul is so especially beloved by Him that is Highest that it surpasses the knowledge of all creatures — that is to say, there is no creature that is made that can know how much and how sweetly and how tenderly our Creator loves us.”

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