- Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich by Amy Laura Hall
To laugh at the devil is a personal, visceral, and profoundly political response of resistance, defiance, and even sanity, in the face of pervasive terror and suffering. Amy Laura Hall, theologically tag teaming with Julian of Norwich, gives us meditations on facing evil by living vulnerable truth with unflinching hope. Hall's four thematic explorations—time, truth, blood, and bodies—weave together snippets of Julian of Norwich's visions, layers of context, theological re-orientations, and contemporary illustrations. She explores how sinful moral theologies, which she describes as those that cling to the illusion of zero-sum economies of grace, create shame in individuals and communities—a shame that leads to (self-) inflicting of pain and grasping for control.
Norwich's radical theology emerges from visions received during a time of social upheaval and anxiousness. Her anti-trajectory, or non-linear conception of existence, redirects the progressive future-orientation that underpins much of the Western social imagination and feeds the existential fear that throws persons and communities into competitive struggles rooted in the illusion that safety comes through control over others and over resources. This fear easily gives way to thinly veiled shame and self-hatred that clings to self-dependence and its twin, control, and can be expertly and covertly wielded as political and interpersonal weapons. Yet: we are not things to be measured and evaluated in light of our fit into a progressive oriented future. That is laugh-able. To unflinchingly look at the world, to truly see the details and material effects of structural and individual sin with which we are entangled, and yet be undaunted, requires a deep and radical re-orientation to time and space and how we matter in it that is not fueled by a sense of control and accruing power.
For Hall, the prism of the cross reframes kinship in a radical anti-economical and non-hierarchial fashion and recalibrates all that is (no one is too insignificant, more or less worthy than others) and all that happens (suffering is neither lesson to learn nor crucible to endure for the sake of progress). "The worst has happened, and has been repaired" (112). Everything is redeemed in time and space in the at-one-ment of God and humanity, everyone is beloved and belongs. This abundantly inclusive vision of humanity is not the escapism of a reclusive mystic who disavows exploitation and oppressive domination. The radical political message of Norwich's vision of the kin-ing of all lies in the joining of God and world and the abundance of love that flows through it: God does not reckon according to merit. God's mercy anarchically ignores (human) order. [End Page 169]
Norwich and Hall speak into times that desperately require responses to suffering embedded in human systems and structures, especially where evil is intertwined with mendacious forms of Christian language or practices that seem inextricable from what we cherish as good. This is a pastoral and prophetic book for all readers who seek a centering hope in times of overwhelming oppression and pain, in which a toxic blend of religion and politics entices people to cope with the fear of pain or their present suffering through various mechanisms of control and punishment—be it shame, intimidation, or scrutinizing methods accounting for grace and redemption. Selective in its sources, teachers of theology and ethics will find this a great companion book to reflect with students on how to translate historical theological writings into real lived embodied situations in ways that matter—from Game of Thrones, the security state, domestic abuse, and even dog poop—and how to make tangible the ground from which "crazy" (non-pragmatic, non-illusionary) hope emerges that can sustain any activism and movement in troubling times of upheaval. [End Page 170]