Mother Julian of Norwich, as she is drawn deeper into the revelation of Divine Love, again and again refers to God as ‘our courteous Lord’. There is a danger here of just saying we too need to be more courteous to one another and so become guilty of the kind of ‘moral claptrap’ of which Justin Welby has warned, where religion is reduced to just encouraging us to be a bit nicer.
But at the heart of Mother Julian’s much repeated phrase, ‘our courteous Lord’, is a profound and deep insight into the nature of God. No matter what we do or say, God responds not with anger, judgement, put down, sarcasm or cynicism but with courtesy. In all and through it all, God’s love for each one of us is so deep, so profound, that God will never treat us with anything less than courtesy – to do otherwise would be to betray the very love He has for us.
And the courtesy of God challenges me and the way I respond. To discover that I am treated with courtesy by the one who has every right to stand in judgement over me, is to still my biting repost, my mocking words, my sharp reply, my critical attitude. This is so much more than just a call to be a little bit nicer. To be asked, in face of those who annoy, frustrate, mis-represent, scorn, threaten, even attack me, to be courteous, searches and demands something of me that challenges me to the core.
To be called, no matter the circumstances, to treat others with the same courtesy I have first received from God, forces me to recognise our shared dignity and worth as fellow human beings, made in the image of God, and powerfully reminds me that this other with whom I am struggling is also profoundly beloved of God. And in that moment of recognition is the beginning of the transformation of even the most difficult relationship.