‘Begin with the heart’

Martin Wroe
3 min readApr 22, 2023

For BBC Radio 4 on Earth Day, how Julian of Norwich saw everything in a hazelnut and love drives change.

There are two alarms going off this weekend — one we will notice, the other we may continue to doze through.

The one we notice will go off on most of our smartphones tomorrow afternoon at 3pm.

The ‘Armageddon Alert’ — as one newspaper calls it — is a government test to warn us ‘of a life-threatening emergency nearby.’

For some it will recall those 1970’s Protect and Survive public information films, prepared in case of nuclear attack.

The second alarm is ringing today, April 22nd, as it has done on this day since 1970.

Today is Earth Day when people around the world try to amplify the jeopardy we face from climate change — and accelerate a transition to a more sustainable future.

The trouble with this alarm is that’s its been ringing so long that many of us have factored it into our auditory settings.

We’ve learned to sleep through it like the bleeping car alarm in the neighbouring street.

Even as the scientific evidence piles up — of how human lifestyles drive global warming — we seem unable to change course quickly or sufficiently.

Witness, last month, what the UN Panel on Climate Change described as a ‘final warning’ from scientists.

Maybe, according to Dr Carmody Grey at Durham University, our failure to act with sufficient urgency, is because facts alone don’t change behaviour.

Human beings, she says, are not information processors — our behaviour is motivated by values and the greatest value is love.

Faith communities can be good at this, understanding how we are social creatures, drawn to community and relationship.

Love, says Dr Grey, is more motivating than truth.

Six hundred and fifty years ago next month, in May 1373, a woman in Norwich began to receive an exceptional insight into the nature of love.

In her Revelations of Divine Love — the first known book written by a woman in English — an anchoress called Julian, living in solitude in a small cell, started to receive what were then called ‘shewings’.

Insights we might call them now.

In the first she held a hazelnut in the palm of her hand.

‘I looked at it with the eye of my understanding,’ she reported, ‘And asked myself: ‘What is this thing?’ And I was answered: ‘It is everything that is created.’

Hers was a proto-ecological vision, a sense of both the fragility and the connectedness of all things.

A sense, at the risk of going a little hippie, of oneness.

That this planet we share, and this life we find ourselves in, is not to be taken for granted but cherished. Loved even.

In this hazelnut, said Julian, I saw three properties. That God made it. God loves it. God keeps it.

The alarm continues to ring.

‘Where do we begin?’ asks Julian of Norwich. ‘Begin with the heart.’

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Martin Wroe

‘Trying to get to heaven before they close the door.’