Ann Crews Melton
November 5, 2017
I want to talk about two saints, one living and one deceased. The first is the mystic Julian of Norwich, with whom you may be familiar—she lived in England in the fourteenth century, and wrote The Revelations of Divine Love, which is believed to be the first text written by a woman in English. I became well acquainted with Julian when I studied abroad during college in Essex, England, which is not far from Norwich.
In Essex my spiritual world expanded—I befriended the Anglican campus chaplain, and the chapel was also used for Quaker meetings, which I attended, as well as for Muslim prayer five times a day, which was a totally new culture for me. One weekend I traveled to visit Julian’s cell in Norwich, where she had lived as a recluse, and my chaplain friend started calling me Julian of Texas. Julian is known for her revelation “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” as well as for acknowledging God as mother.
Also during college I became involved in the National Network of Presbyterian College Women, which held conferences on young women’s spirituality and empowerment. At one of those conferences I first met Mary Elva Smith, who was the director of Women’s Ministries for the Presbyterian Church USA. Mary Elva led workshops on vocation and calling, and also served as a spiritual director, and over the next several years she became an influential mentor for me.
Mary Elva is a petite woman with dark hair, and she is known for wearing colorful silk scarves—so you can imagine the Presbyterian Church leadership as a room full of men in suits and tiny Mary Elva with her scarves. But she has a quiet wisdom and her own inner power that she modeled for all of us, so I came to understand a different model of leadership from her. After college I ended up working for Mary Elva—I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, for a job in Women’s Ministries at the Presbyterian Church USA. As a boss Mary Elva put a lot of trust in me and emphasized creative leadership, and her office always had a table with a candle and space for prayer.
Mary Elva was also from Texas and an alumna of my college. During the 1980s she had sold everything she owned to spend a few years living on a sailboat with her husband, Reg, as they sailed around the Caribbean, she sometimes working as a waitress and he doing odd jobs. I had never met anyone that had actually lived out such an adventurous life. During my time working for Mary Elva I was able to travel to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Thailand, which really expanded my understanding of women’s struggles around the world. By the time I decided to leave Louisville to move to Boston, I’d been dealing with some medical mysteries and also severe anxiety, so Mary Elva served as a spiritual mentor for those struggles as well. Mary Elva, changing the usual gender of the passage, taught me that I am a beloved daughter of God. She gave me this book of devotions that I still reference, Women at the Well: Meditations on Healing and Wholeness—which was written by different women from all walks of life.
In 2006 Mary Elva’s husband, Reg, was killed in a bicycling accident, and she has since left Kentucky but continues to go on sailing adventures, modeling the love that persists after loss. So today I leave you with the words she inscribed in this book, which she knew would have special resonance for me, from Julian:
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well!