This is the song I’ve been listening to over and over all week (since discovering it on the soundtrack of a Parks and Recreation episode).
Julian of Norwich, that odd medieval mystic, famously said “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” And this is a statement of faith that I hear quoted a lot, both from people who share Julian’s Christian faith and those who most emphatically don’t. It’s a statement that I love but find hard to believe.
As near as I can figure from my reading, when Julian said it she meant it in the broadest cosmic sense — in fact, she was probably expressing the theological idea that today we would call Universalism — that no-one will be lost, that God will, in the end, find a way to save all creation. This is an idea I found powerfully appealing (though not necessarily Scriptural) — but I think many of the Christians who like to quote this line might disagree with this idea.
A lot of people seem to use “all will be well” as general sort of assurance, a kind of “everything will work out in the end” when you’re going through hard times. I struggle with this, not least because it’s certainly not a kind of assurance Julian would have recognized. As a medieval mystic, she not only expected but welcomed suffering, another perspective not shared by most modern Christians. I assume many Christians who say “All will be well” today mean that somehow, God is in charge and things will pretty much work out, even though you might be having some tough times now.
Some days I believe that, but some days I don’t. I’ve lived a life blessedly free (so far) of shocking tragedies, but I see enough horrific tragedies and senseless losses in the lives of those around me that I find it hard to trust that God is going to just “work things out.” As for those who don’t have any religious faith but still quote this? I have no idea what they’re trusting. The universe? Karma? Either way, “all will be well” doesn’t seem to be working out very well for either the Christians or the atheists of my acquaintance — unthinkable tragedy seems to hit both groups equally.
So I’ll admit I struggle. I don’t see either God or a beneficent universe offering people any guarantees that everything will work out OK, which means that whenever someone says “All will be well,” my chattery inner voice jumps up and says, “Well, maybe it will and maybe it won’t, but it’s distinctly possible that God’s definition of ‘well’ may be incompatible with mine, and how ‘well’ did things work out for the parents of that poor kid who died last week, and and and and ….”
Suffice it to say I have a hard time drawing comfort from these words.
And yet, when I heard this song by the Gabe Dixon Band, I just fell into it like I fall into bed at the end of a hard day. It warmed me. It comforted me. I listen to it over and over again.
I’m a wordy person, but sometimes words need music with them for me. Especially if they’re going to connect to me at a level that goes deeper than my incessantly-analyzing rational mind.
When I hear people quote “All will be well,” I think “Yeah, but ….” When I hear Gabe Dixon sing “All will be well,” I feel it. I feel that all will be well. Maybe it’s because the song itself acknowledges that all-wellness is problematic — that the fight is just as frustrating as well, and sometimes this is hard to tell. But I think it’s just that music gets past my defenses. I know there’s no rational way to understand how “All will be well,” that I can’t pull out a signed contract from God or the Universe or Whoever guaranteeing that I and all those I love will be safe from major trauma and I will triumphantly overcome all obstacles. But when I sing along, I don’t need that. “All will be well” is not about the rational mind. It’s about something deeper and more inarticulate — an attitude that approaches this big, scary life with openness and hope rather than with fear and dread.
It’s true in a part of me that theology and reason can’t reach, but music can. All will be well.