Book Review of The Censored Pulpit: Julian of Norwich as Preacher

Submitted by Gregory Heille, O.P. (Director, Doctor of Ministry in Preaching – Aquinas Institute of Theology)

The Censored Pulpit: Julian of Norwich as Preacher
by Donyelle C. McCray 
Publisher: Fortress Academic (October 16, 2019)

Having met Dr. Donyelle McCray at the Academy of Homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary in December, I was inspired by this fresh new voice about the spirituality and pedagogy of preaching. Dr. McCray, who teaches at Yale Divinity School, is an African American preacher of Baptist and Episcopalian background who writes about the spirituality of preaching with an exciting Catholic sensibility. Though I balked at the price of her beautifully manufactured 140-page book, I realize now that this is a fair price for such intelligent research and expression and a book worth considering for a Dominican community library. I kept imagining this account of the preacherly vocation of Julian of Norwich being read during meals at Dominican monasteries, and I imagined Julian’s story inspiring insight on the part of Dominican laity and apostolic sisters and friars, as well.

The title of the book makes McCray’s position plain: “Preaching is, with rare exception, a highly censored exercise” (1). Though Julian never called herself a preacher, McCray understands Julian as just that, a preacher of the Gospel, and the book sets out to explore the power dynamics of Julian’s mystical homiletic from the fringe.

While we moderns may be repulsed at the thought of being bricked up in the living grave of a church wall, in the century of the Black Death, Julian was in the totality of her life what we Catholic preachers today could call a “mediator of meaning.” Julian, who wrote in the vernacular and whose anchorhold had one window to the altar and the other to the world, became in her own body a prophetic, living sermon. As McCray writes: Julian “makes her confined body present to her audience and, whether intentionally or not, reveals a body that will not be censored in the act of gospel proclamation” (61). Julian’s vocation calls to mind the preacherly vocation of John the Baptist, Mary, and Mary Magdalen, and Julian inspires us to admit that some of today’s most meaningful Gospel proclamation comes from the ecclesial and cultural peripheries. We Dominicans, many of whom preach from the liturgical pulpit and all of whom preach from the pulpit of our communal vocation, can take challenge and hope from Julian of Norwich, preacher.