As stated in last week’s post, during my spiritual direction training I shared for the first time with my small group that I had a “saints” posse. If you haven’t already read it, you can find it here. Today I will be discussing the second saint in my posse, Hildegard von Bingen.
I first encountered Hildegard von Bingen in my music history studies in college. Plainchant was a new music style for my Protestant ears, and I spent hours in the library listening to the flowing melodies which calmed me to my core. I was delighted when I first heard Hildegard’s ethereal plainchant and I was curious to learn more about this woman composer.
Hildegard von Bingen was born over 900 years ago, but her creative output is still very relevant and quite popular today. As I recently scrolled through Youtube, I came across many new interpretations of Hildegard’s music, including classical, folk, ambient, and even electronic dance music! This 12th century German Benedictine abbess was also known as the “Sybil of the Rhine” because of her prodigious writing: poetry, biographies, scientific and medicinal writings, and letters. As a spiritual advisor, she wrote hundreds of letters and corresponded with lay people, nobility and church leaders.
Hildegard held the belief that “the whole universe is vibrating with music, making melody.” She heard praise all around her – “even in the wind and air, trees and grasses. In their origin and their destiny, they are busy extending praise.”
This mirrors the Native belief that all of creation is sacred, which is something I have known since I was a child.
The Lakota nation call the Great Mystery “Wakan Tanka.” Growing up South Dakota, I felt a closeness to WakanTanka as I watched the wind ripple through the tall prairie grass. I instinctively knew that wind was the breath of the Great Mystery, and that nature pulsed with her essence. Wakan Tanka has always remained close to me in nature: sighing and whispering love in the breeze, plants and trees humming with Divine energy, her laughter in splashing water, and glimpses of her dancing in the sunlight and shadows.
Hildegard started having visions at age five. “The light which I see thus is not spatial, but it is far, far brighter than a cloud which carries the sun. I can measure neither height, nor length, nor breadth in it; and I call it “the reflection of the living Light.” And as the sun, the moon, and the stars appear in water, so writings, sermons, virtues, and certain human actions take form for me and gleam.” Hildegard was reluctant to share her visions at first, but later wrote about these “illuminations” as well as setting them to music, plays, and painting them in mandala form. I really admire her talent and fearlessness at trying different art mediums.
In one of Hildegard’s visions, she encounters the Divine Feminine. “She holds the sun and moon in her right hand and embraces them tenderly… The whole of creation calls this maiden ‘Lady.’ For it was from her that all of creation proceeded, since Love was the first.” This tender Mother’s love is best expressed in Hildegard’s quote “God hugs you. You are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God.” It was so affirming for me to see written in words, the feminine face of the Divine that I had also encountered.
I have always envied Hildegard’s ability to surrender herself as an instrument of God’s will. Her quote “I am a feather on the breath of God” is such a striking visual image. I have such an ornery spirit and tend to drag my feet, question, complain, run away, or just tell God “forget it!” when the Creator lays something on my heart. Allowing myself to be guided “like a feather on God’s breath” is something to which I aspire.
“We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light.” Hildegard did not allow her voice to be silenced during an age when most women were not even taught to read. She continues on today to serve as inspiration for all of us to find our voices.
*Book rec – Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint For Our Times
** Azam Ali singing Hildegard’s “O Euchari” – click here.
***Depiction of Hildegard of Bingen in the St. Foy Church – Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons