Hildegard’s Wisdom

Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd                                                             Oct. 21, 2018

John 1:1-5, Psalm

Guten Morgan. Mein name ist Hildegard von Bingen. I lived 1,000 years ago and have seen history repeat itself over and over. You think you live in interesting times. I certainly did. Through God’s grace, I lived for my 81st years and outlived princes, kings, emperors, popes and even antipopes. This was a difficult and dangerous time of power struggles and abuses of patronage. Emperors actually had the audacity to appoint their own choice of pope to counter the authority of the duly elected pope. That was why they were called antipopes. There seemed to be no respect for proper authority. Those in power in both the church and the state often tried to grab more power, sometimes in the most ruthless ways. They seemed to forget who they were—simple humans created by God to serve one another.

For some strange reason, God gave me, a humble woman, visions and voice to remind people who they were in the vast cosmic scheme of God’s glorious Creation.  Everyone knew me as an abbess and a healer, because the monastery included the sick house for the community. It was God’s hotel, part of our ministry. But God was calling me to do more than being a healer and the head of a spiritual community. I was afraid, at first, to even speak a word of these visions God gave me. But as I tried to keep silence, to push them away, I became very sick. God was nudging me to share what the Living Light was showing to me. If I continued to repress this strong calling, my illness became more severe. And so…with God’s grace, I gathered all of my remaining strength and began to write what I was seeing and hearing. My dear friend Bernard of Clairveaux, a respected abbot, was gracious enough to read my writing. He was so moved that he showed it to Pope Eugenius III, who read my writings out loud to the assembly of bishops! I was very nervous—terrified actually! But Bernard urged the pope in his words to “not allow such a brilliant light to be covered by silence but rather to confirm this charism through his authority.” The light to which Bernard referred, of course, was the Living Light of God—I was only a feather on the breath of God. To my astonishment, the Pope agreed, ordering me to record all of the visions and knowledge God gave me. And so I wrote and wrote—volumes with pictures that my beloved Richardis was able to draw of my visions—at least while she was allowed to stay with me, but that’s another story—and with the words that my beloved Volmar was able to refine in his fluent Latin.

And then, a most amazing thing happened. People believed that what I saw and heard in my visions was of God (the pope’s authorization probably helped as well). People began to come to me from far and wide for counsel and for healing. Kings, Bishops, even emperors and popes wrote to me for advice and blessing. I was so afraid to tell them what I thought, but I prayed and prayed for wisdom and courage. God then gave me the audacity to reprimand them all when they began to abuse their power. They even kept my letters! I think they must have been afraid.

Some of what I wrote is sadly still applicable in this wounded Creation of God. You think that your generation has problems with pollution and violence—there has always been a problem with these things. We have not cared for the beauty that God has showered upon us. We have upset the delicate balance of the cosmos both in my time and in yours, and we are suffering so much because of this. Listen to the words I wrote 1,000 years ago about the four elements of earth, air, fire and water:

…I heard how the elements of the world…shouted, “We cannot run any more to finish our course as our master willed it. For people with their evil deeds reverse our course, like a mill that turns everything upside down. We already reek like the pest and hunger for the fullness of justice.

The Cosmic [Christ] answered, “I will sweep you clean with my broom, and I will afflict the people until they turn back to me. In the meantime I will prepare many hearts and draw them to my heart…How all the winds are filled with the decay of leaves, and the air spits out pollution so that people can hardly open their mouths anymore. The greening life force (viriditas) has weakened because of the ungodly erring of deluded human souls. They follow only their own desires and shout, “Where is this God, whom we never get a chance to see?”

Well—that was in my time. But things haven’t changed very much, have they? There are three things that I would like to offer you today. The first is a caution about your strange way of looking at the world. You seem to have developed some excellent science and medicine that can bore down to the micro level and offer healing in a way that I never could. But your modern way of healing seems to have lost track of the macro level. In my time, we knew that our body’s health was intimately connected with the seasons, the weather, and the very health of the earth itself. If the earth becomes sick, so you will become sick. Each personal decision you make affects the rest of Creation—and I don’t think you believe this. But your decisions truly can “contribute either to the healing of the planet or to a further shrivelling up in separation, hopelessness, and fear.” I believe  you have a Creed in which you say that you are not alone, but you live as if you are. I think that you have forgotten this basic teaching of the cosmos—that everything is connected through the Living Light.

This leads me to the second thing that I would like say to you. It is a teaching about viriditas, a word I coined. It means the greening power of God that is the life force in every living thing. It is God’s pulse of life within you and within all of creation, and it depends very much upon balance. As the earth goes through dry periods, so will you and when you feel your soul drying up, it is time for you to replenish it with moist healing herbs and strengthening prayer. As the earth is moist and fruitful so will you be alive with possibilities. When you are feeling full of vim and vigour, it is time for you to harvest that fruitfulness and plant new seeds of life wherever you go. We all live through seasons of health and sickness, sadness and joy, plenty and scarcity. The more we are in synch with our earth and with one another, the easier it will be to identify what we each need at different times of our lives to allow that viriditas to be watered and fed in our souls.

The third thing I would like to offer is a reminder that your soul not only enlivens your body, it is also your connection with the fiery love of Christ. I have written that “it is easier to gaze into the sun, than into the face of the mystery of God. Such is its beauty and its radiance. God says: ‘I am the supreme fire; not deadly, but rather, enkindling every spark of life.’ ” Take time to “listen with the ears of your heart”, as the Rule of St. Benedict reminds us. Bathe yourself in the Living Light. God has given you wisdom and compassion. You have so many resources deep within yourself. It took me over 40 years to trust what God had given me. Don’t wait that long. Trust the gifts that God has given you. Believe in whom God has created you to be. As I have written, “You understand so little of what is around you because you do not use what is within you.”[1] Remember that “God has imprinted on the soul of every human being the image of the world as God wants it to be.”

May God bless you with the earth of fruitfulness, the air of the Spirit, the fire of Christ and the water of your baptism.

In the name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


[1] Sc 1.2.29