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Hildegard of Bingen: A Love Story

Hildegard of Bingen: A Love Story

On the occasion of the feast of Hildegard of Bingen, we’re grateful to Sister Hannah, of the Community of St. Mary, for allowing us to post her sermon from the conclusion of CRE’s “Learning to Lead from the Land” event.


The collect prayer for St. Hildegard has these words:

May [we] both know and make known the joy and jubilation of being part of your creation.

As I’ve had the opportunity to be part of this group, and to listen and to learn from you all, and to have conversations with you, I’ve realized that these words sum up what we are trying to do: to both know – and make known – the joy of being a part of creation. I’ve heard it in each person’s story as we have shared our connection to the land, and experienced the joy of what the land is teaching us; and as we collaborate how to share this jubilation with others – and with the rest of the world – and to protect and preserve our fragile, beautiful, and resilient planet earth. Hildegard was someone who embodied the joy of being part of creation. And her life is fascinating. She was an abbess, a mystic, an artist, an author, a composer, a pharmacist, a poet, a preacher, and a theologian – a true Renaissance woman before the term even existed! And I’d like to share just a glimpse of her story with you.

She was born in the year 1098 in Germany to nobility. She was the 10th child in her family. The custom at that time was that children who numbered that low in the ranks were given as an offering to the church. So, at the age of 8, she was given up by her family and sent to the local Benedictine cloister as a tithe. She became a nun for the rest of her life. At the cloister she was taught Latin, Scripture, reading and writing – something rare for a woman to be able to learn in those days. She went on to become the leader, known as the ‘abbess’ of the community.

Ever since she was a small child, she had visions that would occur when she was fully awake. And for the first half of her life, she told no one about them. It wasn’t until she had a vision in which she was told to write them down that she shared them with anyone. In her visions, Hildegard saw human beings as “living sparks” of God’s love, coming from God as daylight comes from the sun. Her book of visions, which took her ten years to write, described an overall theme of what she had been seeing. Her visions were about the interconnectivity of humanity with the universe. Just think about the concentric circles in her images of the visions, if you have seen them before. She came to believe – and wrote about – the idea that the universe exists simultaneously within each of us; while also encompassing everything else around us.

She also wrote books connected with healing. Physica was her classic work on health which described about how items in the physical world could be used in healing. In this book, she gave descriptions of 230 different plants and listed their medicinal use along with commentary. It became a seminal text in the development of Western herbal medicine. Hildegard also recorded folk medicine remedies and healing techniques that had been passed along informally for generations. During the Middle Ages, monasteries had their own infirmaries and were places that people would go to when they were ill. So this allowed Hildegard to learn about these remedies for healing. She’s one of the first people to write in such detail about healing and health, and scholars think she was probably the first nun to do so.

Being formed in the Benedictine tradition, which our Community is also rooted in, Hildegard would have known that in his Rule, Benedict spoke of his belief that the Divine presence is everywhere, not just found inside churches. So, it makes sense that Hildegard wrote “The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.” She believed in this concept called the “greening power of God” – known as viriditas – and thought that this power was found everywhere. It was the creative power of life – observed in gardens, forests, farmlands. And something that could be found inside of us as well. It’s found all throughout her works. Viriditas was meant to reflect nature’s divine healing power, a constant force, but also a momentary condition in which God heals through the greening power of a plant. I’ve been fascinated by this, because my background before entering Community was that I was a dietitian, and so I’ve spent a lot of time being drawn to the healing power of food. Viriditas was a reminder of our interconnectedness with nature and our need to have a strong relationship with it.

For Hildegard, care for creation wasn’t a religious duty, or about land power or struggle, but it was a love story. She said that we can awaken to care for the earth, and to work towards justice for it, if we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper. “It’s love,” she wrote, “that causes us to respond to its endangerment with passion.” And that makes sense. Because when we are in relationship with someone we love, we look out for the well-being of the other – we support each other, we don’t want to hurt the other or cause harm in any way – and we fight for that partnership to continue, even when it gets challenging.

I believe that we were made for relationships. Christians believe in the concept of the Trinity – an eternal inter-relationship of three distinct, yet equal persons – in a balance of self- giving and receiving. I think we reject our Trinitarian nature at our peril. The American mindset tries to convince us that individualism is what life is all about – your needs and wants and desires above all others – and not concerned with how that impacts anyone or anything else. But Hildegard believed that “Everything in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth is saturated with connectedness.” She knew that creation could only blossom and flourish when it is in right relationship with us, and when we are in right relationship with it.

So, let us learn from this. Let us learn from Hildegard. I invite you to remember your

relationship to the land. I invite you to fall in love with it again. And to use that love to enact

change in the world – in your communities, in your work, and in your ministries. And in doing

so:

May [we] both know and make known the joy and jubilation of being part of creation.

Published by Andrew Thompson

One comment on “Hildegard of Bingen: A Love Story”

  1. Bruce B. says:

    prayerful thanks for this beautiful sermon

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