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Holy Hildegard: A Spiritual Director Across Time

I have a guest post at the Spiritual Directors International blog on St. Hildegard:

Last May, the process of canonizing Hildegard of Bingen, which began soon after her death, was finally completed. On October 7 she will be made a Doctor of the Church, one of only four women in the Catholic Church given such an honor.

I fell in love with Hildegard while in graduate school. Her creative heart dazzled me. I wanted to know more about this monastic tradition that nurtured her and from which she drew so much wisdom. She was my doorway into becoming a Benedictine oblate. I also consider her one of my spiritual directors, her voice providing guidance to me across the centuries.

We know much about her practical wisdom through the letters she wrote to all kinds of people in response to their requests for care. I like to think of this as an early form of epistolary spiritual direction. In her advice to another abbess she writes:

“A person who toils more than her body can bear is rendered useless in her spirit by ill-judged roil and abstinence. Living hopelessly and joylessly, that person’s sense often fails.”

The key to creative flourishing for Hildegard is cultivating moderation and balance. The virtue of discretio is about discerning the right path and not being overburdened or overworked so that we are stretched too thin and joy is lost.

The fundamental key to discernment for Hildegard was the principle of viriditas, a phrase she coined to describe the life-greening energy of God present in all creation, sustaining it. In her antiphon to the Holy Spirit she writes that the “earth wears her green vigor.”

One of the brilliant aspects of viriditas is that it is such a holistic concept—earth and soul are both gauged by the same principles of greenness, verdancy, and fecundity. The places where we experience inner dryness are the places to which we need to tend. When we witness the earth’s dryness and desiccation, we are seeing something of the state of our own souls as well.

I find viriditas an essential principle for spiritual direction and soul care in the contemporary world. She reminds me of several things:

  • that God is the first spiritual director, infusing the world with greenness and vitality;
  • that aliveness is God’s deepest desire for all creation;that the earth is the very matrix of where soul care happens, providing the ground and foundation for all life to emerge and all ministry to take place;
  • that as a spiritual director myself, I must be especially attentive to my own states of moisture, cultivating this actively as part of my work;
  • and that in my service with others, I can also invite this multilayered awareness as gift and insight into how interconnected everything is.

Hildegard’s wisdom continues to shimmer brightly across eight centuries, her voice singing out grace. Let us celebrate that she is receiving an honor long overdue, one that might bring her ideas to even more people around the world.


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2 Responses

  1. great article, christine! so glad that hildegard is being brought forward – definitely a woman for our time! (btw, just got my copy of your new book – fabulous!)

  2. AH…again and again, dear Christine, you provide just the little nugget that I am needing. That Hildegard quote is something I should have inked on my body…on my forearm where I will see it every day.

    Also…I am only able to read a couple pages at a time of your new book so a review will not be quickly forthcoming. This happens when you write so well that I can only ingest little bits for fear of not properly digesting.