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“And how would God be known as the Eternal One if brilliance did not emerge from God? For there is no creature without some kind of radiance–whether it be greenness, seeds, buds, or another kind of beauty.”
—St. Hildegard of Bingen
Dearest wondrous monk and artist souls,
Thank you for all the beautiful replies I received from last week’s love note about following the thread to Mary and the gift of pears. Many of you had similar stories to share connecting the Black Madonna and the call to fruitfulness. One monk and artist friend, Yvonne Lucia, sent me a painting she had done recently of Hildegard’s principle of viriditas, which is the greening life force energy which sustains all creation in vibrancy, and she had depicted it with pears (see her beautiful art above). I smiled to receive this both because of the abundance of pears, and because one thing I did not share in last week’s story was that when I went to Germany in October to visit St. Hildegard’s land, the thing that struck me so deeply was the lushness of the landscape and how it spoke to Hildegard of this power of fruitfulness at work in the world. I hadn’t yet made the explicit connection in my mind, but those pears appearing to me have been fundamentally about viriditas.
For Advent, my husband and I have taken on a practice of daily lectio divina together in the mornings. Only three days in and I am savoring this space of heart connection together to begin the day. Yesterday we prayed with the first reading, from Isaiah 2:1-5 which contains the passage about turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. My mind almost skipped over these images because I have heard them so often, looking for something more mysterious in the passage. But as I continued praying my heart kept going back. What I heard in the silence of that time was a call to remember that we each have within us a life impulse and a death impulse. With each choice we make in the day we can move toward the things which bring us life and juiciness, or we can move toward that which drains us of life and brings us to dryness. And the death impulse can be transformed.
The challenge is that these two principles are sometimes hard to distinguish. I can be so easily seduced into believing that what is destructive is really life-giving. For example, when I am tired I am inclined to spend hours in front of the computer watching silly shows and believe that I am resting. There isn’t anything wrong with watching TV or movies, but it is not renewing of our souls, and when we use it to numb out rather than really replenish it becomes a problem. We wonder why we are so drained all the time.
Our life impulse calls us into community and connection with ourselves, with others, with the divine. Our life impulse leads us to nourish ourselves exquisitely well, knowing that this beautiful body is the vessel for our work in the world and it is essential to treat it with the profound dignity it deserves. We are grounded in our wholeness and make choices from this place.
Our death impulse pulls us to retreat from the world, or to separate ourselves from others through dividing ideas. It is those moments when we identify with St. Paul’s words to the Romans: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Our death impulse leads us to numb ourselves through poor quality nutrition, through mindless television programming, and always feeling hurt and betrayed by life. We withdraw into our woundedness and make choices from this place. We lash out at others, or internalize this wounding and continue the pattern. This is a different movement than the nourishing withdrawal into silence we sometimes need. The intention is key.
At any given time, we are usually operating from both impulses. We are human. We feel tired or lonely, rejected or angry. We also experience profound joy and delight, spontaneous laughter, deep compassion.
The call of the monk in the world is to stay awake to our own patterns of life and death. When we experience the death impulse arising, we can reject this part of ourselves and push it further underground, or we can turn toward it with compassion and recognize our own humble struggles. This doesn’t mean we embrace the direction it wants to take us, it means we meet it as a fundamental part of ourselves. This is the first step toward transformation. Advent is a season to awaken. The monk’s path is to always begin again, even when we keep falling back to sleep.
The call is to give ourselves again and again to the impulse toward life. To remember that what is fruitful and life-giving and fecund is what nourishes us for the great work we each need to do, what is uniquely our own. Giving ourselves to the life impulse engenders itself. The more nourished we are, the more we seek out what feels nourishing. The more depleted we are, the less able we are to make wise choices on behalf of our own deepest care.
I am listening to this call to the life impulse as I move forward on my own unfolding journey, listening for how pears lead me to a life that is deeply replenishing and full of sweetness for myself, and in my service to others. Listening for how I might offer myself nourishment beyond my limited imagining so as to strengthen my capacity to give. I want to create spaces where people can follow their own life impulse and learn to recognize the death impulse at work, so that they move more fully toward the gifts awaiting them.
Where is your life impulse, your own greening flourishing, calling you toward?
How might you meet the death impulse in you with some tenderness and compassion?
*Art Credit: “Viriditas”, Acrylic on Canvas by Yvonne M. Lucia, 2012, Photo by vzphoto.com (part of a series on the divine feminine – please contact Yvonne directly for more information or to view the rest of the series)
This month’s theme at the Abbey is kinship with creation. Please join the Photo Party where we explore this theme visually. Creation offers us the primary revelation of God’s greening power at work. To become kindred with nature means to see our own flourishing as intimately woven together with all creatures.