St. Hildegard Strolls through the Garden
Luminous morning, Hildegard gazes at
the array of blooms, holding in her heart
the young boy with a mysterious rash, the woman
reaching menopause, the newly minted widower,
and the black Abbey cat with digestive issues who wandered
in one night and stayed. New complaints arrive each day.
She gathers bunches of dandelions, their yellow
profusion a welcome sight in the monastery garden,
red clover, nettle, fennel, sprigs of parsley to boil later in wine.
She glances to make sure none of her sisters are
peering around pillars, slips off her worn leather shoes
to relish the freshness between her toes,
face upturned to the rising sun, she sings lucida materia,
matrix of light, words to the Virgin, makes a mental
note to return to the scriptorium to write that image down.
When the church bells ring for Lauds, she hesitates just a
moment, knowing her morning praise has already begun,
wanting to linger in this space where the dew still clings.
At the end of her life, she met with a terrible obstinacy,
from the hierarchy came a ban on receiving
bread and wine and her cherished singing.
She now clips a single rose, medicine for a broken heart,
which she will sip slowly in tea, along with her favorite spelt
biscuits, and offer some to the widower
grieving for his own lost beloved,
they smile together softly at this act of holy communion
and the music rising among blades of grass.
— Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
I have now had the great privilege of leading a pilgrimage twice to the landscape of Hildegard of Bingen with my dear teaching partner Betsey Beckman. Immersing myself in this lush landscape of the Rhine Valley in German, I discovered viriditas in a new way. Viriditas was Hildegard’s term for the greening power of God, sustaining life each moment, bringing newness to birth. It is a marvelous image of the divine power continuously at work in the world, juicy and fecund.
While I expected to see this greening power alive in the vineyards draping the hills, in the beauty of the Rhine river flowing through the valley like a glorious vein of life, and in the forested hill of Disibodenberg where Hildegard spent much of her early life, what I received as gift was the greening that came alive for me in the community gathered.
There is something so powerful about walking in the places that our great mystics and visionaries dwelled, and to feel the wisdom of their teaching in a fully embodied way. However, to do that with an intentional community of fellow pilgrims, each arriving with their own longing and particular love of Hildegard, was a beauty beyond my expectations.
On our pilgrimage, we created a community of modern monks. In my own work, I use the image of being a monk in the world to invite folks into an experience of integrating contemplative practice into the daily tasks of living. The beauty of the monastic mindset, of which Hildegard was deeply shaped and formed, is that it asks us to see the holy in all things, all people, and in the unfolding of time.
We would gather together in the mornings for praying the psalms, in the great monastic tradition of praying the Hours. We entered the psalms through contemporary songs which carried us into their poetry and danced. I am certain Hildegard would have approved! Throughout our days spent back at the hotel gathering space, which we fondly dubbed our chapel and cloister, we created together through poetry, photography, mandala drawing, and dance. We would both laugh and weep together as we touched into the wonder of our experience.
On our outings, we received the gifts of these holy sites. We listened in the silence, the way the monks of old would and the way Hildegard surely would have, for the shimmering voice within that so often goes unheard.
Kindred spirits are a gift beyond measure. When we find our tribe, we can feel like we have come home again. We experience the viriditas in our souls, which Hildegard counseled. In that safe space of being met by other pilgrims who also have a love of contemplative practice and creative expression, we are able to start to drop down to a deeper place and let a part of ourselves come alive that we may keep hidden in daily life. We can welcome in the moistening of our souls. This is the greening power of God at work. We find ourselves vital, fertile, alive and saying yes in new ways, affirmed by our fellow companions.
(We will be leading another pilgrimage to the land of Hildegard in September 2018 to coincide with her feast day, email us to be notified when registration opens!)
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Dancing Monk Icon © Marcy Hall at Rabbit Room Arts