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, Dreaming of Stones: Poems
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
Next Saturday, September 17th is the Feast of Holy Hildegard, one of the patron saints of our work here at Abbey of the Arts because of her roots as a Benedictine monk and Abbess, and her incredible commitment to creative expression and nurturing aliveness.
Like last year Betsey Beckman and I are offering an online mini-retreat to celebrate her wisdom. This year’s theme will be on her vision of Divine Love and is part of our brand new 10-month series The Mystical Heart: Love as a Creative Force. (You can register for each retreat individually or the full series with an additional facilitated forum for sharing between retreats. There is also a facilitated small group option you can add on.)
In her antiphon Caritas Abundat, Hildegard writes: “Love lives in everything, from the deepest depths to the highest stars.”
This is the inspiration behind the series we are leading – the conviction that Love indeed is the foundation of everything and also the highest reaches of the heavens. We live and breathe in Love, surrounded, held, uplifted, and guided when we open our heart and listen to Love’s pulsing in the world around us.
Hildegard of Bingen was a 12th century German Benedictine Abbess and mystic known for her powerful visions. In the third book of her theology, the Book of Divine Works, several of the illustrations presents us with her Vision of Divine Love or Caritas. Love appears as the soul of the world, the Creatrix of all that is, the living fountain that offers replenishment, and as existing in the center of the wheel of eternity. Hildegard of Bingen was a theologian, visionary, musical composer, spiritual director, preacher, and healer who held Love at the center of everything she did.
There is a story from the desert fathers where an Abba says to a seeker, “Do not feed your heart what does not nourish it.” This can be easier said than done, since we are inclined to so many “comforts” which only serve to numb and distract us from life. How often do we try to satisfy ourselves with that which depletes us?
What if your fundamental commitment was to only offer your body, heart, and soul that which is nourishing and to listen to what depletes you and say no to those things? What if you fed your heart with the wisdom of the mystics and their guidance on the holy path of loving the world?
Join us on September 17th, Hildegard’s feast day for an online retreat experience. Together we will explore her visions of Love through a variety of contemplative practices including visio divina, writing explorations with her symbols, and praying with her music. We will contemplate what it means for Love to be the “supreme and fiery force” that both sparked and sustains creation and take this into an embodied exploration through gentle movement where we might discover new dimensions of Love living within our hearts. There will also be an opportunity for sharing in small groups and name your emerging vision of Love inspired by Hildegard’s work.
Or better yet, join us for the whole series and make a commitment to nourishing Love in your heart and life throughout the coming months.
I was also featured on Sharon Blackie’s podcast Hagitude where we talk about the wisdom of women mystics for midlife and beyond including Hildegard of Bingen.
I am also offering a free one-hour workshop through the Rowe Center tomorrow on Writing with the Celtic Seasons as an introduction to the four-week series in October on Writing with the Ancestors. Everyone is welcome.
To read an extra reflection on thresholds and thin times, visit this link for an article I wrote for the Rowe Center.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Image credit: Hildegard icon by Marcy Hall