Hildegard of Bingen
“I am the fiery life of the essence of God; I am the flame above the beauty in the fields; I shine in the waters; I burn in the sun, the moon, and the stars. And with the airy wind, I quicken all things vitally by an unseen, all-sustaining life. For the air is alive in the verdure and the flowers; the waters flow as if they lived; the sun too lives in its light; and when the moon wanes it is rekindled by the light of the sun, as if it lived anew: Even the stars glisten in their light as if alive.”
—Hildegard of Bingen
I fell in love with Hildegard of Bingen over fifteen years ago while studying her in graduate school. She quickly became an inspiring and wise companion, as well as a mentor across time in the contemplative and creative life. Hildegard’s principle of viriditas, or the greening power of God, became an essential life principle for me in discernment, as I listen to where my life feels verdant and fertile, and where I feel dry and barren.
Last fall I was able to make a personal pilgrimage for the first time to the area in Germany which nourished her visions and work. Standing in her shimmering landscape, viriditas came alive to me in an even deeper way. I imagined her looking over the lush forests and rivers and her own moment of first recognition that this outer vision reflected an inner reality as well. For Hildegard, the greenness of creation, which is an outward sign of God’s vitality at work in the world, is also a call to cultivate our inner greening. The life that suffuses the world flows forth freely from the life-creating and sustaining power of God, who is the primordial source of greenness, connecting all living things to one another.
The “greening” of the area where she lived is powerful. She was a landscape mystic, meaning that the geography of her world was a means of ongoing revelation into the nature of God. Gazing out over the shimmering autumn gold of the vineyards beyond Saint Hildegard’s monastery in Rudesheim, Germany, I felt this sense of deep surrender where that porous line between myself and the earth seemed to fade. I let that green energy of the earth rise up and embrace me in ways I hadn’t previously experienced. I imagined Hildegard breathing this vision in and out. I felt the pulsing of God’s creative power through me in new ways. The sacred is the quickening force animating and enlivening the whole world, include our own beings. The flourishing of the world around Hildegard was the impetus for her to embrace her inner flourishing.
We can study her words, sing her music, gaze on her illuminated visions, and enter into her world through many portals. But to immerse ourselves in the physical landscape which shaped this creative outpouring is to take seriously the foundational impact the earth had on how she experienced life and the divine Source of all that sustains us.
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, is the online abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery offering resources for integrating contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of seven books on art and monastic spirituality including her latest, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice. Paintner lives out her call as a Benedictine oblate and monk in the world in Galway, Ireland. Along with Betsey Beckman, she is a pilgrim guide for the SDI Interfaith Pilgrimage to Germany: In the Footsteps of Hildegard of Bingen, 9–18 September 2013.