Saint Hildegard’s Voice from the Margins
When I recently picked up Avis Clendenden's book, Experiencing Hildegard, I found her opening line quite timely, "In the context of Western patriarchy, women have been marginalized again and again to the edges of history and out of collective consciousness." She explains that this is precisely why we need to rediscover and uphold Hildegard's wisdom today—to integrate her unique and feminine voice for much-needed balance in our times.
It so happens that I've been living Hildegard's voice from the margins these past few months. I have had the honor of being on the team to create a brand new musical-theater production entitled "Grace on the Margins", commissioned by the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center in Seattle, Washington, USA for the Northwest Women's Convocation. In this ninety-minute production, I had the joy of embodying the role of Hildegard of Bingen. We took some creative license in the way we depicted her and the other saints who stepped forth from the pages of history to bring wisdom from the margins. But one can take such liberties with dream characters! Joan of Arc came roller-skating onstage speaking with God on her hand-held "I-God Direct." Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared vibrantly in her earthy magnificence to walk with those on the margins. And Hildegard danced into the dreamscape clad in vivid greenness, embodying the viriditas she so eloquently wrote of in her numerous manuscripts, letters, and musical compositions.
In our theater piece, our everywoman character, (aptly named "Grace"), is struggling with key moral dilemmas of faith and integrity. In her nightmare, she is menaced by figures who assault her with imminent pressing needs and the planet's peril. Into this melee steps Hildegard of Bingen who reaches out to Grace, dancing her vibrant and mystical message. Supported by ethereal melody and hypnotic drone, Hildegard proclaims her vision of the Divine,
"I, the fiery life of divine essence,
I illuminate the plains,
I sparkle the waters,
I burn in the sun and the moon and the stars."
Dispelling the nightmare, she gives Grace a tiny seed that holds all of creation and sends Grace on a journey of discovery that guides her though the play's unfolding.
What an honor to bring to life Hildegard as wisdom figure onstage to spark our souls and imagination. Nine hundred years after Hildegard's death, she is being rediscovered with her much-needed message for our times, weaving artistry and mysticism, theology and cosmology, medicine and soul. I am excited I will be winging my way to Germany this fall (with some of you as pilgrims!) to dance in Hildegard's homeland where we will steep ourselves in her path of Spirit. Hildegard's time has come to step from the margins to the center with her gifts for our souls and our planet.