October 25, 2015

God of Justice and Virtue

As we walk with Hildegard of Bingen in the last weeks of Pentecost this year, we discover that she sees God within all of creation. “The blowing wind, the mild, moist air, the exquisite greening…in their beginning, in their ending, they give God their praise” (From Hildegard of Bingen by Gabriele Uhlein)
God is our lover and we are beloved of God, and so is everyone else. Because we are all part of one another, we need to be filled with God’s justice and virtue. We must be “thirsting for God’s justice…[and we] will be forever refreshed by the vision of God…surrender to it, taste virtue, and drink…be strengthened by it,” as Hildegard states.*
The prophet Amos spoke about justice many centuries before Hildegard. Like her, he used water as a metaphor for the work of justice. He said that we should “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”. (Amos 5:24) The life-giving flowing water of God’s justice can wash away injustice when we allow it to work.
Stop to ponder whether you have ever thirsted for justice and virtue. When was that?
What exactly does Hildegard mean by justice and virtue?
For Hildegard, living as she did, in the midst of turmoil of church and state, justice involved making holy that which was not right. For her, wisdom “pours into…the human spirit the justice of true faith through which God alone is known.” Because, as we saw last time, spirituality and humanity are both communal, the balance of contemplation and work is needed. Our inter-relatedness means that we see not just the good, but also the evil of the world as being transformable by God. We sink into God in contemplation and prayer which inspires and empowers us to work for change.
Stop and consider the words of St. Basil the Great in the 4th Century below. Are there changes you might make in your lifestyle to bring the equality of justice?
The bread which you do not use-is the bread of the hungry.
The garment hanging in your wardrobe-is the garment of one who is naked.
The shoes that you do not wear-Are the shoes of one who is barefoot.
The money you keep locked away-is the money of the poor.
The acts of charity you do not perform-are so many injustices that you commit.
Virtue, for Hildegard, was the fruit of justice. She noted, “those of us who do good are like an orchard filled with the fruit of good works….”* In Scivias she stated, “the brightness of God shines in the good works of just people, so that God can be known, adored, and worshiped…by doing good works with the help of god, people worship god with their countless and wonderful actions.”
It is true that sometimes events happen that make it difficult to see our connection with some other human spirits. School shootings and other senseless gun violence, such as the recent road rage incident resulting in the death of a 4 year old, make us ask God 'why?' and 'how can this be transformed into good?' It is often very hard, in these cases, to remember (or believe) that God loves the victim and the perpetrator just as much. What we, perhaps, need to do is work toward a world where such things do not happen. Maybe that is how we bring about virtue and justice...
Stop and ask yourself if you agree with Hildegard’s definition of ‘virtue’. How would you define it?
Jesus warned his disciples about false prophets, saying “You will be able to tell them by their fruits…a good tree produces good fruit…” (Matthew 7:15-20) It is easy to get caught up in the advertising and the need to have the ‘newest and best’. For me, that can distract me from walking in the way of justice and virtue that Hildegard describes.
Hildegard drew many images, often in the form of mandalas. This simple one seems to encapsulate the simplicity of bearing fruit in all seasons. The seasons of nature mirror the seasons of our lives. God is in the center of all, and when we are rooted in God, we ‘bear fruit in due season’. The fruit of justice and virtue.

*Praying with Hildegard of Bingen by Gloria Durka

October 18, 2015

God is Anamchara

Hildegard, the 12th Century mystic whose work we are exploring until Advent, was deeply convinced that we needed close friends, esp. someone who can be a soul friend, an anamchara, to affirm us in our gifts and help us grow into our truest self in God
Stop to consider who you would consider a soul friend, someone who always encourages and pushes you to greater things. You might want to thank that person.
Once Hildegard wrote, “no creature, whether visible or invisible, lacks a spiritual life…those who long to brings God’s words to completion must always remember that, because they are human, they are vessels of clay, and so should continually focus on what they are and what they will be…may God make you a mirror of life.”* Her words remind us that although all creation is part of God, we as humans have the greater responsibility. We are formed by God "of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2) In Romans, Paul notes, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:22-23) We are formed from clay, in the image of God and with God’s breath, but until we are fully redeemed, we are not complete.
Part of that completion and growth can only happen when we work together with one another. Even if we are not ‘soul friends’ with everyone, we need to recall that we are still part of the created whole. Ann Voskamp in her blog recently talked about our desperate need to remember that “Being enemies is not an option. Being human beings who belong to each other is the only option.”  
Each one of us is called Beloved by God. Yet we often withhold our fellowship because of hurt feelings or disagreements. When we don’t get along, we are not the ‘mirror of life’ that Hildegard suggests we should be.
Stop and think about someone you might need to forgive. Is there anything you can do to start the process of reconciliation?
Casting Crowns has a song, Who Am I (see below) that captures the frailty of humanity, and yet our Beloved-ness. God calls each of us “Mine” and knows our name. Jesus told his disciples, and us, “I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything…love one another.” (John 15:14-17)
Stop to thank God for calling you Beloved and Friend. How can you and I work to see each other as beloved fellow children of God?
Next time, we’ll look at Hildegard’s views on Justice and Virtue.

Who am I by Casting Crowns 
Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name,
Would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart?

Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done.
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are.

I am a flower quickly fading,
Here today and gone tomorrow.
A wave tossed in the ocean.
A vapor in the wind.
Still You hear me when I'm calling.
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling.
And You've told me who I am.
I am Yours, I am Yours.

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again?
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me?...

I am a flower quickly fading,
Here today and gone tomorrow.
A wave tossed in the ocean.
A vapor in the wind.
Still You hear me when I'm calling.
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling.
And You've told me who I am.
I am Yours….

Whom shall I fear?
Whom shall I fear?
'Cause I am Yours, I am Yours.

*Praying with Hildegard of Bingen by Gloria Durka

October 11, 2015

God is Light and Breath

Hildegard of Bingen, 12th Century abbess, mystic, writer, healer, and counselor to the rich and famous, used many images when writing about God. She saw, felt, and knew God in the world around her, esp. in nature. Two of her commonly used images were God as Light and God as Breath.
Stop for a minute and think about your own images of God. Are they physical and natural like Light or Breath, or more abstract like ‘a man with a white beard in the sky’?
For Hildegard, God’s Light radiated through the entire universe, and through each person. Hildegard says “God created us in the Light of divine power…Therefore, we remain a light that gives off light through God.”* Of course we know that Jesus said, “You are the Light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) and goes on to compare that light to a city on a hill or a light in a dark house.
Stop and think about what the image of Light means to you as a metaphor for God. What words come to mind?
I have found that watching the flame of a candle can bring me into a quiet and holy place. The flickering flame is 3D when you look at it closely. In a dark room, a candle gives an amazing amount of light and that light provides reassurance and comfort. So too, allowing God to be a Light in our lives, gives us strength and shows us the way forward.
When God is the Light in our life, we become lights to those around us. We can be like this stained glass window (of Hildegard) that is lit by the Light of God, giving light to those nearby. Or like a candle or old fashioned lantern lit by the flame of God's love.
One thing any fire needs is air. We probably all did experiments in school where you extinguished a candle by putting a glass over it to cut off the air. Out God-light needs God-breath, to burn brightly.
Hildegard used the image of God’s Breath regularly. Sometimes she combined both Light and Breath in one revelation. “O sacred breath, O blazing love, O savor in the breast and balm flooding the heart with good…O current of power permeating all…you bind and gather all people together.” One of her prayers includes the words “I raise my hands aloft to God, that I might be held by God, just like a feather which has no weight from its own strength and lets itself be carried by the wind.”*
A prayer that many use to center and focus on God is to consciously “Breathe in God, Breathe out stress [or whatever is bothering you like worry or fear…]”. Repeat this as many times as necessary until you are willing to let God be in control of whatever the situation is.
Relax into the Light and Breath that is God’s presence all around and in each of us. Then radiate and exhale that into the world. The Christian artist Plumb has a song entitled Exhale that captures this reality. Two of the verses, esp., could have been written by Hildegard:
Just let go let His love wrap around you and hold you close. Get lost in the surrender. Breathe it in until your heart breaks then exhale. Exhale. Oh God, we breathe in your grace, and exhale. Oh God we do not exist for us but to share Your grace and love and exhale…” 

Stop and consider God as wind or breath. Have you ever felt yourself carried along on the wind of God’s Breath?
Next time, we’ll explore some of Hildegard’s thoughts about Friendship.

*Praying with Hildegard of Bingen by Gloria Durka

October 4, 2015

Introducing Hildegard

During October and November, I’m returning to one of my favorite mystics. Her world view has been an inspiration to me since the 1980’s. Hildegard of Bingen was born in 1098 into a world of Popes and anti-popes, Crusades, and feudalism. She lived in Germany and was sent (dedicated) to a monastery as a young girl. The prioress, Jutta, was very influential in encouraging Hildegard’s spiritual growth.
In 1136, Hildegard took over as prioress when Jutta died. By 1148, she had founded a new community and 1 year later moved to a second abbey at Rupertsberg. Her nuns, like all monastics, observed times of work, sleep, prayer, and study. (8 hours of sleep, 6 of work, 6 of prayer, and 4 of study or meditation) 
Hildegard had visions throughout her life, but did not start writing them down until she was 43. Her works were endorsed first by Bernard of Clairvaux and then by Pope Eugenius III. Even though she was a woman, Hildegard was highly regarded by church leaders of her time. In fact she counseled popes, kings, and queens around Europe.
Hildegard’s theology encompasses our relationship to God, to one another, and to the earth. She teaches that we are meant to be in harmony through justice and compassion, which is holiness. She sees everything as being holistically related and mystically connected to God and God’s creation.
Along with her writings, Hildegard is known for the art she created. Many of her mandalas depicting her spiritual view of the world and relationship with God are well known. She also wrote music, used herbs to heal, and wrote recipes (see below to try out some-I made the Spice Cookies, which are very good. A bit sweet for my taste, so I might cut back on the sugar a bit if I make them again. Also you could add nuts or raisins to the batter for a nice change.)
As abbess and counselor to the high and mighty, Hildegard can serve as a role model to women of all times. She proves that you don’t have to be powerful to have an impact. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore some of her works and see how her words are still valid over 900 years after she was born.
Spice Cookies

3/4 cup butter or margarine (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Cream butter with brown sugar. Beat in the egg. Sift dry ingredients together. Mix dry ingredients into butter mixture. Heat oven to 350o. Form walnut sized balls of dough, place on greased and floured (or parchment lined) cookie sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes (till edges of are golden brown.) Cool for 5 minutes, remove from cookie sheet and finish cooling on racks. Makes 24-30. 
(https://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=459415 Recipe reconstructed and adapted from Hildegard's circa 1157 treatise Physica: Liber Simplicis Medicinia) She said that these cookies should be taken at regular intervals to increase joy and positivity!)

Breakfast porridge
1 c. grain (oats, spelt, barley, etc.)
2 c. water
Boil 5 minutes, add your choice of nuts, spices, fruit such as:
Almond slivers, coconut flakes
Cinnamon, cloves
Apples, cranberries
Brown sugar or honey

Some other fun recipes like Hildegard’s are at http://divineyoudivine.blogspot.com/p/hildegards-recipes.html
Next time, we’ll start looking at Hildegard’s view of God as light and breath!