What greater praise can I give you than to call you green?’
This Saturday is Accelerate (women’s training day in the Jesus Fellowship). Following the traffic light theme, we’ve already had ‘red’ and ‘amber’ days so now it’s ‘green’ day for ‘go’ – ‘ready for action!’
But, you know, Hildegard of Bingen loved the colour green and she is one of my heroes so we had to invite her to step into our day somewhere! We’re going to have a presentation on her life and dress our Coventry Jesus Centre in ‘living green.’
Yes, Hildegard, she’s got a lot to say to us women, whether single or married.
Hildegard, described as “one of the most remarkable woman of the Middle Ages,”* was born in Bermersheim in Rheinhessen, Germany, in 1098. She was the tenth child of a noble family and her father was a soldier.
At the age of eight she began to be trained and educated by a nun called Jutta who lived nearby in a Benedictine monastery in Disobodenberg. Others soon joined them and, at 15, Hildegard became a Benedictine nun.
Jutta died in 1136 and Hildegard, with her deep love for God and creative leadership ability, was elected the new leader of the community. In 1150 she left Disobodenberg to found a new community in Rupertsberg near Bingen. Fifteen years later, a daughter house at Eibingen was established nearby.
When Hildegard was about forty, she felt God tell her to dictate to someone what she had learned about Him and the quality of life He longs to bring. (She could read but never learned to write.) Although reluctant at first, her works began to be circulated and she found crowds of people flocking to her for advice and help. Some were local but others came from more distant parts of Europe. She became spiritual advisor to many of the leading religious and political figures of the day, corresponding with kings and queens, abbots and abbesses as well as ordinary people. She began travelling extensively whilst still continuing to lead her two communities.
Hildegard’s energy and vision led her into many fields: she authored works on medicine and natural science and composed music. She painted her visions and wrote poetry. She even invented a new language which was a mixture of Latin and German!
At the centre, and fuelling Hildegard’s great industry and love of life, was her profound love for Jesus, which found expression in her celibate gifting. To her, Jesus has not come primarily to take away the old life but to gift us with abundant, new life. For her, the celibate life is always meant to be vibrant and ‘green’, not life denying and ‘grey.’ In her writings she makes much of the subject of greenness, drawing her inspiration from the fresh and verdant life that is manifest in God’s creation. To her, celibates are the jewel of God’s glorious creation.
Hildegard wrote that celibacy has at its core a passionate love for Jesus and, through this love, celibates can experience life on a higher plain and not continually be dominated by natural pleasures and loves. Celibates need not dwindle but blossom and positively shine and radiate God’s love and life as they are acquainted and filled with the Holy Spirit.
Although suffering from ill health all her life, Hildegard lived to be eighty. The test of true greatness in spiritual writers is that both their life example and their works stand the test of time and have something to say to every generation. This is certainly true of Hildegard of Bingen.
*The Penguin Dictionary of saints, Donald Attwater.)