The Rhineland Mystics
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Author, spiritual teacher, friend, and fellow New Mexican Mirabai Starr offers us a bit of the story of Hildegard’s life with implications for our own lives today.
“Speak and write!” the voice from Heaven commanded.
But Hildegard of Bingen, medieval visionary nun, remained silent.
Hildegard was forty-three years old when her visions finally became so insistent that she could no longer contain the secret she had harbored since early childhood: the Holy One, identifying itself as “the Living Light,” spoke to her. It spoke to her regularly, its voice emerging from a swirl of spiraling light. . . .
“Oh mortal, who receives these things not in the turbulence of deception but in the purity of simplicity for making plain the things that are hidden,” the Holy One said that day in 1141, “write what you see and hear.”
It was not doubt that held her back, Hildegard assures us. The voice carried such authority that she was convinced its origin was divine. It was not a case of low self-esteem either, she says, nor a matter of worrying what other people might think. It was, she tells us, simple humility. Who was she, an uneducated woman, to proclaim God’s message to humanity? . . .
[But] the more she resisted, the more seriously ill she became. “Until at last,” she writes in her introduction to the Scivias, the first chronicle of her visions, “compelled by many infirmities . . . I set my hand to writing . . . and rose from my sickness with renewed strength.”. . .
We are not all prophets. It may not be our job to challenge authority and expose corruption. We may not be the ones to penetrate the code of sacred scriptures and feed the spiritually hungry. It may be up to others to sound the clarion call of impending doom, calling on humanity to change its ways.
Ours may be a modest awakening. We may simply refuse to participate for another moment in a life against which our hearts have been crying out for years.
It could be time to observe some version of the commandment to “keep the Sabbath holy” [Exodus 20:8] and begin to cultivate a daily contemplative practice. It could become imperative to curtail a pattern of overconsumption and make a concrete commitment to voluntary simplicity. It could be a matter of identifying the subtle and insidious ways in which we participate in a culture of war and take a vow of nonviolence in everything we do, in every relationship we forge and maintain. . . .
Speak out, Hildegard says. And when you do, when you recognize that inner voice as the voice of God and say what it has taught you, the sickness in your heart will melt away. The fatigue you have lived with for so long that you did not even notice how weary you were will lift. Your voice will ring out with such clarity and beauty that you will not be able to stop singing. To speak your truth, Hildegard teaches us, is to praise God.
Hildegard of Bingen: Devotions, Prayers and Living Wisdom, ed. Mirabai Starr (Sounds True: 2008), 1–2, 4–5, 6.