Just as a circle embraces all that is within in it, so does the God-head embrace all. No one has the power to divide this circle, or surpass it, or to limit it. --Hildegard von Bingen, Abbess, Mystic, Poet, Composer (1098-1179)
Often times, when we look at the Church calendar and see the feasts for Saints days, it's often a man. So, I was delighted to see in the Episcopal Church, we honored a woman of depth and determination: Hildegard von Bingen.
She was the youngest of a large family of German nobility. When she was a child, she experienced visions and her parents "tithed" her to a Roman Catholic monastery. Under the tutelage of a visionary named Jutta, Hildegard learned the basics of reading and writing. But Hildegard wrote that Jutta was "unlearned" and thus the student was surpassing the teacher. When Jutta died in 1136, the other nuns chose Hildegard to be their leader. Hildegard wanted an abbey separate from the monastery and asked to move her order to Rupertsberg. The abbot denied the move, and she went over his head to the next in command. She made the move in 1150... and later opened a second convent at Eibingen.
Her visions, which she was reluctant to share except to Jutta and a monk named Volmar, have been attributed to migraines. But her writings, as well as her 70-80 compositions, emerged from the medieval time as truly profound statements of faith. James Kiefer lists this quote:
"Listen: there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully ornamented columns with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God."
Hildegard was not a feminist in the way we might want her to be. She believed women were the "weaker sex". But she wasn't a shrinking violet and would often take stands for God in opposition to secular and religious leaders. At the end of her life, she defended the decision to bury a man in the convent's graveyard who had been on the outs with the church. Hildegard insisted that the man had repented and returned to God. She eventually won this battle, but not before the church authorities had threatened to exhume all the bodies buried there.
Besides her poetry and visions, she composed liturgical music which is available today on compact discs. She also was passionate about science, and did not see it as separate from God but part of the larger picture of God. She used her voice in song, and writing, to defend the importance of environmental stewardship and the need for humanity to care for the earth as part of God's creation.
While the Episcopal Church, and churches in Germany, mark this as her "Saint" day, the Roman Catholic Church has never canonized her.