By Denise Trull
I love her so. When you read her hymns they are dripping with metaphors so rich and earthy and beautiful. My senses come alive exactly as they do when reading the book of Isaiah. Gorgeous, sensuous images of the holiest kind, reveal the beauty of Our Beloved Christ. They abound.
The Medievals were never afraid of the earth. Of nature. Of birth and death and the "dearest freshness deep down things". Of smells. Of color. Of pungency. Of the beautiful messiness through which God reveals himself if we dare to see, hear, and touch it.
St. Hildegard dared. And she was so comfortable with the natural world around her that she transformed all its earthy, touchable heaviness into gossamered meaning in her poetry and winged it to heaven in praise and thanksgiving for life, for color, for the Father’s care of the world. I dare you to read any one of her poems and not feel your soul lift and fly heavenward. But she didn’t stop there! She added her own exquisite music to the words in order, as she says most emphatically, to give them “life”. Music was her soul’s incense of praise to the Divine and what fragrant incense it was.
She studied plants, water, air, animals looking for the sweet secrets God had left there. She made medicines and studied the anatomy of birds and animals. She studied philosophy and theology and had a wonderfully hungry mind. She invented her own language: Lingua Ignota. It was written exclusively for the nuns of her abbey. It was the language of their songs and hymns; it is how they communicated with each other, how they expressed their joy-filled unity in the mysteries of God who had by providence gathered them together in this one house. Their shared customs and traditions were expressed in Hildegard’s "mystical" tongue that had been written just for them and only they knew. How amazing is that?!
Hildegard never asked if it was "proper" for a woman to do these things. She just did them because she was "ablaze with enthusiasm" for God’s glorious beauty that needed release in praise. This was her charism. Her gift from God. A woman fully alive, with all her uniqueness and joy and intelligence and curiosity being offered to Christ and overflowing tenfold to those she knew.
Yet, for all her enthusiasm she was a humble, reluctant visionary. She often asked St Bernard, her spiritual father, for help in discerning her visions. She feared error and pride. She was always encouraged in her doubts by this holy saint, who urged her to present the “fruit of her visions” even to Pope Eugenius! People called her the “Sibyl of the Rhine”. She counseled churchmen and answered heretics back with wisdom and fire.
Pope Benedict XVI, a kindred spirit if there ever was one, named her a Doctor of the Church. She is everything a woman should be. She is one of my greatest heroines!
I wish I knew her. I really wish I did. Oh, the things I would talk to her about!