I am the Living Light: write down what you see and hear.
These were the words spoken to St. Hildegard at the age of 42 years old here on these very grounds on which I am sitting. This powerful experience of an encounter with the Living Light; Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, the Divine Feminine, propelled Hildegard into her public ministry - a ministry that would last almost another 40 years.
I am privileged to be here today at Disibodenberg in Germany – at the ruins of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Disibod where Hildegard was tithed at 8 years old (though she probably didn’t actually enter the monastery until the age of 14), and placed under the care of Jutta von Sponheim – a young lady only 6 years older than Hildegard. Hildegard was born the 10th child to noble parents in Bermersheim (or possibly Niederhosenbach) in 1098 AD. From a young age it was recognized that she had clearly been given unique spiritual gifts, not to mention questionable health. It was expected that these two girls (Jutta & Hildegard) would be enclosed here at the male monastery of St. Disibod as anchorites for the remainder of their days, which for Hildegard would be many.
God, however, had something else in mind for Hildegard.
Hildegard, as was mentioned, came from a noble family, as did Jutta. It was here on these sacred grounds that Hildegard spent over half of her long life immersed in reading the Scriptures, writing music, mastering the art of herbal healing, and praying.
When Hildegard was 38 years old Jutta died. By this time several other noble women (with substantial dowries) had joined Jutta and Hildegard in their monastic life creating more of a convent than an anchorage. Throughout her life Hildegard had visions endowed by the Living Light, but she kept her visions to herself out of fear of being ridiculed or accused of heresy.
At the age of 42 years old, however, she experienced a vision which commanded her to go public with her mystical gift. She spoke to her priest Volmar and in a courageous act sought permission from Bernard of Clairvaux. Upon receiving permission, she began writing her first theological work – SCIVIAS – Know the Ways of the Lord. This is a work that includes visions expressed in art as well as theological discourse.
In the following years Hildegard would write two more theological texts (Book of Life’s Merits and Book of Divine Works); two medicinal / scientific texts (Physica and Causes & Cures); Over 75 hymns – mostly liturgical settings (including a morality play, Ordo Virtutum); a collection of over 400 letters – to and from – popes, kings, abbots, abbesses, nuns, monks, and laity; a collection of homilies following 4 preaching tours; a hagiography of St. Disibod and also St. Rupert; and several minor works.
While writing Scivias, the Living Light guided Hildegard to move her sisters out of Disibodenberg to their own monastery on Mount St. Rupert – which Hildegard and her sisters would build. Not much remains of Rupertsberg Monastery today, but a few underground cellars, however, Hildegard founded a 2nd monastery across the Rhine River in Eibingen where today a parish church still stands. Her relics are preserved in this sacred space. Just up the hill from the parish church is the Abbey of St. Hildegard where a community of Benedictine Sisters continue to do the work of preserving and passing on her story. This community of Benedictine sisters at Hildegard’s Abbey were instrumental in her having been canonized (May) and named the 4th female Doctor of the Church (October) by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
So what does this all have to do with the Wisdom reading (7:21-8:1) chosen for today? Today’s reading begins: “Whatever is hidden or manifest I have learned – for Wisdom, the artisan of all, has taught me.”
Hildegard echoed these worlds throughout her life and ministry. Her visions came to her when she was awake (not dreaming or in a state of ecstasy) and not with her external eyes, but she says she saw them with her internal eye. Hildegard claims her genius was due to nothing of her own ability, but had been infused in her by the Living Light – revealing great mysteries. So much of what she wrote truly came from a Divine Source. The Living Light, of course, is Wisdom, Holy Sophia.
Today’s reading, upon which we are reflecting on this Feast Day, describes Wisdom, the Divine Feminine, as a source of Light brighter than the sun and the stars. A reflection of God’s glorious Eternal Light – it was this Light that guided St. Hildegard.
In addition to describing Sophia as Light, the passage also describes her as the Divine Source that renews everything. She, Holy Wisdom, is but One and yet is everywhere. Hildegard describes this reality using a theological concept she called viriditas – simply translated it means greening power. She understood this concept literally – viriditas is the energy source that brings life to the created world, to mother earth, of which humans are intimately connected. Viriditas animates all living things – certainly the beautiful green setting here at Disibodenberg must have influenced her image of viriditas.
Viriditas, however, is not only physical. She also understood it spiritually. For example, Christ was / is viriditas incarnate and Mary the greenest branch that bore him. When we sin – or fail to respond to the vocation or role God is calling us to fill, we begin to dry up – mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
When we can find a place to reconnect to our source – to quiet ourselves and self-reflect – to do our own honest healing work – Wisdom renews us. We become green again.
The one who dwells in Wisdom becomes “fairer than the sun and surpasses the stars” and overcomes all darkness. We live in a world inundated with darkness – a world very much in need of Living Light. We are called by nature of our Baptism to BE LIGHT – the Light of Christ – for our world.
“Wisdom produces friends and prophets of God.”
St. Hildegard of Bingen is a shining example of this. Yet, the call to be light, to be prophetic, to be a friend of God is not a call reserved for a few – it is not only the call of the ordained and religious – it is a call to each one of us. It is your call and it is mine.
And so we pray on this Feast of St. Hildegard that we might find creative ways to answer the call to reconnect to our Divine Source, to be refreshed and renewed in viriditas, to do our own healing work, so that we to, like St. Hildegard, might be a vessel of Living Light for our world.
Wisdom, Hildegard wrote, teaches in the light of love. May we truly be an experience of Divine Love for others.
St. Hildegard of Bingen – ora pro nobis.
Dr. Shanon Sterringer is the Founder and Executive Director of The HILDEGARDEN, a non-profit holistic spiritual center in Northeast Ohio.
She holds a Ph.D. (2016) from Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her dissertation was entitled Empowered by the Living Light: Who Was the 12th Century Nun, Hildegard of Bingen and What Does She Have to Say to Ecclesial Leadership Today? and received the 2017 Marvin B. Sussman Dissertation Award. She holds a Doctor of Ministry (2012) and Master of Arts in theology (2017), both from St. Mary's Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Cleveland, OH. She also holds a Master of Arts in Ministry from Ursuline College in Pepperpike, OH (2011).
In addition to her role at The HILDEGARDEN, Sterringer is a Cleveland Diocesan certified Roman Catholic Lay Ecclesial Minister and has served as in parish ministry for 20 years. She is married with 3 daughters (ages 15, 19, 24).
In 2016 Sterringer self-published An Enchanted Journey, describing the call (vocation) to walk in the footsteps of St. Hildegard and Hildegard at the Hive.