Today we celebrate one who was born in the year 1098. They were eagerly sought out for counsel, were a correspondent to kings and queens, abbots and abbesses, and archbishops and popes. They went on four preaching tours across northern Europe, practiced medicine, published treatises on science and philosophy, and composed great music and liturgical dramas. And the person we celebrate today was a “she” – Hildegard of Bingen. Last year, Pope Benedict named her a Doctor of the Church of which there were only thirty-three at the time and only three were women. What she accomplished was unprecedented for a woman during this age and is someone that all of us, but especially women can look to for inspiration as one who did not consider her gender to be a barrier in her service to God.
In addition to her many accomplishments, she was also one who had visions, which began to appear to her when she was only three years old. She would later describe them as “The Shade of the Living Light.” She wrote, “These visions which I saw—I beheld them neither in sleep nor dreaming nor in madness nor with my bodily eyes or ears, nor in hidden places; but I saw them in full view and according to God’s will, when I was wakeful and alert, with the eyes of the spirit and the inward ears.”
It was only just recently that our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jeffers-Schori, was strongly criticized for referring to God in the feminine, but throughout her visions that she would later write down, Hildegard would often employ feminine imagery, which was widely accepted at the time.
Here is an example of her writing:
For me, she expresses a true understanding of the love of God. Not as we might understand God from a theologians perspective, but instead from a human perspective – not that theologians aren’t human.
As in our Gospel reading today – a passage that many would write off as a cliche – John wrote those beautiful words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” In Hildegard’s poem, it seems to me that she was expressing that same idea: I am aware of who they are.. Their potential.. I lovingly embrace them.. Transform them.. I give them my Son to show them this great love I have for them, so that they may be where We are.
Hildegard was one who intimately knew of this transforming love of God and was so able to express it through music, preaching, poetry, and art; that she was able transcend the boundaries of her age. Perhaps such intimacy with God is not something that we can all attain, but it is something that we should all strive for. By doing so, we too can become living testimonies – transcending our boundaries – of God’s great love for his creation.