The Way Home
Employing Spiritual Practices
The material presented here consists of thirty-five spiritual practices based on the teaching of Hildegard of Bingen, the twelfth century Christian mystic and saint who was named a Doctor of The Church by Pope Benedict XVI in October 2012. These practices appear as an appendix to a book by Matthew Fox entitled Hildegard of Bingen – A Saint for Our Times.
Although all true saints are by definition extraordinary persons, Hildegard seems particularly so. She wrote poetry, plays, and chants, as well as texts on theology, medicine, and botany. She was an environmentalist, an artist, lecturer, prophet, and preacher (almost unheard of for a woman in her time), and a correspondent of kings and popes, sometimes taking them to task. Her views about ecology and medicine and theology are as relevant today as they were in her time.
Hildegard may be best known for her visions, about which she writes in her book Scivias, “When I was forty-two years and seven months old, Heaven was opened and a fiery light of exceeding brilliance came and permeated my whole brain, and inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast, not like a burning but like a warming flame, as the sun warms anything its rays touch.” Hildegard’s visions informed all of her work.
Matthew Fox was a member of the Dominican Order for thirty-four years, until he was dismissed in 1993 for espousing views inconsistent with Roman Catholic doctrine. He is now an Episcopal priest. Fox has written thirty or more books, in one of which, A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity, he argues that there are effectively two churches, one a rigid, unforgiving, patriarchal, hierarchical institution, based on God-as-Father, stern as steel, the other based on God as loving, forgiving, compassionate Father and Mother, accepting, harmonizing, unifying, uplifting. For more about Matthew Fox, his activities and his writing, please direct your browser to his website, Friends of Creation Spirituality.
The material reprinted here is from “Hildegard of Bingen – A Saint for Our Times” by Matthew Fox. It is protected by Copyright © 2012 held by Matthew Fox, and is reprinted on The Zoo Fence by permission of Namaste Publishing. We are extremely grateful to both Matthew Fox and Namaste Publishing for their generous permission.
The “Editor’s Notes” in black below are ours.
Employing Spiritual Practices in the Spirit of Hildegard
Many people say that the East offers all the spiritual practices and the West is totally bereft of practices. I don’t agree. I do agree that rich practices abound in the East, from yoga to Buddhist sitting and walking meditations. In addition, beautiful souls such as Joanna Macy have adapted many ancient practices from the East for our use, for which we are grateful. But I also believe that we shouldn’t abandon Western practice or refuse to adapt it for our use. Following are some practices adapted in the spirit of Hildegard that I recommend for your consideration.
1. Hildegard, like all Benedictine monks and sisters, chanted the psalms daily. The psalms of course are the wisdom poetry of Israel, and they therefore fed the heart of Jesus. I don’t recommend rushing through the psalms or saying certain prayers each day to complete a form in a prayer book. I recommend instead sitting with just one psalm at a time, reading it slowly – preferably out loud – and stop wherever or whenever your heart is touched. Don’t keep going. The purpose is not to get to the end. The purpose is to dwell on the insight, the word, the phrase, the image that stops you in your tracks. Dwell with it. Don’t move on. Be with the word or phrase or words. Let what has stopped you work its power on you.
2. Hildegard’s words are themselves psalm-like and poetic. Take them and do the same that you did in exercise one. Be with them. Stop when something strikes you. Don’t just “think about ” about what has been said, but let it wash over you. Be with it. Be with the silence it evokes. Do not rush on. One word or phrase or poem may be plenty. These exercises can move you from meditation to contemplation. Be with the stillness. Be washed by the truth. Be present.
3. Go into nature and truly listen. Listen to the silence. Listen to what breaks the silence. Listen to the “small” sounds, the birds singing, the squirrels dashing, the leaves swinging in the breeze, the trees talking (yes, they do talk). Listen to the grass growing and the earth being both firm and soft, to the flowers exuding their colors, shapes, perfumes. Listen to the waters. Listen to the stones. What are they saying to you? What is the Cosmic Christ saying to you? (Editor’s Note: The Cosmic Christ is “the image of God in all things,” the Word that “manifests in every creature”; it is Cosmic Wisdom which is “everywhere, and it renders all beings holy, all beings luminous and numinous”.)
4. Do a sweat lodge. Listen to the spirits in the sacred space, the dark womb, spirit speaking through your fellow people at prayer, but also through the burning rocks, the prayers of the leader, the sweat of your body, your own prayers welling up, the pain. Be there. Do not think about it. Watch the rocks – they often take on shapes and have lessons to teach. Be grateful to the fire makers and those who prepare the sweat lodge. Listen to the songs and the ancestors who ride in on the songs. Pray for strength – and for joy.
5. Listen to Hildegard’s music. You can find it everywhere today, usually with the lyrics included. But you can also find her music as instrumental only. (See Note 1) Listen with your heart. Listen with your soul. Ask: What is Hildegard saying to me though this music? Be with Hildegard and her music. Let it wash over you, refresh you, penetrate you, draw silence from you. Don’t rush through it. One song at one sitting should be enough to cleanse and excite your soul.
6. Listen to and watch Hildegard’s opera. Sometimes it’s performed publicly. For instance, I’ve seen it at Stanford Univeristy and also in the cathedral of Seattle. Get the DVD that the BBC put together, a quality piece called “Hildegard von Bingen in Portrait, Ordo Virtutum.” (See Note 2) You may want to watch it with your eyes closed, just listening to the music. Some people find the images, and even the translation of the words, interfere with the experience. Be with the music. Be with Hildegard. What is she saying that translates to today’s needs? Her morality play is about virtue triumphing over vice – a not altogether irrelevant topic today.
7. You might want to ask yourself: If I were writing such a play today, how would I change the story and the lyrics? How would I make the movie today? Can I still incorporate her music in doing so? Rewrite the script, then get a cam recorder and try birthing your own version. How would Hildegard write the opera today if she were with us?
8. Practice creativity – practice art as meditation. Take up painting, dance, working with clay, journaling, poetry, photography, or moviemaking. Spend time with it not to “produce a product” but to enter into a prayerful process. Be with the colors and shapes and forms in painting; be with the clay with its firmness and its wetness; be with your body, its muscles and sinews in movement; be with your running thoughts in journaling; be with your images and words in poetry. Make it a prayer. Let all these practices speak to you. Celebrate your creativity, your greenness!
9. Look about for other spiritual practices that might speak to you. Yoga? Zen sitting? Walking with intention on the sacred earth? Martial Arts? Tai Chi? Aikido? Bring Hildegard into your space when you do these things. Memorize one sentence from her teachings and recite it mantra-like as you do your meditation.
10. Chant Hildegard’s phrases mantra-like. Pick a short phrase that speaks to you and chant it over and over. It’s the rhythm, the beat that counts – not moving on to more chants. Depth, not breadth. The Now, not the past, the future, or the many. Quality, not quantity. Following are examples of some phrases you may choose to chant:
Holy Spirit, life of the life of all creatures
11. Meditate on Hildegard’s mandalas or other illuminations. Be with them in silence. What are they saying to you? What deep silence are they stirring in you? Which ones attract you the most and why? What healing results from your time spent with these paintings?
12. Take Hildegard with you when you work out. If on a machine where you can read while you run or walk, put her words in front of you; or put her paintings and mandalas in front of you to inspire your meditations.
13. If you are running, lifting weights, swimming, dancing, ecstatic dance, memorize a few mantras from Hildegard and chant them as you work out. Ask her to enter your space, your heart, your mind, your body. If you like to sing, sing some of her melodies as you work out.
14. Practice honoring the Cosmic Christ who is in all things. This is the essence of the “Namaste” bow of reverence in the Hindu tradition. Salute, bow, and respect all beings, becoming ever more aware of the omnipresence of the Cosmic Christ, Buddha nature, Shekinah , or God-presence in everything. Your bow may be explicit or it may be implicit, something you do inside yourself. (Editor’s Note: Shekinah is a Hebrew word meaning “the dwelling”. It is the presence or manifestation of God dwelling in, among, or as all Creation.)
15. Find a leaf, a stone, a feather, or a small being of any kind and hold it meditatively in your hand. Ask it to tell you of its story, its being, its holy existence. Why is it here? What does it want to tell you? Where does it come from in its 13.7 billion year journey to now? Ask its permission before you discard it or take it with you.
16. Do gardening. Go to the earth; stir it up. Learn what it’s made of. Plant something. Care for it. Watch what gifts it brings forth. Invite others to participate.
17. Support an artist. Affirm an artist. Learn the stories of artists and their spiritual journeys through their art. Look at art and let it speak to you. Let Spirit speak to you through the art whether it’s painting, sculpture, film, poetry or theater. Ask it what it has to teach you.
18. Support the artist in yourself. Affirm this artist. Rejoice at the gift of being able to give birth, however difficult the process, however full of doubt or worry. Make creativity a priority.
19. Resist couchpotatoitis. Don’t let your soul die on your couch in front of excessive television viewing – or from addiction to your computer and the internet. Get outdoors!
20. Protest! Write letters to congress, church leaders, news people and other media, and companies that sponsor the media, expressing your passion for values of ecology and justice of all kinds. March and join occupy movements.
21. Share what Hildegard does for you with others. Share her mystical love of cosmos, earth, and earth creatures, but also her moral outrage and prophetic anger. Use Hildegard to help burn through denial.
22. Meditate on this question: What does Eckhart mean when he says “God is the Denial of denial”? How was Hildegard a denier of denial? How can you contribute to denying denial?
23. Draw your own mandalas or healing circles.
24. Gather a circle of people to read Hildegard together and discuss her work, and to read this book. What is Hildegard telling you today?
25. Have this same circle listen to her music and/or meditate together on her illuminations. What are they saying to you today?
26. Send reminders to hierarchy and clergy of Hildegard’s anger and displeasure at those who are intellectually lazy or “lukewarm” about justice.
27. Send these same people the list of Hildegard’s Divine Feminine theology, and ask them when these teachings of a “Doctor of the Church” will be implemented. (Editor’s Note: A parenthetical note directs the reader to “See the Conclusion” where is a list of the Divine Feminine’s various manifestations, among which are “the Cosmic Christ, or divine image in all beings”, the “relationship that penetrates everything,” and“the ‘God within’ of mysticism”.)
28. Write the members of the Supreme Court – especially those who are Catholic and voted for “citizens united.” (Editor’s Note: This is a reference to the so-called Citizens United court case decided by the US Supreme Court on June 25, 2012. For more about that, please click here.) Where in any Christian teachings are we told that corporations are people? Join those who protest such nonsense.
29. Make a pilgrimage to Hildegard’s convent and the Rhineland area.
30. Consider with others the 95 theses for church reform and the “25 Concrete Steps to Bring Christian Communities Alive Again” that I lay out in my books A New Reformation and The Pope’s War. How are we doing? How can we implement these actions?
31. Hildegard names elements we need to balance in our lives through developing thirty-five virtues in preference to thirty-five vices. Which virtues do you think you need to develop the most? How are you doing this? Which virtues does our culture most need to develop at this time? Which vices are most weighing use down?
32. Hildegard urges us to be “as strong as a tree” and to be “spiritual warriors” like Christ was. Recite these phrases as mantras, repeating them often. Go to a favorite tree or forest and recite them sitting in front of the tree. Expect to hear some messages as the tree speaks back to you.
33. Hildegard preached harsh lessons to clergy and wrote tough words to ecclesiastical potentates. Do the same. Write letters to people in Rome about what you think of their actions and lack of actions around the pedophile crisis and more. Write letters to editors of newspapers, and call in to talk shows to give your same opinions. Find your voice – as Hildegard did.
34. Start new base communities or participate in the new base churches, often with women priests leading them, small communities to restart Christian prayer and practice. (See Creation Spirituality Communities.)
35. Support, lead, or participate in the Cosmic Mass movements to bring dance and postmodern art forms like vj, rap, and dj to worship. (See www.thecosmicmass.com.) Or the Ecstatic Dance movement. Remember Hildegard’s teaching: “Be not lax in celebrating, Be not lazy in the festive service of God. Be ablaze with enthusiasm. Let us be an alive, burning offering before the altar of God!”
Note 1: For example, that of Mimi Dye who plays Hildegard’s music on a viola in a CD
called “Spiritual Songs of Hildegard” and is reachable on line or at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Return to TEXT)
The material reprinted here is from “Hildegard of Bingen – A Saint for Our Times” by Matthew Fox. It is protected by Copyright © 2012 held by Matthew Fox, and is reprinted on The Zoo Fence by permission of Namaste Publishing.