Today the church remembers Hildegard of Bingen, a remarkable woman of the 12th century. Along with writing down and illustrating her visions, she led a religious community, preached (an amazing thing for a woman in that time), healed people, and composed music.
Hildegard’s concept of viriditas speaks to ecological concerns today. Viriditas is “greenness” or green power, a creative life force that she sensed in all of creation, including plants, animals, and precious gems. The way Hildegard described it is a sort of spiritual and biological power. For Hildegard, God was the ultimate creative force; greenness was the presence of God in the world. Unlike many in the church in her time, Hildegard taught that the body and soul are integrated.
The NOAA State of the Climate Global Analysis for August2012[i] reports among other things that the globally-averaged land surface temperature for June-August 2012 was the warmest June-August on record at 1.03° C above average. Numerous reports in recent weeks suggest that we are nearing a point of no return on global warming, leaving us with a biosphere incapable of sustaining life as we know it.
Were she with us today, Hildegard might very well understand our situation. She taught that sin “dried up” the greenness, writing:
Now in the people that were meant to green, there is no more life of any kind. There is only shriveled barrenness. The winds are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish goings-on. Thunderstorms menace. The air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the peoples. There pours forth an unnatural, loathsome darkness that withers the green, and wizens the fruit that was to serve as food for the people. Sometimes this layer of air is full, full of a fog that is the source of many destructive and barren creatures, that destroy and damage the earth, rendering it incapable of sustaining humanity.
But humans are also capable of becoming conduits of viriditas. By opening ourselves to the greenness of creation, we tap into a deep source of creativity. Hildegard’s vision provides an explanation of why people engaged in environmental work today find times of renewal outdoors so necessary to sustaining compassion and creativity in discouraging times.
Here’s some of Hildegard’s music with photos of some of the beauties of creation that inspired Hildegard. This particular video contains several photos of butterflies, especially appropriate during the September monarch migration.
More about Hildegard is available from the Holy Women, Holy Men blog. The Spirituality and Practice website provides links to several resources.