Today the church remembered Hildegard of Bingen as we continued to learn about the destruction resulting from Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut. We know that climate change is making hurricanes more destructive, we know that emissions from human activities cause climate change, and we also know that the United States, at least, in 2018 lacks the political will to curb those emissions to the degree necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Hildegard, a remarkable woman of the 12th century, can help us understand our situation. 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.
But it’s Hildegard’s concept of viriditas that speaks to our 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. She understood the interconnectedness of all things that we deny in practice when we collectively refuse to make the systemic changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Were she with us today, Hildegard might very well have insight into 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 helps us understand why people engaged in environmental advocacy find times of renewal outdoors so necessary to sustaining compassion and creativity in discouraging times.
More about Hildegard is available from the Holy Women, Holy Men blog. The Spirituality and Practice website provides links to several resources.
Episcopal Relief and Development is accepting donations to its Hurricane Relief Fund here.