Yesterday afternoon I went to see Vision, a film that portrays the life of Hildegard of Bingen.
Hildergard, a 12th Century Benedictine nun (the tenth child in her family, she was given over to the monastery at the age of eight), is a fascinating woman who had tremendous fame and influence during her life, but who faded from people’s memories almost immediately after her death. She was forgotten for centuries, only to be rediscovered in 1979, on the 800th anniversary of her death. In recent times she has attracted quite a lot of interest by various groups: musicians, who have happily discovered her musical compositions (coincidentally, we heard some of those at a Rose Ensemble concert Saturday evening); feminists, who view her as a pioneer of women’s equality; proponents of natural health remedies, who champion her work on medicinal plants and healing techniques; environmentalists who share her conviction of the sacredness of the earth. One author commented that “while it would be anachronistic to regard Hildegard as an ecologist or feminist, her firm grasp of the interconnectedness of all things and of the loving mercy of God, who fashioned the whole of creation out of love, continues to speak to us today.”
Whatever else she was, Hildegard was a woman open to the presence of God. From an early age she had visions in which God spoke to her. While she hid these for a long time, at the age of 45 she listened to God’s command that she write what she saw and heard, something for which she needed to get permission from the males who ruled the world in which she lived. (It was the endorsement of Bernard of Clairvaux that paved the way for such permission.) She spent a substantial amount of time for the rest of her life doing exactly that. She faced many hardships as she continually sought to be true to what she believed God was asking of her.
Hildegard wrote in a letter not too many years before she died, that she never felt secure in her own abilities. But, she wrote, “I raise my hands aloft to God, so that like a feather, which lacks all solidity of strength and flies on the wind, I may be sustained by him.” Around the same time, describing what she sometimes called “the Living Light” that she occasionally saw, said “While I behold it, all sadness and pain is lifted from my memory, so that I feel like a carefree young girl, and not the old woman that I am.” This realization that God worked in her life sustained Hildegard through all her struggles and her frequent bouts of physical illness and brought joy to her soul. She wrote “From my childhood days, when my limbs, nerves and veins were not yet strong, the gift of this vision brought joy to my soul; and this has remained true up to this very time when I am a woman of more than 70 years.” When we keep the fact of God’s sustaining love clearly before us, then our journey seems much less threatening and more filled with opportunity.
I think Vision does a wonderful job of conveying a sense of the life and difficulties of this extraordinary woman and I enjoyed it immensely. The website for the film, where you can find more information about Vision , including where it is playing, is here.