BOOK OF THE MONTH: HILDEGARD OF BINGEN: A SPIRITUAL READER

Week 4: Get Your Sparkle On

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In reading Hildegard of Bingen’s work, it becomes clear that she highly valued creation and creativity. In our final week exploring Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader, we’ll see what she says about this theme.

Two songs that Hildegard wrote tell of God as designer and animator (the titles to these songs were added by Carmen Butcher, who compiled the selections in the spiritual reader):

The First Daylight

 

You’re the Word of our Father,
the light of the first sunrise,
God’s omnipotent thought.
Before anything was made,
You saw it,
You designed it, and
You tucked Your all-seeing nature in the middle of Your sinew,
like a spinning wheel
with no beginning and no end,
still encircling everything.

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The First Verb

 

The Holy Spirit animates
all, moves
all, roots
all, forgives
all, cleanses
all, erases
all
our past mistakes, and then
puts medicine on our wounds.
We praise this Spirit of incandescence
for awakening
and reawakening
all
creation.

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In her letters, Hildegard frequently reminded others of God’s creativity. To the Abbess of Bamberg, she wrote:

In the same way that the stars illuminate the sky at night, God made humanity to sparkle. We’re created for maturity. We’re made to give out light like the sun, the moon, and the stars. If a black cloud covered these, the earth and every creature in it would worry that the end had come.

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In a letter to Pope Anastasius IV, Hildegard makes a striking moral statement about creativity. She tells the pope that we must reject corruption, injustice, and evil because they are not creative. They are a form of anti-creativity:

Don’t forget that whatever God made, radiates. So listen. Before God made the world, He said to Himself, “There’s My dear Son!” and from this original Word, the world was formed. Then God said, “Be!” and all kinds of animals appeared. Our God creates, but evil is never creative. It’s nothing, merely the by-product of rebellion. Through His Son, God saved humanity, clearly rejecting immorality—stealing, stubbornness, murder, hypocrisy, and bullies.

 

That’s why you as pope must never collude with corruption. If you do, you confuse those who look to you as their leader, because, in effect, you’re saying to them, “Embrace what’s really nothing.”

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Read more.

For reflection:

Hildegard week 4.png

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer for generosity from St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556):

Eternal Word, only begotten Son of God,
Teach me true generosity.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give without counting the cost,
To fight heedless of wounds,
To labor without seeking rest,
To sacrifice myself without thought of any reward
Save the knowledge that I have done your will.
Amen.

Source

CONTEMPLATIVE HISTORY: BEATRIJS OF NAZARETH

Beatrijs of Nazareth (c. 1200 – 1268), a Flemish Cistercian nun, was prioress of the Abbey of Our Lady of Nazareth in Brabant (present-day Belgium). She is often studied in the context of the beguine movement since she received her education from beguines before becoming a nun. In the mid-thirteenth century, Beatrijs wrote The Seven Manners of Loving, a mystical treatise that describes the soul advancing in love for God.

I’m drawn to the striking imagery that mystics often use to describe spiritual growth. Beatrijs of Nazareth does not disappoint! In one passage of her treatise, she likens the soul to a housewife putting everything in order. Although housework seems down to earth, it characterizes a very advanced kind of love in Beatrijs’s treatise.

In the sixth manner, as the bride of our Lord advances and climbs into greater holiness, she feels love to be of a different nature, and her knowledge of this love is closer and higher.

The soul has advanced this far because she has prepared her house for love . . .

And you may see that now the soul is like a housewife who has put all her household in good order and prudently arranged it and well disposed it; she has taken good care that nothing will damage it, her provision for the future is wise, she knows exactly what she is doing, she acquires and discards, she does what is proper, she avoids mistakes, and always she knows how everything should be.

I suppose that calling anyone or anything a “housewife” sounds a little out of date today. I wouldn’t want to be called that! And Beatrijs’s standards for housework seem impossibly high. But I do like the image of the soul bustling around preparing and making room for love.

The rewards of this spiritual work are great. When the inner house is ready, love moves in, and the soul is able to have a “close comprehension of God.”

And then love makes the soul so bold that it no longer fears man nor friend, angel or saint or God himself in all that it does or abandons, in all its working and resting. And now the soul feels indeed that love is within it, as mighty and as active when the body is at rest as when it performs many deeds.

Does Beatrijs’s household imagery resonate with you? Can you picture your soul bustling around preparing an inner home for love? For more examples of this kind of imagery in medieval devotional literature, see the post Finding Christ in the Kitchen by Louise Campion.

For more on Beatrijs of Nazareth, see, among other sources, Medieval Women’s Visionary Literature by Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff.

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer from St. Ambrose:

O God, creation’s secret force,
Thyself unmoved, all motion’s source,
Who from the morn til evening ray,
Through all its changes guidest the day.

Come, Holy Ghost, with God the Son,
And God the Father, ever one;
Shed forth Thy grace within our breast,
And dwell with us a ready guest.

By every power, by heart and tongue,
By act and deed, Thy praise be sung;
Inflame with perfect love each sense,
That others’ souls may kindle thence.

O Father, that we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, Thine only Son.
Who, with the Holy Ghost, and Thee
Still live and reign eternally.

Source

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer from Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – 215):

O Educator, be gracious to thy children, O Educator, Father, Guide of Israel, Son and Father, both one, Lord. Give to us, who follow thy command, to fulfill the likeness of thy image, and to see, according to our strength, the God who is both a good God and a Judge who is not harsh. Do thou thyself bestow all things on us who dwell in thy peace, who have been placed in thy city, who sail the sea of sin unruffled, that we may be made tranquil and supported by the Holy Spirit, the unutterable Wisdom, by night and day, unto the perfect day, to sing eternal thanksgiving to the one only Father and Son, Son and Father, Educator and Teacher with the Holy Spirit.

Source

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE ILLUMINED HEART

Week Four: The Jesus Prayer

Illumined Heart cover

This month we’ve been reading The Illumined Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of Ancient Christians. In this short book, Frederica Mathewes-Green explores the wisdom and practices of the early Church to guide us on our walk of faith today. Our previous posts looked at repentance and fasting. Today, we’ll examine the Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer arose in the early centuries of eastern Christianity. The prayer involves repeating a single phrase: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

Mathewes-Green explains the rationale behind this prayer:

The Jesus Prayer arose as a way to practice unceasing prayer. It offered a short and simple form that can be repeated in an unhurried way no matter what else a person is doing. Since the prayer is silent and interior, it can be kept going in all situations.

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Why ask Jesus for mercy?

We keep lapsing into ideas of self-sufficiency, or get impressed with our niceness, and so we lose our humility. Asking for mercy reminds us that we are still poor and needy, and fall short of the glory of God. Those who do not ask do not receive, because they don’t know their own need.

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What about when we just can’t do it?

Do not cease praying when prayer comes hard, for fear of doing it imperfectly. If you cease praying when you can’t do it right, the devil gets a victory. So keep offering a broken prayer, and remember that you are only an unworthy servant, and yet Jesus wants you.

*****

Read more.

For Reflection:

Mathewes-Green week 4

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM ON PRAYER

In last week’s contemplative profile, we looked at two sources on the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. Historically, this prayer has been thought to be a response to Paul’s instructions to “pray continually.”

St. John Chrysostom also advises the Christian to pray constantly because prayer vanquishes our enemy. The Jesus Prayer sounds so gentle; yet many of the Church Fathers speak of prayer as a weapon. In fact, they often use a violent imagery that has mostly fallen out of favor today. If nothing else, this imagery impresses on us the efficacy of prayer in our lives. Chrysostom says:

Prayer is the cause of salvation, the source of immortality, the indestructible wall of the Church, the unassailable fortress, which terrifies the demons and protects us in the work of righteousness… Prayer is a great weapon, a great protection. Zealous prayer is the light of mind and soul, a constant, inextinguishable light. Therefore during prayer our bitter enemy floods our mind and drenches our soul with a measureless filth of thoughts and collects together qualities of things which had never entered our heads…

And:

By this remembrance (the Jesus Prayer) a soul forcing itself to this practice can discover everything which is within, both good and bad. First it will see within, in the heart, what is bad — and later — what is good. This remembrance is for rousing the serpent, and this remembrance is for subduing it. This remembrance can reveal the sin living is us, and this remembrance can destroy it. This remembrance can arouse all the enemy hosts in the heart, and little by little this remembrance can conquer and uproot them. The name of the Lord Jesus Christ, descending into the depths of the heart, will subdue the serpent holding sway over the pastures of the heart, and will save our soul and bring it to life. Thus abide constantly with the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that the heart swallows the Lord and the Lord the heart, and the two become one.

Read more.

Reflection: Have you ever thought of prayer in the forceful and passionate terms of St. John Chrysostom?

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer from St. Augustine:

Great are you, O Lord, and greatly to be praised. Great is your power; your wisdom is infinite. All people, as part of your creation, desire to praise you; all people, who carry the signs of mortality and sin, desire to praise you still. You provoke us toward that delight, for you have created us for yourself, and our hearts cannot be quieted until they find rest in you . . . You will I seek, O Lord, calling upon you; you will I call, believing in you.

Source

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE ILLUMINED HEART

Week Two: The Joy of Repentance

Illumined Heart cover

In The Illumined Heart, Frederica Mathewes-Green explores spiritual wisdom and practices from the ancient Christians. Chapters five and six tackle the unpopular subject of repentance.

Mathewes-Green shifts the discussion of repentance from condemnationwhere it usually sitsto joy. I also like her emphasis that repentance unlocks our compassion for others:

Repentance is the doorway to the spiritual life, the only way to begin. It is also the path itself, the only way to continue. Anything else is foolishness and self-delusion. Only repentance is both brute-honest enough, and joyous enough, to bring us all the way home.

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For the Christian, two things seem to be ever linked: sorrow over sin, and gratitude for forgiveness. Repentance is the source of life and joy.

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What’s more, repentance enlarges the heart until it encompasses all earthly life, and the sorrow tendered to God is no longer for ourselves alone. Knowing our own sin, we pray in solidarity with all other sinners, even those who hurt us. With all creation we groan, crying out to God for his healing and mercy.

*****

Read more.

For reflection:

Mathewes-Green week 2

 

 

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE ILLUMINED HEART

Week One: Tough Questions

Illumined Heart coverIn The Illumined Heat: Capture the Vibrant Faith of Ancient Christians, Frederica Mathewes-Green shares spiritual practices and wisdom from the ancient Church. I first read this book several years ago, and I thought it was time to revisit it and share some of my favorite parts with you.

As she discusses the early Christians, Mathewes-Green gives us a peek into the life of a fictional fifth-century couple, Anna and Theodore. This is one of my favorite pats of the book, especially when Anna struggles to show love and grace to her mother-in-law.

Mathewes-Green begins with a statement of what we know (intellectually) to be true: in God is life.

Here is communion. In God’s presence we discover ourselves able to love one another, to be vessels of heroic love, even toward our enemies, even unto death. We find all creation in harmony around us, as responsive and fruitful as the Garden was to Adam and Eve. The peace that passes understanding informs our every thought.

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If we know that God’s presence is life and love, why don’t we look like we know it? Mathewes-Green asks a whole series of tough questions I find it really good (and uncomfortable) to consider:

Why are we modern Christians so indistinguishable from the world?

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How come Christians who lived in times of bloody persecution were so heroic, while we who live in safety are fretful and pudgy?

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How could the earlier saints “pray constantly,” while our minds dawdle over trivialities?

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How could the martyrs forgive their torturers, but my friend’s success makes me pouty?

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In the rest of the book, Mathewes-Green considers how the spiritual practices of ancient Christians might help us as we struggle with our faith. For this week, I invite you to wrestle with the tough questions she asks in the first chapter. What might you answer to some of these questions?

Read more.

For Reflection:

Mathewes-Green week 1 corrected