CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP

Last week, we looked at an extraordinary passage in a letter by the Flemish mystic Hadewijch of Antwerp. In her letter, Hadewijch said that most of us think we should get a reward – from God or from other people – for carrying the cross with Christ:

We do not live with Christ, and we do not carry that cross with the Son of God, but we carry it with Simon who received pay because he carried our Lord’s cross (Matt. 27:32).

This passage really made me think. How often do I say, “Do you see, God, everything that I’m doing for you? Have you noticed how hard I’m working?” How often do I hope that other people notice (just a little bit) how spiritual or helpful or humble I am? Pretty often, it turns out. But if we’re seeking recognition for carrying the cross, we’re not really being crucified with Christ. There’s only one reason to carry the cross, Hadewijch says, and that is for love.

That cross which we must bear with the Son of the living God is the sweet exile that we bear for the sake of veritable Love, during which we must await with longing confidence the festival when Love shall manifest herself and reveal her noble power and rich omnipotence on earth and in heaven. In this she shows herself so unreservedly to him who loves that she makes him beside himself; she robs him of heart and mind, and causes him to die to himself and live in devotion to veritable Love.

Love – and not external rewards – is what makes us willing to suffer with Christ and also to do good works:

And thus we must always persevere with renewed ardor: with hands ever ready for all works in which virtue is practiced, our will ready for all virtues in which Love is honored, without other intention than to render Love her proper place in man, and in all creatures according to their due. This is to be crucified with Christ . . .

Have you been crucified with Christ today?

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP

Hadewijch of Antwerp was a writer, poet, and mystic of the thirteenth century. Not much is known about her life. She lived in present-day Belgium, wrote in Middle Dutch, and was probably part of a beguine community.

In her works, Hadewijch wrote frequently about love and about Christ’s humanity. But she wasn’t afraid of showing a little fire, too. In a letter addressed (probably) to a woman in a beguine community, she wrote about the God complex so many people have. When we have a God complex, we want God’s glory and divinity but not his humanity. This has grave consequences, for it means we’re not willing to suffer as Christ suffered. Hadewijch writes:

[P]eople wish to live with God in consolations and repose, in wealth and power, and to share the fruition of his glory. We all indeed wish to be God with God, but God knows there are few of us who want to live as men with his Humanity, or want to carry his cross with him, or want to hang on the cross with him and pay humanity’s debt to the full. Indeed we can rightly discern this as regards ourselves, in that we are so little able to hold out against suffering in all respects. An unexpected sorrow, though slight, goes to our heart; or a slander, or a lie that people tell about us; or someone’s robbing us of our honor, or our rest, or our own will: How quickly and deeply any of this wounds us all!

By this we show plainly that we do not live with Christ as he lived; neither do we forsake all as Christ did, nor are we forsaken by all as Christ was . . . We do not live with Christ, and we do not carry that cross with the Son of God, but we carry it with Simon who received pay because he carried our Lord’s cross (Matt. 27:32).

I’m really struck by Hadewijch’s comment that we carry the cross for pay – we’re always looking to get paid, either by earning God’s favor or the regard of other people:

We hold in great esteem what we do or suffer for him, and we never resign ourselves to being left without recompense, or without knowing and feeling that it pleases God; we very quickly accept from him pay in the hand, namely satisfaction and repose; we also accept pay a second time in our self-complacency; and a third time, when we are satisfied that we have pleased others, and we accept commendation, honor, and praise from them.

Did you catch that? We get paid three times for carrying Christ’s cross! That, at least, is the temptation. If we don’t (or, rather, shouldn’t) carry this cross for pay, why should we do it? How do we carry the cross with Christ rather than with Simon? We’ll look at Hadewijch’s answer next week.

Until then, think on what Hadewijch said and reflect on this quesion: what kind of pay have you accepted for carrying Christ’s cross this week?

 

 

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Each Friday I share some of my favorite finds related to praying or writing. If I think it could help you pray or write better, or just “be” better, I’ll include it below. I’m extremely encouraged by this week’s favorites, which include the writings of a medieval mystic, reflections on the psalms, a reading list, and encouraging words for some of the difficult paths we find ourselves on in life.

Do you have someone else’s article or post to share? Find me on Twitter (@LisaKDeam) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.

*****

“And then we shall all come into our Lord, knowing ourselves clearly and wholly possessing God” via Fr Aidan Kimel (a beautiful passage from Julian of Norwich)

Ordinary Saints via Father SJMC (a liturgical poem that might convince you that *you* are a saint)

The Secret to Praying During Horrible Times via Kate Bowler (how do we pray when our souls have been pummeled by tragedy?)

5 Reasons to be Inspired by Psalm 111 via April Yamasaki (be inspired by this Psalm of thanksgiving)

How to walk in another person’s shoes by Sharon R. Hoover (check out this awesome book list!)

Cancer Does Not Have the Final Say via Redbud Writers Guild (read these hopeful articles in the October issue of The Redbud Post)

What It Means to Be a Writer – and To Emerge as a Writer via Albert Flynn DeSilver (an extremely helpful and encouraging guest post at Jane Friedman’s site)

 

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Each Friday I share some of my favorite finds related to praying or writing. If I think it could help you pray or write better, or just “be” better, I’ll include it below.

This week’s favorites begin with two reflections on the tragedy in Las Vegas. If you’re like me, you can always use help processing and praying through these terrible events.

As always, please let me know if you have suggestions for Friday Favorites. You can find me on Twitter @LisaKDeam.

*****

A Prayer for the Victims of the Las Vegas Shooting via Chelsen Vicari (prayer is more than a hashtag . . .)

Weary In Well-Doing? via Michelle Van Loon (in the face of national tragedy, how do we avoid becoming weary in doing good?)

What If Christians Need Empowerment More Than Oversight via Ed Cyzewski (can leaders and Christians help one another examine theology and spirituality?)

How Meister Eckhard Inspires Letting Go for Love via Mark S. Burrows (the startling appeal of the wisdom of a medieval mystic)

The outsider via Glynn Young (a poem after Isaiah 56:6-8)

Why we need Silence via Ian Paul (a book review and thoughts on silence in ministry and spirituality)

Deliberate Acts of Kindness via Lisa DeLay and Meredith Gould (a Spark My Muse podcast on service as a spiritual practice)

 

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

Week 3: Bloom Abundantly
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This month, we’re dipping into Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader (compiled and translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher). The past two weeks, we looked at selections from Hildegard’s major theological work, the Scivias.

Hildegard was also a prolific correspondent. She wrote letters to rulers, other religious, and friends. These letters are full of admonition, advice, and encouragement.

In the excerpts below, Hildegard writes to Empress Irene, the wife of Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Commenus. She speaks prophetic words of encouragement to the empress. Let yourself be encouraged, too:

Listen to what God’s Spirit has to say to you. In winter, God lets the tree He loves hibernate, but in Summer, He makes it bloom abundantly and protects it from every disease. This is you. Remember also that every polluted body of water is purified by the stream gushing from the rock in the East, a clean, fast-running river. Who is like this river? Those whom God grants success and honor. They’re not ruled by the poisonous North wind and its advancing evil.

*****

Turn to God. Be confident that He has touched you. Continue to give Him the burnt offerings of your heart’s openness. Sigh, and know He hears you. . . . Yes, the Living Eye watches over you. He wants you to live eternally.

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Read more.

For reflection:

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

Week Two: Hope for the Church

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Yesterday (Sept. 17) was the Feast Day of Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), the Benedictine nun, abbess, and writer. All this month, we’re looking at a selection of her written works  Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader (collected and translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher).

In her theological text, the Scivias, Hildegard records a series of visions she received. I find her apocalyptic visions especially striking. They seem incredibly relevant for our time, when many people voice concerns about the future of Christianity and the Church. Listen to Hildegard’s diagnosis:

Today, the Catholic faith dithers, on a global scale. The Gospel limps its way around the world. The early Church Fathers (who wrote so well) are ignored. People are apathetic. They refuse to read and taste the nourishment in the Scriptures . . .

Does this diagnosis sound familiar? If so, take hope! Despite the dire state of affairs of the Church, its future is assured. In Hildegard’s vision, the voice of heaven says:

Everything on earth is hurrying to its end. The world’s troubles and its many disasters tell you this. But my Son’s bride, the Church, will never ever be destroyed, no matter how many times she’s assaulted. At the end of time she’ll be stronger, more beautiful, more magnificent than ever before. She’ll enjoy the sweet embraces of her Beloved. That’s what the vision you just saw means.

Hildegard ends this vision in her own words:

Then I looked to the East and saw the One-who-shines-so-bright-that-I-can-never-see-Him-clearly, but I was able to see that up close to His breast, He was holding something that looked like a dirty lump, the size of a human heart, decorated around the edge with gems and pearls. This is our gentle Father hugging humanity to Himself. That’s why no one can reject anyone—because the Son of the Father is God incarnate who Himself accepted the human form.

Read more.

For reflection:

Hildegard week 2

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

Week One: Combating self-doubt, anger, and pride

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Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a Benedictine nun, abbess, writer—and so much more. The medievalist Carmen Acevedo Butcher describes her as an:

“abbess/artist/cosmologist/composer/
counselor/dietitian/dramatist/epistoler/
healer/linguist/mystic/naturalist/
philosopher/poet/political consulstant/
preacher/prophet/visionary!”

Butcher collected a selection of this extraordinary medieval woman’s works in Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader. We’ll be taking a look at some of these selections this month.

Hildegard’s first major theological text, the Scivias, contains twenty-six visions that Hildegard had. She wrote them down, she said, to help others learn to praise and adore God.

In one part of this work, Hildegard writes passionately of something we all recognize: feelings of self-doubt, anger, and pride.

My self-doubt makes me miserable. I feel oppressed by all things . . . I doubt everything when I feel this way, including my salvation.

Hildegard knows these doubts and feelings are the work of the devil. Here is how she combats them:

But when God helps me remember that He created me, then—even in the middle of my depression—I tell the Devil, “I won’t give in to my fragile clay. I’ll fight you!” How? When my inner self decides to rebel against God, I’ll walk with wise patience over the marrow and blood of my body. I’ll be the lion defending himself from a snake, roaring and knocking it back into its hole. I won’t let myself give in to the Devil’s arrows.

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When anger tries to burn up the temple of my body, I’ll look to God’s goodness, which anger never touched. I’ll look to God whom anger never touched, and I’ll become sweeter than the breeze whose gentleness moistens the earth. I’ll look to the God of peace, because then I’ll have spiritual joy as the virtues begin to show themselves in me, strengthening me with their vibrant greenness. I’ll look to God whom anger never touched, and—because I look to Him—I’ll experience God’s calm goodness.

*****

And when hatred tries to diminish who I am, I’ll look to the kindness of God’s Son and to His pain. How will I get myself in hand? I’ll accept the thorns that give off the delicate fragrance of roses. They grew to honor the One who was faithful, and by controlling myself I’ll bring honor to my Lord.

*****

Read more.

For reflection

Hildegard week 1, version 2

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: GERTRUDE THE GREAT

Gertrude the Great (1256 – c. 1302) was a German Benedictine nun at the monastery of St. Mary at Helfta. She was a mystic who was known for her devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus. Among her written works is a collection of Spiritual Exercises.

A few weeks ago we saw a comparison of the soul to a housewife by the Flemish nun Beatrijs of Antwerp. Gertrude the Great brings us another striking image. Although Gertrude was especially devoted to the sacred heart of Jesus, the Lord instructed her not to forget the other parts of his body. In the Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude, there follows an unusual account of Jesus’ body as a spiritual monastery.

A nun in Gertrude’s monastery writes:

One day, while she was singing Vespers, the Lord said to Gertrude:

 

Behold My Heart,—let it be your temple; then go through the other parts of My Body, and arrange for the other parts of a monastery wherever it seems best to you; for I desire that My sacred Humanity should henceforth be your cloister. . . .

 

Then Gertrude, obeying the commands of God, chose the Feet of her Spouse for her lavatory; His Hands for her work-room; His Mouth for her reception-room, or chapter-room; His Eyes for her school, in which she could read; and His Ears for her confessional.

I confess that I would never have thought of a lavatory in relation to Christ’s body. Call me crazy, but it just wouldn’t occur to me.

However, I love this passage in the Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude because it is such a beautiful image of intimacy. We draw from it the lesson that wherever we go, we can always be spiritually enclosed — housed, sheltered, protected. I think it helps us inhabit the biblical idea that our life is in Christ. Think about it — if Christ is our cloister, our shelter, then we are always in him. We are always just where we should be. We are always home.

Can you imagine making Christ’s humanity your cloister or shelter today?