Art, Poetry, Music, and Nature for the New Year
Saturday, February 6 2021
The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to the temple of the Lord. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. Malachai 3:1
Hildegarde of Bingen was a mystic, drawn in by the presence of God through what we might consider very traditional and orthodox means. She was a Catholic nun, drawing frequently on theological concepts like the trinity, and deeply in tune with the daily, weekly, yearly cycles and rhythms of worshiping and reading scripture throughout the church year. One scholar said, “The hallmark of both her theology and her poetic style is that the feminine is the place where God stoops to human weakness and human weakness can, in turn, reach out to touch the face of God.” She is Christocentric, understanding the person and event of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection as core. But ultimately, her poetic use of such orthodox foundations invites twenty-first century listeners like us to hear with new ears the theological ideas that we take for granted unearthing the beauty of language we have dismissed as dry, stodgy, or encumbered.
Look at the words of this hymn Ryan Belongie sang from the sanctuary this summer, for example: the triune God is, to Hildegard, one who is “encircling, circled, enclosing all,” the divine, a tri-folding verb, ever-active. I hear in those verbs God as a protector forming a ring or shield or barrier around us, God as a warmth encompassing our whole life, as near as heartbeat, as deep as oceanic mystery, as warm as fragrant summer night, or even God as a sphere of influence, who turns our world around, even as we think we alone are the ones around which this world revolves. God as the one who is there when you go around in circles, who is there when you circle the wagons, who is there when it feels as if this or that is circling the drain, who is there when it all inevitably comes full circle. All that from one opening phrase from Hildegard’s poetic interpretation of the trinity, her orthodoxy unfolding toward a renewed and wide entryway into the presence of God. Her language opens us up to reimagining God, while remaining entirely knit within the Christian theological traditions we hold dear.
O strength of wisdom
Who, encircling, circled,
In one life-giving path,
Three wings you have;
One soars to the heights,
One distils its essence upon the earth,
And the third is everywhere.
Praise to you, as it is fitting, O Wisdom.
Hildegarde of Bingen