Messages of Hope

A ‘greening’ of the spirit

Published / by Sandy
Hildegard of Bingen

A post by Kate Kennington Steer, originally published on Godspacelight.

I have long been fascinated by and inspired by Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), not least because despite her struggles with persistent ill health, she was a writer, a composer, a scientist, a preacher, a prophetic visionary, and an Abbess of two Benedictine convents; and because, for me, she personifies what I called back in 2016 ‘expressive strength in creative weakness’. Here’s my concluding passage from that post:

It seems to me that it takes a very particular type of strong personality to be able to continue to live a creative, fruitful, flourishing life in the service of God and others; and that such a life-force is only found in those whose strength is based on a recognition of their absolute vulnerability and powerlessness. For Hildegard this life-force came from what she idiosyncratically identified as ‘viriditas’, a ‘greening’ of the spirit that forms the innate connection between God’s goodness in the heart and God’s goodness in the earth; a connection Hildegard personifies as Grace. ‘Greening’ is the epitome of God’s blessing to those God loves… As I struggle to find ways in which I might join every day with the Creator in creating and healing, Hildegard’s expressive, exuberant celebration of the ways in which we may all still be greened continues to echo down the centuries to encourage me this day.

Hildegard’s earthly ambitions were tempered by persistent ill health, and yet, her trusting perception of viriditas beyond the surface of all things, is what helps me, hundreds of years later, see the ‘greening power of God suffusing all life and creation’.

Christine Valters Paintner describes viriditas as the force sustaining life each moment, bringing newness to birth. It is a marvellous image of the divine power continuously at work in the world, juicy and fecund … The prophet Isaiah writes that “the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing” (Is 35.1-2) This abundant blossoming is the provenance of viriditas. We are called to wander through the desert tending to the abundant gifts of viriditas, the creative life-force of everything alive. Hildegard’s wisdom is for living a life that is fruitful and green and overflowing with verdancy. She calls us to look for fecundity in barren places …(Christine Valters Paintner, Illuminating the Way, 161-2, 164, 170)

In one of her books of visions, the Liber Vitae Meritorum, Hildegard receives a dialogue between two characters: Heavenly Joy and Worldly Sadness. In the opinion of Heavenly Joy, Worldly Sadness is sad because she does not ‘observe the sun and moon and stars and all the decoration of the greenness [viriditas] of the earth and consider how much prosperity God gives man(sic) with these things’. By contrast, of herself Heavenly Joy says: “I possess heaven, since all that God created, and which you call noxious, I observe in its true light. I gently collect the blossoms of roses and lilies and all greenness [viriditas] in my lap since I praise all the works of God, while you attract sorrows to you because you are dolorous in all your works.

Hildegard’s viriditas reminds me to notice the gifts I am given in the ordinary details of my life around me. Viriditas reminds me that the Spirit always waits in readiness to ‘green’ my soul’s barren places and our planet’s damaged earth. There is always hope within viriditas. In the action of the Spirit’s ‘greening’ I am becoming who God longs for me to be. In the light that is itself a gift, I am called to notice and collect together the incidents of greening around about me, like where ‘moss trails over flocked rocks/ inviting me to clamber into depths of evergreen’. The Spirit’s ‘greening’ invites me to open my eyes, to see where the Spirit ‘sets me down’ to find even more green, and though at first I may appear surrounded by ‘lostness’, the ongoing ‘greening’ of my soul promises always to lead me into the heart of God’s calling for me.

Viriditas symbolises the continual flow of emergence and re-emergence of gratefulness in me, which inexorably leads me to pause to praise my Maker the Great Artist, with thanksgiving in my heart, before I move on, powered by viriditas, into the day God lays before me, welcoming whatever it may bring. Today, using Hildegard’s words of praise of the Holy Spirit, I ask that viriditas will bless us this day, and all the days to come.

An extended version of this post can be found at Kate’s blog here.