I stood and stared on the snack food aisle, comparing popcorn labels. I had signed up to bring snacks to my daughter’s scouting meeting, and was looking for something fun, tasty, and safe for the known food allergies in the group. The green grapes were plump and beautiful, already in the cart. Popcorn will be easy!
Some brands were packaged in facilities that processed nuts, so those were out. My instinct was to get bulk-sized bags, to skip the extra trash that comes from single-serve packaging. But that would mean paper plates, given the realities of the troop’s meeting space.
When it came down to it, I tossed the package of individually wrapped servings of Skinny Pop into the cart.
Lord, have mercy. Am I going to take a snack with the word “skinny” into a gathering of 7-year-old girls? They were learning table manners that day—do they have to be polite and thin?
As a woman in this world, as a parent raising daughters, as a Sunday school teacher, I want to exercise the values I receive from my Christian faith: to care for God’s creation. To recognize myself and others as created in God’s image, and worthy of taking up space in this world.
As an overthinker (and recovering perfectionist), I struggle to balance those actions with trusting in the slow work of God, to borrow a phrase from Teilhard de Chardin. Or to be, as Hildegard of Bingen wrote, a feather on the breath of God:
“…It pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.”
Hildegard is a remarkable figure, and helpful for the modern soul who wishes to live out kingdom values not by striving, or motivated by guilt—but as a loving response to the wonder of being borne up by the breath of God.
If you’re looking for a role model for your child, behold Hildegard.
And pass the popcorn.
This incredible woman, born in 1098, has her bona fides, and I don’t just mean appearing in Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Blessed with visions from an early age, she entered the service of an anchoress as a child, professed her own monastic vows as a teen, and later became abbess of the nuns with whom she lived. In this community, she and others had freedom to nurture their intellectual gifts. Hildegard, in the face of some resistance, moved the community to establish the convent at Bingen, Germany. Soon after, she was inspired to record the years of visions she had received.
“And it came to pass … when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming… and suddenly I understood of the meaning of expositions of the books…”
Her written descriptions and detailed illustrations were rich with feminine imagery of God, and her interpretations of these visions were deemed theologically authentic by Pope Eugenius III, who sent her a letter expressing approval. Apparently, she wrote back, urging him to work harder at reforming the church.
That wasn’t the only bold letter Hildegard wrote. Her advice was sought by many, and in hundreds of letters, she corresponded with emperors, popes, bishops, nuns, and nobility.
She preached in southern Germany, Switzerland, and Paris, remarkable for a woman of her time. (Wearing my clerical collar and answering the door at church, I still get asked if the preacher’s in. 920 years later.) But she also apologized for herself, denigrating her God-given gifts in the culture that was not entirely ready to affirm and embrace them.
“But although I heard and saw these things, because of doubt and low opinion of myself and because of diverse sayings of men, I refused for a long time a call to write, not out of stubbornness but out of humility, until weighed down by a scourge of god, I fell onto a bed of sickness.”
Thank God that call prevailed. Her gifts were plentiful; she left us some 72 musical compositions, a play, dozens of poems, and books including works of theology, commentaries on the gospels and the Athanasian Creed, and volumes on medical practice and pharmacologic insight. Her legacy holds up deep love for the natural world as God’s creation, and a belief that every human being is created in the image of God and deserves the opportunity to fulfill their God-given purpose.
May God keep us humbled by the knowledge that we receive our very breath and life from God; may God embolden us by the same fact. In honor of Hildegard, and to the glory of God, today I will take up space in this world.
God of all times and seasons: Give us grace that we, after the example of your servant Hildegard, may both know and make known the joy and jubilation of being part of your creation, and show forth your glory, not only with our lips but in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]