“The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature. All living creatures are sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, emerging from God like the rays of the sun.”
― Hildegard of Bingen
Today we celebrate the commemoration of Saint Hildegard of Bingen, a woman offering so many gifts to the church that they are hard to list. Writer, composer, mystic, and saint. In thinking about her myriad accomplishments, and the beauty of her full scope of identity, I was struck by how joyful her pursuits seemed, especially her deep love for music, all of which came out of a life marked by illness and difficult living conditions.
Hildegard, adding even more to her list of identities, was an herbalist and healer. Even down to the sprout, she saw the verdant greening as a life bearing witness to the presence of God. Maybe it’s that I don’t feel safe entering buildings, but I’ve recently been drawn into a deeper fascination with the earth. I’ve become a bit of an armchair herbalist, wondering how much healing might be hidden in leaves. I’m remembering the buds and blossoms more frequently in my prayers, looking out the window searching for green, nurturing my very own plant with fear and wonder.
Right now, we are likely putting one foot in front of the other to get by; I say this because I don’t know anyone who isn’t just trying to make it from a present moment to any future. And there is nothing wrong with that. But Hildegard knew something we’d be wise to learn: joy is a part of survival. In the midst of illness, in the midst of challenge, in a time of famine, joy is not optional. Joy is the presence of hope during suffering, not the cherry on top of something already sought after. The reason joy is not optional is because it carries some of the energy we need to complete the journey from present moment to any future. Joy is also, and maybe most importantly, never as far away from us as we imagine. Even down to the sprout, we are shown the verdant greening that is an invitation into joy.
This is not meant to diminish pain, it is meant to offer hope in the midst of it. Joy as hope means it is less a hobby and more a prayer. Joy does not diminish pain; joy shows up as a balm to begin the healing process. I say joy is not optional, because we cannot opt out of the invitation from Jesus Christ to be given, even when it feels like the world is crashing down, the gift of a verdant green earth to receive the crashing.
I have experienced profound joy in two places known to Jesus: the Sea of Galilee and the Garden of Gethsemane. The Sea of Galilee held the cool, watered hope of calling, of vocation, of being drawn into the very chaos out of which God created order. The Garden of Gethsemane held the heavy, dense weight of waiting for death, but in that same truth, the hope that waiting for death means waiting for resurrection. Both were joy and neither were diminished by the other.
Hildegard knew joy in the midst of challenge; she wrote songs throughout illness. She gifts us with an invitation into joy that does not compete with our pain.
How, where, or when have you recently experienced profound joy?