A Fiery Woman: St. Hildegard
Towards the end of my graduate program, I had a requirement to fill and I chose to fill it with a course on Women and Christian Mysticism. While I wasn’t keen on the course at first, I eventually fell in love with mysticism and grew to better understand Karl Rahner’s quote - “the future Christian is to be a mystic or will not exist” (or something like that). On my journey with mysticism, I encountered many wonderful, faith-filled women, including St. Hildegard.
St. Hildegard of Bingen is a remarkably inspiring “Renaissance Woman” of the Middle Ages. She was very creative. She was a composer, a musician, an artist. She was even involved in medicine. She was also a theologian with a deep connection to God. She had visions of God, which she has written about and published. She also used her voice to enact change- she often wrote to her bishop and shared her opinions. She even allowed a man who was excommunicated to be buried on abbey property, which was a very controversial choice at the time and had unfortunate repercussions for her and the abbey.
I knew of Hildegard as one of the few women Doctors of the Church. But knowing someone is different than encountering them. Reading what she wrote about her visions, hearing her compositions, engaging with her art - all gave me a glimpse into the woman and her strong relationship with God. It is evident throughout all of her work.
In one of her writings, Hildegard cites God as the One who kindled every spark of life. I am particularly moved by this idea, first because it removes gender from the equation. Each person is just a spark, a being without gender, orientation, even a body. It is God who ignites that spark, who births us into existence, who starts our fire. Our souls are often understood as a fire that continuously burns for God. It is this fire, this longing for God, that drives us, that makes us ask the question, what do I do with my life? This fire starts in us and keeps us going, trying to figure out our purpose, our reason for being, longing to be quenched by God.
In a course I teach on spirituality, I make sure to include Hildegard. The students aren’t always receptive to mysticism, as I wasn’t initially. But I think it's important to engage with a fiery woman like Hildegard. Someone who stood up for her beliefs when it wasn’t acceptable for a woman to do so. Someone whose writings are still important to us today. Someone who sees the fire within each of us, as we are, and invites us back to God, our Ignitor.