This week we are beginning our prayer with some encouragement from Hildegarde of Bingen. Her most famous work: Scivias (short for the Latin phrase Scito vias Domini: Know the Ways of the Lord) written between 1141-51, contains her reflections on 26 visions she received. She included pictures of the visions, seven of which will illuminate our daily prayer. Book One is all about the Creator and creation.
Today’s Bible reading
Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. — Psalm 118:15-19
More thoughts for meditation
Hildegard had a mysterious vision of choirs of angels. She seems to be leading up to the story of redemption in her second book, since such a choir figures prominently in the birth of Jesus. She visualizes the choirs as “armies arrayed like a crown,” which looks like the mandala-like image of nine concentric circles ranged about a void to signify the ineffable Presence of God.
The nine choirs of angels are conventionally ranked, in ascending order, as angels, archangels, virtues, powers, principalities, dominations, thrones, cherubim and seraphim, which are all labels taken from the Bible.
Hildegard divides the nine ranks into two, five and two so that her nine choirs can provide analogues for human nature. Angels and archangels, the closest to humanity, signify body and soul. The cherubim and seraphim, closest to God, symbolize the knowledge and love of God. The five middle orders represent the five senses whose power must be harnessed in the ascent to God and the five wounds of Jesus by which they are freed to function.
Hildegard seems to have transmitted the idea of a “great chain of being” taken from the later-discredited “Pseudo-Dionysius” that traces a soul’s ascension to higher and higher states. That same pilgrimage through life is mirrored in a heavenly hierarchy of angels who live in ascending proximity to God.
Suggestions for action
We can be fascinated with Hildegard’s charts (like she was). But we would not want to miss what she interprets they mean. She is deeply interested in connecting with God. Way beyond her heart and head, she is in her soul working out how we connect, spirit to Spirit, with the Creator. Even though she has such a radical goal, she recognizes the limits of her vision. She says, “There are many secrets of the blessed spirits that are not to be shown to humans, for as long as they are mortal they cannot discern perfectly the things that are eternal.”
But we can hear the music. She says, “All these armies, as you hear, are singing with marvelous voices all kinds of music about the wonders that God works in blessed souls, by which God is magnificently glorified.” And she quotes today’s reading to prove it: “Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous.” She concludes, “He, however, who strongly does the good he ardently desires shall dance in the true exultation of the joy of salvation, for while in the body, he yet loves the mansion of those who run in the way of truth and turn aside from lying error.”
Beyond just knowing about the Holy Spirit, she is tasting, embracing, and receiving the fruit of God’s presence. Listen to the music. You could bring out a recording that helps you connect. You could sink back into your silence and see what emerges from that background.