I had the privilege of hearing Mary Oliver speak a couple years ago to a full house in a large San Francisco auditorium. Near the end of her talk she said, “I want to speak to the young ones in the audience. I am 83 years old and I want to tell you everything I have learned about life. Life is about three things: 1. Pay attention. 2. Be astonished. 3. Share your astonishment.”
Surely “astonishment” is a fine synonym for awe, wonder, and the Via Positiva.
No wonder Mary Oliver described herself as a “praise poet.” Her praise did not come easily though since she was sexually abused by her father as a child, brought the news to her mother who went into denial, and left her home the day she graduated from high school never to return. She says she struggled “years and years to love my life.”
Hildegard of Bingen also committed to Paying Attention; Being Astonished; and Sharing her Astonishment. She writes: “Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. Now, think. What delight God gives to humankind with all these things. Who gives all these shining, wonderful gifts, if not God?” (16)
I, the fiery life of divine wisdom,
I ignite the beauty of the plains,
I sparkle the waters,
I burn the sun,
and the moon,
and the stars.
With wisdom I order ALL rightly,
Above ALL I determine truth. (30)
Consider this I am poem:
I am the one whose praise echoes on high.
I adorn all the earth.
I am the breeze that nurtures all things green.
I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits.
I am led by the spirit to feed the purest streams.
I am the rain coming from the dew
That causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life.
I call forth tears, the aroma of holy work.
I am the yearning for good.
It strikes me that paying attention and undergoing astonishment and sharing it are what Hildegard is all about not only in her poetry but in her music and paintings, her scientific study, writings and healing practices as well.
Mary Oliver and Hildegard appear to be Sisters of Astonishment and the sharing of it–praise poets who have drunk deeply of the Via Positiva.
See Matthew Fox, “Hildegard Meets Mary Oliver,” in Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint For Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century, pp.11-24, 34.
Banner Image: “Grapes.” Photo by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash
Queries for Contemplation
Do you share Hildegard’s “yearning for good?” Do you feel the grasses “laughing with the joy of life”? Do you taste the “sparkling of the waters” as Wisdom speaking to you?
Is astonishment alive and well in you and a priority in what you share with others?
Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century
Author Matthew Fox writes in Hildegard of Bingen about this amazing woman and what we can learn from her.
In an era when women were marginalized, Hildegard was an outspoken, controversial figure. Yet so visionary was her insight that she was sought out by kings, popes, abbots, and bishops for advice.