“Resounding Melody”:  Hildegard, Mary Oliver, and Word Made Flesh

For Hildegard, words are alive, and take many forms. Word is music, a “resounding melody” inherent in every being and found in every corner of the universe. 

In this excerpt from The Unruly Mystic: Saint Hildegard of Bingen, theologian Annette Esser reflects on Hildegard’s concept of viriditas in today’s context.

The whole universe vibrates with music, making melody.  “God’s Word is in all creation, visible and invisible.”  Word, music and light go together.  The Light in all things is the Cosmic Christ and it lives.  “The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity.”

Indeed, “all creation is awakened, called, by the resounding melody, God’s invocation of the Word.”  For Hildegard, the “Word manifests in every creature.”  The divine Logos is everywhere and in everything–this is the meaning of incarnation, the marriage of flesh and spirit.  “This is how the spirit is in the flesh–the Word is indivisible from God.” 

With permission I share two poems by Mary Oliver in a  chapter of my Hildegard book.  The first begins this way:

“Human as Microcosm of the Macrocosm” by Hildegard of Bingen in her Book of Divine Works.

The spirit
          likes to dress up like this:
          ten fingers,
          ten toes,
shoulders, and all the rest…

She tells us that spirit could float—but prefers to “plumb rough matter….” And so “it enters us”–fingers, shoulders and all.  Clearly, Hildegard and Mary Oliver are on the same page announcing the incarnation and the holiness of the flesh.  Both flee from dualism, that bedrock of patriarchal fear.

A second Mary Oliver poem I eagerly reproduce in this chapter on “The Cosmic Christ and Living Light” is named “At the River Clarion.”  It is a poem about how divinity dwells in all things, and it begins with this humble sentence, “I don’t know who God is exactly.”  

“At the River Clarion” by Mary Oliver, read by Isha Francis. Puran Lucas Perez

How many blowhard preachers and politicians have you run across who know for sure who God is exactly?  And how many people have suffered and died because of the sureness of such colonial and righteous mindsets?

Oliver shares her time sitting on a rock in a river and listening deeply until she heard the rock and water and moss declare, “I am part of holiness.”  The divine—the Christ, Buddha Nature, or Tselem (image of God) lies embedded in all things.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Living Words and the Cosmic Christ: Hildegard Meets Mary Oliver” in Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint For Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century, pp. 11-14, 17-22.

See also Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen.

See also Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet.

Banner Image: A river rushes over stones in the Siberian wilderness. Photo by pure julia on Unsplash


Queries for Contemplation

How do Hildegard and Mary Oliver speak to you of the deeper layers embedded in nature and our everyday life experiences?  How do they make “incarnation” come alive for you?


Recommended Reading

Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century

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.
“This book gives strong, sterling, and unvarnished evidence that everything – everything – we ourselves become will affect what women after us may also become….This is a truly marvelous, useful, profound, and creative book.” ~~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism.

Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen

An introduction to the life and work of Hildegard of Bingen, Illuminations reveals the life and teachings of one of the greatest female artists and intellectuals of the Western Mystical Tradition.  At the age of 42, she began to have visions; these were captured as 36 illuminations–24 of which are recorded in this book along with her commentaries on them.
“If one person deserves credit for the great Hildegard renaissance in our time, it is Matthew Fox.”  – Dr Mary Ford-Grabowsky, author of Sacred Voices.

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin


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7 thoughts on ““Resounding Melody”:  Hildegard, Mary Oliver, and Word Made Flesh”

  1. Avatar

    Thank you for today’s beautiful DM, especially the two video clips. They caused me to pause… to value the simplicity of being still, listening…

    I found it also quite interesting that the pattern in the veil of the sculpted bust of Hildegard, had the same snake skin pattern of the artist during the previous week’s DM’s… both portraying the greening power of Viriditas. Two artists miles apart, yet collectively tuned into the mystical Spirit, the living essence and presence of Viriditas that Hildegard experienced.

    This speaks to me of the unifying virtue, the Oneing With Viriditas available and offered to all, whom value the simplicity of being still, listening… and what imaginatively and creatively arises from deep within this intimate experience of the greening power of Viriditas.

    I’ve been painting alot as of late, with a new medium of alcohol inks, known as fluid art. Its an intuitive way of painting, in which the movements of the ink must be surrendered to, in order for things to emerge… which I liken to engagement with the mystical essence of Viriditas. I’m still learning to let go… to let myself be led… by the fluid flow of this greening power of imagination and creativity.

  2. Avatar

    Mary Oliver’s poetry has always resonated with me- something in the voice of her poems finds the voice in me, a small, still voice, and I am broken open and made whole at the same time. Thank you!

  3. Avatar

    The words of the mystics and artists Hildegard and Mary Oliver remind us of the Beauty and Loving Presence of Divine Nature within and among Us in All of ongoing Co-Creation, especially in the diversity and Oneness of Sacred Mother Nature with Her creatures and graceful abundance…

  4. Avatar

    Hildegard and Mary Oliver encourage me to express my own experiences of God incarnate in my plays and poetry–and trust the truth of them.

    Philadelphicum by S. Michele McFadden

    Yesterday
    Sitting beside my garden
    I happened a glance
    As I do between pages of my book
    And thoughts of meditating
    (An oxymoron certainly)

    I caught sight of
    Broad orange petals
    Flashy purple stamens
    A lily of sorts
    Where
    Yesterday
    Had been a bud

    Lilium philadelphicum,
    I later learned
    Spectacular with those delicate purple spots
    In a sea of nearly yellow at the start of each petal
    Near the ovary

    Gazing
    I saw beside it
    Its sister
    Still demure

    I wound my way around the wire fences
    I’d put into the garden
    To keep out whatever critters
    Had eaten the tops off all my tomato plants
    And devoured all the pansy blossoms
    Over the weekend
    And sat
    Waiting
    Beside the columbines

    There
    Before my eyes
    As the sun made a show of her sister’s wild hue

    This shy one
    Spread her petals—a larghetto of motion
    Then popped open
    With an audible puff

    Today
    A sparrow at my elbow
    Drinking
    Having wound my way again around the wire fences
    I sit beside another chartreuse and orange bud
    Waiting for beauty to explode again.

  5. Avatar

    tselem (usually translated as reflection as in reflection of god) is a wonderful word. It is a deeper word that means more than reflection, it means the essence inside of us as an aspect of divinity, an actual aspect of the divine as its mirrored and appears here on earth. We don’t have a great word counterpart in English for tselem.

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