We Shall Awaken From Our Dullness | April 24, 2022 by Dr. Kathryn Benton
We shall awaken from our dullness and rise vigorously toward justice.
If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper,
we will respond to its endangerment with passion.
-Hildegard of Bingen
St. Hildegard of Bingen knew something about reaching toward justice and much of what she learned, she learned from Earth and Earth’s processes. She spent her life examining plants and learning about their healing properties, and she was also engaged in a struggle for justice…for the earth and for the human that is meant to be living in harmony with it. She spoke truth to power in a time when that was certainly not something a woman did. Hildegard drew strength from her relationship to the all-pervading presence and with all life…the whole of the natural world. She knew what it was like to be in love with creation…with every leaf, every drop of water, every rock, every creature and every human being. She knew that it was this connection with all creation that was necessary for life to flourish and for us to cultivate a will to protect and cherish our earth home. She was sounding the alarm for our earth and for our species, that, before it is too late, we must remember our relatedness and respond with passion…a passion for creation. Hildegard was also a great musician as we can experience in the following recording of music written by her in the 12th century.
A hundred years later we heard this cry again from Meister Eckhart, another creation mystic. He wrote:
When I was the stream, when I was the forest, when I was still the field, when I was every hoof, foot, fin and wing, when I was the sky itself,
no one ever asked me did I have a purpose, no one ever wondered was there anything I might need, for there was nothing I could not love.
It was when I left all we once were that the agony began, the fear and questions came, and I wept, I wept. And tears I had never known before.
So I returned to the river, I returned to the mountains. I asked for their hand in marriage again, I begged—I begged to wed every object and creature,
and when they accepted, God was ever present in my arms. And He did not say, “Where have you been?”
For then I knew my soul—every soul— has always held Him.
Eckhart tells the story of our origins, our departure from those origins and then our way back. The only way back, says Eckhart, is to beg to wed the natural world…only then will God be “ever present in my arms”. We are holding God in our arms…in our soul. What a beautiful vision! If we lived as if our soul…our arms were holding God, imagine how different our lives would be. We would live as if our actions had value…each of our actions…and they do! We might live more carefully…minding that we do not drop the precious reality that we are holding.
Whether we are holding this precious reality or whether that reality is holding us, it scarcely matters. We are wedded to the reality of our Creator and the Creation that flows from it.
Friday was Earth Day and I was reminded of one of my own teachers, Sr. Jose Hobday, a Native American creation mystic. It is of course, this indigenous wisdom that preceded the environmental movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. Hobday wrote a book entitled, Simple Living, in which she explains why we might want to simplify our lives and how to go about doing it. She said, “The secret of the simple person is to let himself or herself be carried by the harmony and rhythm of all creation.” This reminds me of Eckhart’s vision of asking the river and the mountains for their hand in marriage…and Hildegard’s idea of falling in love with creation. When we are in love, we are able to let go and be carried by the love of our creator…the love that surrounds us and is indeed part of our own being. Hobday said that the alternative to this living in love is to be stuck…to be out of step with creation.
Always practical, Sr. Hobday also gives us some practical advice for taking a good look at our own part in our current world situation and our own behavior. The simple living she talks about continues to be something we are in desperate need of right now. The practical advice she gives echoes many other Native American teachers. She says that if we buy something new, then we need to give away something else. Using the example of books, she found that she only needed 36 books at any given time and if she got a new one, then she had to give away another one that she owned. She is talking about the daily decisions we make…in the grocery store, the mall, on Amazon. The decisions that take into account that precious load we are carrying and its connection to the earth we live in. Sr. Hobday also taught many rituals that can act as reminders…reminders that we are carrying this precious load…the essence of life. Perhaps the simplest of these rituals is the Strawberry Meditation. I thought about this recently when I bought the first strawberries of the year from a farmer near my home. The ritual consists of mindfully eating a strawberry…taking time to truly experience its sweetness…its texture…and even the bitterness of the stem, for in life we need to experience the bitterness along with the sweetness…the pain along with the pleasure. We need these reminders. They can wake us up from our dullness…our sleep. They can make us more aware of what is around us…the trees, the flowers, the amazing people that cross our paths. They can help us to fall in love again with creation so that we can, as a community, rise vigorously toward justice…justice for all creation. Maybe that is what we, in this community can be for each other…reminders…reminders of our divine nature and our responsibility to each other to reach…to reach for the moment of our high resolve…that we may not forget that which we are holding…and that which may be holding us at any given moment…the earth, a boat, a light, wave, deep, dark, the gate and the door, the first, the last. I am reminded of this song by Jennifer Berezan…
May we carefully carry her…him…the sacred presence in our soul…in our arms as we do the work of peace and justice in our time, knowing that we may also be carried when we tire…when we are weary. We give profound thanks for this…for the all-pervading presence that companions our days. And may we respond to the endangerment of our beloved creation with passion, love and care.