Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hildegard of Bingen

“I, flaming Life of the divine substance, flare up above the beauty of the plains, I shine in the waters and blaze in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and with an airy wind, as if by an invisible life which sustains the whole, I arouse all things to life…And so I, the fiery power, lie hidden in these things, and they themselves burn by me, as the breath unceasingly moves the man, like windy flames in a fire…I am Life whole and entire; …all that is living is rooted in me. For Reason is the root and in it blossoms the resounding Word.”
Hildegard of Bingen, 12th Century

It is amazing for me to think that a woman, hundreds of years ago could have felt the way that I feel this very minute, this same second. In my library at home sits a book that not many people know, but I know of it. It depicts the long life of Hildegard of Bingen. She was an Abbess in Germany during much of the 12th century. She was one of the first women to have men admire her intelligence openly. She toured the western world, even managing to get a book published. Know the Way was widely read and accepted in all the great ecclesiastical circles. She was seen as a spiritual visionary who also wrote music and taught new ideas on medicine. I believe she must have known what she was talking about because she lived to be over 70 years old. She was showered with gifts from the many places she traveled, giving sermons to vast congregations of religious men, from the pope, to priests, to abbots, and rabbis. She was alive and light in those dark ages. She felt things deeply. I know she did. She was independent at a time when it would be considered impossible. She never belonged to any man, yet she had great admiration from many men. I want to be like her. She recognized the power that lay within her and she didn’t heed the others.

Ironically, many women of the time looked down on her, saying that only whores traveled about so, but she did not care. She knew who she was and she did so much with such limited opportunities. They mocked Hildegard’s dress, her short-cropped hair (the style for nuns then) and her stout, strong figure. They would mock her so loudly that they would not be able to hear all the good things she had to say. And sadly enough. she received almost more mockery from women than from men. Many men revered her. Am I wrong to look back and even to the future and to think that through the struggle for equality, my sex may have had just as much responsibility for the lack of equality as the sex we accuse of keeping us down? Any ideas as to why men or women have a hard time reaching true equality (I have a lot, but would rather hear yours).

(I am giving experiences from my own religion. I am not meaning to pick on it, but I think that these things aren't uncommon in congregations and religions throughout the world)

Case in point 1: I was in a church meeting last month (Relief Society, where all the women meet together) and the lesson moved to talk about ambition. A girl raised her hand and said, "Well, women just aren't as ambitious as men. It's just not in our natures to be that way. We are just more capable of loving and being nurturing. We don't have the drive to do as much in other areas."

Case in point 2: During a primary lesson the lady teaching was asking the kids what the right age to get married was (already I have a problem with this, because you can't put an age on something like that and she never said IF you get married). One little girl in the back raised her hand and said "Thirty." The lady (who probably married at 18) said, "Oh no! That is WAY too old to get married!! Can anyone think of a better age to get married?" Another kid raised their hand and said "Eighteen?" and the lady said, "Yes, 18." and wrote 18-20 on the board for all the kids to see.

These experiences are endless. And they played a roll in my life. At 17 I wanted to get married and have seven children. I dropped out of my pre-med program because I was sure I was going to get married and I didn't want to start something that I thought I wouldn't be able to finish. I went into education (even though I didn't really feel a huge pull to do it) because I thought it would help me be a good mother (it turns out I love teaching, phew!). Then year after year I thought, whoa, what do I do with myself now? But I finally got kicked in gear at 22 and started making all these dreams I thought couldn't be possible-possible. And that world of possibility only has one open door after another to go through...and that is exciting!!


HappyWifeHappyLife said...

First of all, GOOD for Hildegard of Bingen! She was a brave woman! I will have to read up on her.... this is a name that is new to me.

And yes, I have long believed that women are frequently our own worst enemy! (Especialy here in the South.... oh my. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff I have seen in the (male-dominated insurance) workplace. I used to work with a VERY intelligent and attractive woman who wore tight leather pants and push-up bras and used her "assets" to her advantage - it was truly amazing! And the sad thing was, she was a VERY intelligent woman, but felt she had to use her sexuality to get ahead!) And, sad to report, it worked. :-(

I was really sad to see the case study #2... what a horrible notion to put in young children's minds that 30 is "too old" to get married?! Personally, I think it's a little nuts to get married BEFORE you're 30. Hubster and I have been together since I was 17 and he was 20 and I frequently think it's sheer LUCK that we've grown through life TOGETHER. One goes through SO many changes in your late teens and 20s. I will strongly advise my children to wait until their late 20's (at the earliest) before settling down. (In fact, my cousin Sarah - a successful veterinarian - did not get married until she was in her early 30's then wound up having 4 kids. She has had a great career and a great marriage, AND 4 great kids. She's a smart cookie, and unapologetic.)

Back to the subject at hand.

Case study #1 about women having less ambition is silly as well. As the sex that gives birth and does much of the child-rearing, women do often take a break from the workforce (maybe for just a few months, maybe for many decades) but that really has nothing to do with how "wired" we are, ambition-wise.

Also, women on the whole really face a bit of a double edged sword. I found, when I went back to work after my children were born, that I was openly "frowned upon" by some women for going to work (despite the fact that it was a financial necessity), and then, when I decided to come home and work for myself (in large part so I could have more time with my children) I was also "dismissed" somewhat by more career-focused women. As they say, you can't please all the people all the time.

The key (for me, anyway) is seeking wisdom from God, and going with what I feel is right, for that "season" in my life.

I don't ever think a woman should sell herself short and I don't ever think a woman should be a doormat.

I can't help but think of all the contributions to society that are going UNMADE in middle Eastern countries that are oppressive towards women (ie: Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, etc.). Just think of the creativity, intellectual power, etc. that is being wasted and repressed.... terribly sad.

Anyway, that is my 2 cents.

Good post, as always, D'Arcy!

Steve and Jenn Fletcher said...

Too much stewing, too much angst over this. That's the problem all women have. We care too much what others think--including what other women think--and we use it as an excuse. Too many heated opinions, too many bitter feelings, too many endless comparisions and too much blame, when truthfully, nothing any other woman does (be it in the past, present or future), has any bearing on what we can choose to do with our own lives! THAT is the beauty of living in this day and age. We get to choose whether we will have careers, have families, use our sexuality to get ahead, use our brains to advance society or use our heart to bless humanity. Shame on any of us for wasting our time pointing fingers or waiting around for society to become the Utopia that each of us would have it become before we are willing to live to our fullest.

After all, Hildegard didn't wait for a perfect world before she became the perfect "her".

Alisa said...

What a great post! It's amazing how universal these issues can be, isn't it?

At times I have been very tempted to give up the way I feel I'm supposed to live my life because of peer pressure in my religious community to do what everyone else does. It is tiring to have a hard day of work (I work at a service company and I am constantly on my toes to keep demanding clients very happy) and then to go home to a community that condemns me for doing that work (because I'm working at all). Sometimes I feel it would be easier to give in, but something inside me tells me that would be the worst mistake I could make.

I am coming to an understanding with the universe that people who are secure with themselves are happy to see other people exercise their own power and live up to their potential, even if it's different.

arbee said...

re: CiP #1 - that girl is lucky I wasn't in the RS class! I would have had to pipe up and say something tacky/offensive...something to the effect of "I guess I should have been born a man." Or maybe, "I guess that's why I'm not married...I'm too ambitious."

You hit it spot on with the stereotypes at church...part of what bugs me to no end. That is why I choose to spend hours 2 and 3 in the library or the foyer. Then I don't have to deal with any of it.

Ophelia Rising said...

Thank you so much for pointing out Ms. Bingen to me! I'd never heard of her, and now I'm really tempted to go get her book and give it a read.

It's too bad that women become pitted against one another in the battle of equality. When it all comes right down to it, the point of being equal is to be able to make a CHOICE about your life. And also, to be taken seriously, when necessary. I thank all of the women who paved the way us today. There were so many, and they fought and struggled so hard.

I hope that the world will continue to grow in its attitudes towards women, so that my little daughter grows up knowing she can be whatever she would like to be. I cringe sometimes at the media's portrayal of women and girls, and also at some of the other stereotypes being propogated, such as the "Bratz" toys, and some of the clothing I see being merchandized for young girls. Some of that stuff is pretty scary, and I hope that Olivia can keep her head about it all, and that I can be there to help her.

Yes, we don't have a lot of the struggles that women had 100 years ago, but we still have our hurdles to overcome. If we are understanding and compassionate toward one another, I think we might be able to make the leap to an even greater age of equality and justice.

Sugar said...

You HAD to post this on the day before I leave for BlogHer. I can't possibly wrap my head around all that I want to and MUST say... I'll have to do so when I get back.

This is going to be a hot one, I can feel it!

I love the response, "Oh no, 30 is much too old." My kids believe that 30 is too young. AMEN! I did my job!

Marie said...

I knew about her poetry/chants, but I didn't know all that other stuff -- wow! Maybe it helps to be German? Stubborn and persistent? :) I'm so glad so many of these battles have already been fought for me by my foremothers, though we're certainly not there yet.

As for your church experiences, I've had similar ones, and it can be discouraging. But it's just part of the territory in a church that is organized to allow every member of the congregation to teach/lead/contribute. You're going to hear some weird stuff as the Saints stumble around, trying to learn what it is to be Saints. Bloggable, even. :)

Stina said...

Something that gives me comfort is the saying that a woman can do everything, but just not at the same time. In different times in my life I've had the ambition to both be the CEO of a company and a stay-at-home mother of children. Hmm, a bit contradictory, until I realized I CAN do both -- but at different times in my life. Trying to do them at the same time would make me crazy.

I resonated with your story about switching from pre-med to education. When I was applying for grad programs, I wanted to do something that was only for me, something that I could learn just for the sake of learning and not as a means to an end. I ended up loving my program but have not "used it" in any way to advance my career. However, I have come to realize that it did help shape my "mommy" career path. Also, I have to confess that in a way getting that degree at all was a gift to myself and future children - that they could say that their mom went to Harvard and "did something" before she was just their mom. This is rambling, but I would love to explore this more with you sometime. (Why do I feel like commenting on your blog is becoming more and more like therapy?) :)

skippylongjacket said...

Um, yes. I spoke with a man a few weeks ago who asked me when I was going to take time to "settle down" and have a family. Yes, I'm an attorney and have a career I enjoy very much. Yes, I'm also getting older, though as we have discussed, 30 is not that old. But the assumption bothered me that I have chosen a career over marriage. While if I were a mother, the assumption that I chose motherhood over a career would may bother me as well. As has been discussed, there can be time for different things at different points in life and my choices should not be compared with anyone else's or judged except by my own standard. But I liked what stevenandjennfletcher said. I try not to take people's comments to heart, as they all come from their own perspective and point of views. This gentleman was older and lived in a different era. He was kind and concerned and I appreciated him for that. If we expect others to be tolerant of our ideas, we must be tolerant of theirs as well. Go and do, live and love, teach your children a better way and be happy!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora D'Arcy,
This woman sounds amazing, and I can see why men would line up to admire her intellect. Women have such a power to release their inner beauty, which to me puts an aura like glow around them, and I find it such a shame our perceptions are so driven by marketing and media defining beauty, along with the quasi-religous societal expectations placed upon woman, and sometimes men as well.
I recall being 30 and sitting with my niece on my lap talking to my mom and sister saying how I wouldn't mind being a father one day. They both laughed at me, and basically told me that being 30 and living as I did that I was "doomed" to eternal bachelorhood. Living as I did meant I didn't own a house, was working on my own, and traveling and exploring with a fairly high degree of freedom. In other words not fitting in with the typical midwestern Lutheran expectations I was raised with, house, job, married, kids, insurance and moving up the ladder. Yet I always knew this other voice was calling me to something else. I just hadn't found it, and maybe still have not, but it is a pretty interesting search.
Sorry D'Arcy I am possibly going on a weird tangent here. I'll bet that Hildegard had heaps of men madly in love with her. And good on you - a little Kiwi vernacular there- for following your own path. Kia kaha! And kia ora for an excellent post.

Gustav said...

Dear D'Arcy

Hildegaard rocks. You pointed me to her a few weeks back and I remember being overawed.

I like what Jenn said:

"After all, Hildegard didn't wait for a perfect world before she became the perfect "her"."

My own view is that their never will be precise equality between men and women.

Women are men's superior in so many ways including communication skills, intuition, and intellect. Girls are out performing men in school all over the world. In my graduating law school class 70% of the honours students were women.

My view is that women should not be searching for "equality" they should be seeking to become their true self and not worry about what anyone else thinks, male or female.

Women need to reject the plastic doll role that the media has splattered all over the world.

If you look at all the wars that have occurred over the last 2,000 years, how many have been led by women?

Its been a debacle of men and perhaps rather than equality for women we need superiority for women and let them have a go at running this planet.

A woman like Hildegaard would have my vote.

D'Arcy said...

HWHL: I don't know what I think about women wearing what they want in the work force. I mean, I guess it's their choice, you know? I don't know, it's tough. I guess each woman has a choice of how she is going to handle her career. However, if they feel that that is the ONLY way to get ahead, then that is messed up.

You are an AMAZING worker and an honest woman full of integrity in a world that's seems to want to strip that away from people.

D'Arcy said...

Jenn--I love it! Such great words of wisdom. No one needs to wait for the perfect situation before becoming the best version of themselves. Your wording of this is perfect. Thanks for sharing your ideas. Again, have I mentioned how happy I am that we have reconnected! I'm glad I was your first experience with gmail chat. It's pretty fun when you get used to it!!

D'Arcy said...

Alisa.....I don't envy you!! Ok, inside jokes aside. I see your point so much. You have been such a force for making me think in new ways and see things differently, that initial lunch at Trio has changed my life (and made google chat very non boring :)

I think you are right. When people are secure in who they are and what they can do, they give other people the right to be the same. Too bad we are all constantly struggling to figure out our power and our purpose. But with each passing year we get better, at least, I hope I do.

D'Arcy said...

Arbee: stereotypes of any kind are no good, but we all do them. I do it all the time, it's easier for me to identify people when I can put them in little boxes and put a label on them because then they make sense some how. It's only been the last few years that I have really tried to make an effort to not do that for anyone. It takes a lot of reminding and a lot of conditioning yourself to think differently than you have for most of your life.

That still makes it hard, when other people classify you. I am so tired of the "Single" box that I wish we could all just see each other for what we are. People. Plain and simple.

D'Arcy said...

Ophelia, i loved so much of what you had to say. I see the wisdom in having a choice. It seems that a lot of people and organizations are either bent on telling you what to choose, or pointing out the fact that because you fit in one category (ie mother) then your choices should be the same as all the other mothers.

If I could get rid of one thing in this world, it would be hate. If I could get rid of a second, it would be Brat dolls. Those things scare me! It takes one AMAZING woman to bring up AMAZING girls in this day and age. Your kids are lucky they have you!

D'Arcy said...

Sug--I miss you. Can't wait to hear from you when you get back!!

D'Arcy said...

Marie, I have her biography, it's amazing! I highly recommend it. My grandmother is came straight from Bavaria, she is one tough cookie!

D'Arcy said...

Stina, welcome to my couch. This blog has gone from cute little posts about my day to a way for me to dig into some ideas and feelings that I need to work through. I love that your kids have such a well rounded mother. I can't wait to talk to you more about it!

And yes, I like your idea of doing different things at different times. It's true. When we say we want it all, maybe it's not all at once, because to truly be good at something, you have to focus. I ahve been much more into my art than writing this summer, and I feel I am growing in that area, but the writing is all stagnant, and Ia m ok with that because I see what I am creating with my art and it's what I want right now.

By the by, I got your baby shower invite today! Hurray!!

D'Arcy said...

Skippy, everyone does have their own points of view. It's what makes the world diverse. But it is hard to feel like you have just those two choices constantly before us. I don't think men get that. No man I know has struggled with the idea of raising a family and having a career. It's just the way the world turns. Whatever your choices, I stand behind them 100 percent. To me, when we talk, you always see things clearly, you are open to ideas, you don't force your views on others, and you listen. You are one amazing woman.

Ah, law school, that was another thing I wanted to do! Sometimes I almost want to believe in reincarnation so I can have one life to do each of the things I want to do!!

D'Arcy said...

Robb, I love your search. I love that you believe you may have not even reached what it you are searching for. I love that at 30 you got that same stuff thrown your way as I am getting now! It's no fun. But then, like you, I have this inner voice of calm and peace that tells me my life has been pretty incredible and that the next 30 years are going to be even more so. I love living each day, no matter if I have children or stay a single bachelor (how come men get bachelor and women get spinster?!?) And Hildegard was an awesome example of what one little person can accomplish!!

D'Arcy said...

Gus, I think every women who reads this blog may now have just the slightest crush on you!

Rejecting societies view on women is rational, but it's hard to not be influenced by it. Every where you look there are the plastic models staring you in the face telling you something is wrong with you, that you look too old, too round, too short, too whatever. I don't know why this is the thing that the world has decided to cultivate in the minds of girls. But like you said, I think more and more women are seeing the light, getting tired of fitting into a mold that someone is trying to force upon them and realizing that who they are is just fine.

When I run for office one day, it will be good to know that I will at least have one supporter :)

Rowena said...

Wow. Great post. Why do women cut each other down? Insecurity? Fear that their choices may not be the "best." The threat of a woman who does something different and succeeds... and what her success says about their lack?

The 18 year old married thing is scary to me. I grew up in NYC, and marrying at 28 seems young.

But this world is so... let's just say I was not surprised when Hillary Clinton did not win the democratic primary. And I do think it was because she was a woman.

Boquinha said...

I know a woman (an LDS woman by the way) who always gets very nervous-giggly and embarrassed when her young daughter (about age 5 or 6) talks about being such-and-such a profession when she grows up. Her mother (who married at 17) just about covers her daughter's mouth, rubs her had much like you would a dog's, and draws her daughter closer to her, and says with a nervous smile, "Ohhhhh, honey, you know what you're going to be when you grow up! You're going to be a mom!"

Dreams? SQUASH!

This same woman once rebutted a comment of mine (I say that we teach our kids that we can have it all, go after what we want in life, etc.) and she says we absolutely should NOT do that and then goes on to quote Julie Beck's talk. Okay, shutting up now. :P