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!!