16th September - Hildegard - An uncompromising beginning...
When I started preparing this reflection, I had intended it to follow the usual pattern, a single reflection around the commemoration of one of our heroes or heroines. It became apparent that to do so would not be to recognise the diverse and powerful contribution Hildegard made to the church in her day and to Christianity today in one reflection. She clearly is a saint for today rooted as she was in Christ and his life and ministry over 800 years ago.
There will be three reflections, Hildegard, A uncompromising beginning, Hildegard’s Art and Music and finally Hildegard - The Unruly Mystic.
When reflecting on the life of Hildegard we should continually remind ourselves that she lived in the 12th century before the printing press and books, education was minimal, especially for girls and the position of women in the church was clearly to know their place, be quiet and obedient. Life was unrecognisable compared with today in so many ways.
Hildegard was born, the tenth child, into a minor noble family Bermersheim, on the Rhine. It is possible that when Hildegard was young her parents pledged her and her dowry to the Church. As an under 10-year-old she was in the care of a distant cousin, Jutta of Sponheim. Jutta was probably only in her mid teens when she and Hildegard went to the Benedictine Abbey at Disibodenberg.
Later as abbess of this small community, Jutta instructed Hildegard in the Psalter, reading Latin and strict religious practices. In Jutta’s biography, written after her death by her secretary, the monk Volmar, we discover just how hard life was for the nuns.
A single window linked them to the outside world and they were permitted one simple meal a day. They prayed at regular intervals, following the Benedictine model, throughout the day and night. This hard life style did have detrimental health effects. It is hardly surprising they often complained of weakness and illness.
Hildegard first shared her visions with Jutta. Jutta, in turn, shared Hildegard’s visions with Volmar, the prior of the abbey. He was the first to validate Hildegard’s visions and for more than 60 years he was effectively Hildegard’s spiritual director. Hildegard had had visions from early childhood. In one of her later visions she was instructed to write down what she saw, which she did and also used art to record these spiritual experiences.
When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard was appointed prioress and it was then that she started writing music for the first time, for her nuns to sing as part of the Divine Office. She would have had no forma; musical training. She would of course have the experience of growing up hearing the chants of mass and she set her own inspired verses to music to create antiphons, responses, sequences and hymns.
After a period of time when Hildegard was seeking to separate the Monastery from the small cells for the nuns, she was finally able to move. She and about twenty nuns moved from Disibodenberg to Rupertsberg, near the town of Bingen. The consecration of the new church and cloister occurred in 1152.
She died at the age of 81years after a long and faithful life serving her Lord.
We are blessed that much of Hildegard’s work was written down in the 12th century by Hildegard and her nuns. During the second world war, the documents were moved from Bingen to the vaults in a bank in Dresden. In February 1945 the Allied forces bombed Dresden destroying most of it and killing thousands of civilians. The documents survived.
A sombre note on which to end this very short biographical account of Hildegard of Bingen.
Let us pause silently reflecting on the events of February 1945, letting our silence recognise the pain and anguish caused to the people of Dresden, their descendants and to all who carry the scars of war.
We start our period of prayerful reflection with focussing on the value of community, community of 20 nuns. We need to be careful that we should not have too a romantic view of community - and that includes religious communities. The sisters had a daily routine of prayer, study and practical labour, sometimes hard manual labour. Their work would also include the support of Hildegard in her work. Hildegard would have found it difficult to achieve all she set out to do without the help and support of others from her religious community.
Let us pause for a moment and recall the various communities to which we belong. At this time hold onto the memories of our faith community, our church. It has been a difficult period; we may still be finding our way back together or getting used to things perhaps never being the same again.
O God, by whose grace your servant Hildegard, kindled with the Fire of your love, became a burning and shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
25 People go forth to their work *
and to their labour until the evening.
26 O Lord, how manifold are your works! *
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
27 There is the sea, spread far and wide, *
and there move creatures beyond number, both small and great.
28 There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan *
which you have made to play in the deep.
29 All of these look to you *
to give them their food in due season.
30 When you give it them, they gather it; *
you open your hand and they are filled with good.
31 When you hide your face they are troubled; *
when you take away their breath,
they die and return again to the dust.
32 When you send forth your spirit, they are created, *
and you renew the face of the earth.
33 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; *
may the Lord rejoice in his works;
34 He looks on the earth and it trembles; *
he touches the mountains and they smoke.
The Lord’s Prayer
Heavenly Father, you gather us together in our faith journey
Help us to trust you as we join with others as a community, whether we are physically close to each other or distanced.
May we continue to journey together as a community of faith.
Along the way, remind us of your Love.
Let us never lose hope along our journey.
Help us to be strong.
Strong in Faith.
Strong in love for you and each other
May our journey take to new places,
Places of adventure, hope and service
And the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us today and always. Amen
Next week – Reflecting on Hildegard’s Art and Music
9 September - The Golden Mouth
I remember a holiday in Crete in the late 1980’s. We were staying at a small fishing village about 6 miles(10km) from Agios Nikolaos. The taverna’s owner had seen my prayer book and thought I was a priest. Trying to explain I was still training got nowhere so I was ‘Papa’ for the remainder of the holiday. I was also introduced to Bishop Andreas. During our stay we attended at the small Orthodox church where Bishop Andreas presided. It was a special feast day for Maria, the taverna’s owner and she had baked bread, which was to be blessed (not consecrated) during the service. It was the first time I had experienced a full Orthodox service. Three hours later we adjourned to the taverna. The local’s custom seemed to have a different approach to church attendance, some wouldarrive in time to hear the Gospel then adjourn to a bar returning just before the administration of Holy Communion.
The bread that had been blessed was brought to us at the pool side and shared amongst the guests. It was different to normal bread and very dry and did provoke some discussion. It was appreciated and seen by the guests as lovely.
Why am I telling this story? Well it was my introduction to the Divine Liturgy of St Chrysostom, I was unaware of this fact at the time. A few weeks, however, Iattended, with fellow ordinands, a Greek Orthodox church in Manchester as part of our training. It was explained that the liturgy was one of the stable pieces of liturgy within the Greek Orthodox Church that hasbarely changed over the centuries. We followed part of the service, which was in Greek, but we had the text in English. There was a beauty and a rhythm to the liturgy and it was possible to enter into the worship.
John was noted for his ability to apply scripture to everyday circumstances, teaching people how to bring the Gospel in to all that they did. His preaching did get him into serious trouble with Empress Eudoxia. The gap between the rich ruling class and the poor was often a feature of his preaching. He also had to tackle the issue of an undisciplined clergy who lived in luxury, which I image did not make him popular amongst some clergy.
In spite of the threats made against him by the Empress he kept to his convictions which led to two periods of exile. The latter one proved fatal, he was forced to walk a tortuous journey, those guarding him showed little concern and he died before reaching Pontus. (Pontus located in modern day eastern Black Sea Region of Turkey)
His practical sensibility has given his words an enduring quality and are still an inspiration to people today, some 1600 years after his death.
To get a sense of his “golden mouth” and ability to apply the Gospel to everyday life, here are some quotes and later prayers from Saint John Chrysostom:
“If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.”
“No matter how just your words may be, you ruin everything when you speak with anger.”
“Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. However, sin has the shame and repentance possesses the courage.”
“The saints are exceedingly loving and gentle to mankind, and even to brute beasts…Surely we ought to show them (animals) great kindness and gentleness for many reasons, but, above all, because they are of the same origin as ourselves.”
“Admit the sin to annul it. This requires neither labour nor a circuit of words, nor monetary expenditure, nor anything else whatsoever such as these. Say one word, think carefully about the sin and say, ‘I have sinned.’”
Let us reflect on the quotations above:
Let us sit comfortably and relax as we pray:
O Lord, enlighten my heart that evil desires have darkened.
O Lord, send down Thy grace to help me, that I may glorify Thy name.
O Lord Jesus Christ, write me in the book of life and grant unto me a good end.
O Lord, sprinkle into my heart the dew of Thy grace.
O Lord, quicken in me a good thought.
O Lord, give me tears and remembrance of death, and contrition.
O Lord, implant in me the root of all good: Thy fear in my heart.
O Lord, grant that I may love Thee from all my soul and mind, and in everything do Thy will.
Our time of prayer continues with a compilation of prayers by St John Chrysostom, in modern English. Slowly take in the words, there is no rush, come back to them and read them again if necessary.
God of inconceivable power,
look on us in your tender love
and show your rich mercy and compassion
to us and those who pray with us.
where we dwell
and every other city and country,
and all the faithful who dwell in them.
Remember, O Lord,
all who travel,
all who labour under sickness or slavery.
Remember them, and give them health and safety.
Remember, O Lord, all in your Holy Church
who bring forth good fruit,
who are rich in good works and remember the poor.
Lord our God,
of might inconceivable,
of glory incomprehensible,
of mercy immeasurable,
of goodness unspeakable;
grant that we may live our life here
without trouble and in security,
and enjoy eternal life
by the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to whom be glory and might
together with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever.
The Lord’s Prayer
Take care, keep safe and be kind to yourself and others
2nd September - The Oxford Bloggers
Probably an unlikely choice for a Mid week time of reflection, a bit heavy and cerebral. Let me explain, the title comes from a group of Oxford of high church clergy, who between 1833 and 1841 wrote a number of tracts, hence the title Tractarians and the Oxford Movement. Today they probably would post blogs, do podcasts or ZOOM.
Two significant characters associated with the Oxford Movement were; Edward Bouverie Pusey 1800-1882, an Oxford professor in Hebrew and Canon of Christ Church Oxford and Charles Fuge Lowder, 1820-1880, curate of St Barnabas, Pimlico in London’s East Endand a founding member of the Society of the Holy Cross.
We commemorate them during September.
The Oxford Movement or Tractarians were successful in reviving a greater focus on the sacramental and liturgical practices within Anglican worship. They were however less successful in reviving any movement toward what they saw as orthodox Catholicism. The Movement did, however, have a divisive side illustrated by an incident involving Charles Fuge Lowder. There was a conflict between a candidate for church warden, Mr Westerton, and Revd. Lowder over what was seen as the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. What happened next could have be seen as a case of shoulder bags/hand bags at dawn, but, of course, it was serious disagreement. Mr Westerton hired someone wearing an ‘A’ board with the words Vote Westerton to which Revd Lowder responded by paying choir boys to pelt the ‘A’ board carrier with eggs. He later described his reaction as a moment of madness. This moment of madness landed Revd Lowder in court and a fine of £2. (equivalent in purchasing power to about £270, €300 in 2020) It also meant Revd Lowder was suspended for six weeks by his bishop.
It was a period in the life of the Church of England where it was hardly seen at its best. The dissension did bring the church into disrepute, however it also left us with things to celebrate.
The Oxford movement brought to us an appreciation of the beauty that can enrich us through our liturgy.
Imagine you are sitting in a church surrounded by the sense of sacredness, allowing the worship to wash over us and and for us to experience the ‘otherness’, the presence of God in our midst.
It also brought a witness and a ministry that was an embodiment of the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:35-36:
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Often when viewing the legacy of the Oxford Movement too little attention is given to their work amongst the poor and disadvantaged with too much focus on ‘the smells and bells’ of their worship.
When Charles Lowder died in 1880, the police were needed to hold back the crowds of weeping mourners. That was the level of love people had for the life and ministry of Charles Lowder.
Now let us relax and reflect:
I invite you to sit and reflect on those moments when you have sat in the stillness of a church and admired its beauty, whether that beauty be in its extravagance or its simplicity. Hold on to those moments where you sensed the sacredness of the space.
Remember those moments where worship lifted you, touched you, those moments where spiritually and emotionally you felt in a good place.
Give thanks to God for those experiences.
Give thanks for the men and women who inspire and lead our worship.
Give thanks for the architects and those who had the vision to build places of beauty, that became sacred places and solid ground on which to rest.
Give thanks for those who by faithful witness lived out the words of Jesus in Matthew 25.
The Lord's Prayer
Good Jesus, Fountain of Love,
Fill us with your love.
Absorb us into your love;
Surround us with your love,
That we may see all things in the light of your love,
Receive all things as the token of your love,
Speak of all things in words breathing of your love,
Win through your love others for your love,
Be kindled day by day with a new glow of your love,
Until we are ready to enter into your everlasting love,
To adore your love and love to adore you, our God and all.
Even so come, O Lord Jesus. Amen
Edward Bouverie Pusey
Father, In the awareness of Your presence
Beneath the shadow of Your wings,
In the closeness of Your love, may we abide.
Jesus, In the fellowship of Your saints,
In the communion of Your faithful,
In the church called to mission, may we abide
Spirit, In the power of Your love,
In the fullness of Your gifts,
In the guidance of Your wisdom, may we abide. Amen
May God grant to the world justice, truth and peace. Amen