We are now well into the season of Lent. Lent brings with it 3 Pillars, or traditional practices. The 3 Pillars are very simple - Pray, Fast and Give. Although we tend to think of the season of Lent in terms of deprivation, it is exactly this deprivation that gives us the space to see things more clearly.
When Hildegard of Bingen wrote about viriditas, she included physical health. She offered many recipes to assist people in returning to health, in restoring balance within them. Like most medievalists, Hildegard did not separate "body sickness" from "soul sickness." They were both integrated. If one was off balance, the other would inevitably also fall ill.
So, as we start the journey of slow greening this year, why don't we recapture Hildegard's vision? Let's reframe the idea of going without to one of seeking restoration. Take an honest assessment of your life. Here are some ideas to help you lean into the slow greening:
Is your relationship to food or drink making your body sick?
Is the time spent with your phone or other screen making your realtionships sick?
Do you spend a significant time with negative or anxious thoughts?
Do you give your comments and opinions too often and too freely?
Do you feel hopeless?
Do you feel angry?
Do you feel overwhelmed?
Do you feel anxious?
Did you pray yesterday?
Have you prayed today?
Who do you want to pray for?
How will you pray? (through words or actions or offerings or all three?)
Do you give compliments?
Do you give smiles?
Do you give hugs?
Do you give patience?
Do you give the benefit of the doubt?
Do you give your time?
Do you give your attention?
Do you give your pocket change?
Do you give from your wallet?
Do you give from your bank account?
Do you give your talents?
Do you give from your heart?
Before the new growth can appear, we have to clear out the old, dead clutter keeping it from maturing. We have to prepare the soil. Start on the slow greening journey today by deciding what it is you need to fast from, to give away or to pray for.
"The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.” Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen was a German Benedictine abbess, poet, composer, botanist and mystic. She had an extraordinarily wide view of the world and was interested in everything from music to philosophy to cooking grains. She lived in the early part of the 12th century, yet her writings and visions are still studied today. She was named a Doctor of the Church in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.
One of the ideas Hildegard is known for is that of viriditas - the greening power of God. I like to call it the "slow greening," because, with just a few exceptions, that is how God's greening power works and is perceived in our lives. Although we are used to everything being at the click of a button these days, the truth is that growth takes place through a process, not an instant. Viriditas means greeness, vitality, creativity, growth. Hildegard's meaning especially refers to the greening power of God within us, the divine spark that sets everything into motion and resurrection. We can remind ourselves that a baby first becomes a toddler, then a young child before more growth occurs and the child becomes an adult. It would seem truly bizarre for us to see a child one day become a 25 year old the next! We would think there is something amiss! Yet, so often we assume our interior life is different from the rest of creation. We feel that praying once or twice is enough, like fine tuning our soul is like turning on the tv. That's like watering a field once a twice, and then wondering why nothing grows.
Other writers, such as St. Gregory the Great, have also referred to viriditas in their writings, in particular when speaking about spirtual health. Since Lent begins in early March this year, why not make it a journey into veriditas - leaning into the slow greening of God that creates health within us? Along the way, we'll look at a few significant people who have lived the life of "slow greening," people like St. Patrick and St. Joseph, for example, and modern day artists like Marjolein Bastin. So take a deep breath and settle in. This is not going to be quick!
artist: Edythe Kegrize
materials :porcelain and metal
This ornament is a perfect reflection for St. Patrick's Day. The cross curves and twists into the shape of a traditional Celtic knot. These knots are always, in one way or another, symbols of eternity in that they have no beginning and no end, but are continually in motion. This is an obvious analogy for the Trinity, and it is not a coincidence that St. Patrick's example of the Trinity as a shamrock-shape came out of Ireland. The Celts were a deeply symbolic and religious people, who were very highly visually literate.
With St. Valentine's Day fast approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a few points that always come up around this holiday. First of all, I hear something EVERY year along these lines: "Valentine's is just a made up, commercial holiday to sell stuff and force people into buying things."
To which I always reply "Wrong! And wrong, and just wrong!" St. Valentine's day did not just suddenly pop up in the liturgical calendar 20 years ago, when greeting cards were more accessible. It's been celebrated for humdred of years - in many different ways depending on the time and culture.
In fact, the holiday hasn't always been associated with romantic love, even though it has always been connected with love in general. The holiday was recorded back in ancient Rome, and the name "Valentine" is connected toat least 3 martyrs. Since the name "Valentine" comes from the word "valens," meaning admirable, it was a popular name. Legend has it that one Valentine was a Catholic priest who married young couples against the emperor's command. He was imprisoned, and while in prison made friends with the daughter of his jailor. His kindness to the family, despite his imprisonment, made a great impact on a poor family, who themselves lived in hardship. The family converted to Christianity. When the emperor found out, he ordered Valentine's execution on February 14. Valentine's last act was to send the young daughter a note signed, "Remember me, from your Valentine."
The full background of the St. Valentines (yes, there were other Valentines martyred as well) and the history of how this holiday has evolved over the centuries, can be found in the book Valentine Be Mine, by Jacqueline Farmer.
But even if you're not into history and are convinced that this is all made up, what's so horrible about celebrating a holiday that officially encourages us to tell those we love that we love them? To spend a bit of extra time with each other? To make sure we actually say "Hey, in case I don't say it or show it enough, I love you!" We need to remember we are called to turn away from cynicism, not indulge it.
And where is it written that we have to spend gobs and gobs of money? A homemade card, a little bit of chocolate or even just some extra hugs or chores done with love are all wonderfully appropriate. The heart wreath above is from the Dollar Tree. It cost exactly one dollar, and it's lovely. Its full of glitter and color, and very clearly expresses the sentiment I want to convey to my family: we may fight here and there and not always see eye to eye, but, nevertheless, we are a family with hearts united and we love one another. I certainly try to say this often, but I'm glad I am reminded to once a year on St. Valentine's Day.
artists: Teri Steiger and Kristina Klein-Gaughran
Two things are special about this ornament:
First, this angel immediately brings to mind St. Terese's (aka the Little Flower) promise to "let fall a shower of roses" to all who ask her intercession in Heaven. As is so often emphasized when it comes to receiving help and graces, one first has to ask. I bet this is just what St. Terese looks like as she keeps her promise.
Secondly, the manner in which the angel is distributing the love hearts is the way God acts - slowly, individually, through time. Nothing happens with the wave of a magical wand.
As the deep, cold days of winter continue to unfold, it's helpful for us to remind ourselves of the graces that winter offers. This ornament is an invitation to look more closeley into the winter days of stillness and silence.
artist: Edythe Kegrize
materials: porcelain and metal
This ornament is based on a view of parks similar to those found in England. The space is somewhat cultivated, but mostly consists of large, open green spaces, with lots of shade and naturally occurring trees and vegetation. This is a different view of our interaction with nature, say than the famous French gardens of the royal palaces, that are images of man's power over nature, of our ability to control and form it. Both perspectives have their pros and cons. What this particular ornament conveys, however, is the winter version of a summer desert. "Winter Park" called also be called "Stark Reality." There is a stillness and a clarity in this landscape, just as a dry desert, a revealing of how things truly are.
Hallmark created this ornament a few years ago. I'm featuring it here today, in honor of the Feast of the Holy Family on December 30.
Two things immediately jump to mind when looking at this ornament. First of all, it is very similar to the well known sculpture "A Quiet Moment" by Timothy P. Schmalz. (www.sculpturebytps.com) Both are similar in the round circle composition, the materials used and the portrayal of the family as an inter-generational circle of love. Its really a beautiful statue, full of love and tenderness. Which brings me to the second point - the question of belonging, of being at home.
Star of David
To me, this ornament represents the completion of the covenants. In the Old Testament, God worked with his people over many generations and many thousands of years, preparing them for the coming of the Messiah by giving them covenants. Yes, it is true that there were many covenants because the people kept breaking them, but that's not anything new still today!
This symbol, the Star of David, represents God's dominion over everything. Each of the tips of the star point to a different area - north, south, east, west, up and down - all of the physical world. Yet the snowflake in the middle of this star takes that understanding one step further - into inner space. It represents the coming of the New, Final, and Eternal Covenant with Jesus Christ.
Season of Miracles
This is one of my favorite ornaments from this year. I love its simplicity. Just 2 dominant colors, gold and royal blue, inset into the background color, white. One shape, the interlocking triangles, repeated 4 times. It's not flashy or over the top. It just is what it is. It owns it's own presence, so to speak.
And after all, isn't that the true meaning of simplicity? The word "simplicity" can be referred to in 2 other words - natural and honest. No subterfuge. No hidden agenda. No secrets or dishonesty.
Feast of Dedication
This ornament is called the Feast of Dedication, also known as the Festival of Hanakkah. This Jewish festival is also called the Festival of Lights, so how appropriate that when this ornament is placed in the light, the tips of the candles look as though they are lit! Another visual teaching element to this ornament are the branches and the roots. They remind us, and the Jewish people, that our faith has been handed on to us by many witnesses and previous generations. The branches are above the blue Star of David, referring to those alive today, carrying on the tradition, while the roots under the star point to those who went before. Nevertheless, all are connected through the same faith.
Although it is fairly obvious why this day is called the Festival of Lights, since the centerpiece of the 8 days includes the ritual lighting of the menorah, why is it also referred to as the Feast of Dedication? In fact, the Hebrew word "Hanakkah" or "Chanukah" translates to "dedication," signifying the importance of the dedication.