(O noblissima viriditas, courtesy of YouTube)
O most noble greening power,
rooted in the sun,
who shine in dazzling serenity
in a sphere
that no earthly excellence
You are enclosed
in the embrace of divine mysteries.
You blush like the dawn,
and burn like a flame of the sun.
--English Translation of "O Noblissima viriditas," by Hildegard von Bingen
"Being a monk in the world means for me to live slowly in a fast-paced culture, to treasure the gift of being in a world that says my value comes from doing, to linger over life’s moments and recognize that what I seek most deeply is already here waiting to be revealed.
"Summer calls me to relish the gifts of slowness, attention, and wonder. The season immerses me in the sacramental imagination – the recognition that everything is holy, everything shimmers with the sacred presence if we only slow down enough to see." --Christine Valters Paintner
Here in northeast Missouri, we are in a hot spell.
The last few summers here have been unseasonably cool and unseasonably wet, but this summer we seem to be back in our normal temperature and humidity zone for July for the most part...but a little on the wet side. Kirksville lore always claims that it tends to be hot right around the time of the N.E. Regional Fair, and this year is no exception, with "Fair week" temperatures predicted to be over 95.
On an even more "local" level, I continue to be without air conditioning, as I continue to be infested by my contractors working in the house. I have been dealing with living in my temporarily non-A/C'ed house in some of these 90+ degree days. This is not a new experience--we didn't even have air conditioning at home until I was 12 years old, and I've suffered through summer home repairs/remodeling before in recent years.
What I've noticed is an actual "slowing" of my body. I literally am not feeling inclined to work very hard, things don't seem as important to get done quickly, I work at eating meals that don't need to be cooked, and in the hot evenings and weekends, I simply lie around a lot and don't do much. I snooze and lounge outside in my hammock, drink cool drinks, and honestly, have pretty much been a slug. My brain feels slower, and my body feels lazier.
It's a good time to ponder Hildegard's concept of "greening," in these long summer days and quiet, humid, still summer nights.
The abbess Hildegard von Bingen, in her day, was considered more or less a saintly healer and a "medicine woman." In fact, she has sometimes been considered one of the first female physicians. By today's nomenclature, I'd say she was pretty much a naturopath. She understood quite a bit of economic botany and the botanic pharmacopoeia of her day. This botanic knowledge also spilled over into her spirituality, and it's interesting to consider her thoughts on "greening."
Much of the understanding of the physical world in the Middle Ages was rooted in the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water--and most of medicine in that era revolved around an understanding of the Four Humors--Blood, Phlegm, Yellow Bile, and Black Bile. Hildegard's own fascination was with the rhythms of the cosmos reflected in nature, and vice versa. Only one copy of her medical text, Causae et curae, remains, but this passage gives some insight on her physical and medical world view:
The firmament contains stars just as a man has veins that hold him together. . . . and just as the veins go from head to foot, so the stars are scattered throughout the sky. And just as blood moves in the veins and moves them with the pulse, so does the fire in stars move them, and emits sparks like the pulse. . . . And the stars give beauty and heat to the firmament just as the veins give blood and heat to the liver. They are scattered throughout the firmament, both in the day and in the night, but we see them not in the day because, like peasants in the presence of princes, they cover themselves in the presence of the sun.
Hildegard's study of botanical pharmaceuticals created a merging in her mind of the greening of plants (viriditas) with the complexion of healthful vigor--the healthy pink of humans in good physical condition was our "greening." Likewise, the healthy soul also possessed a form of "greening." A soul aligned with the nature of God also was "green" and flourished. A healthy soul also shone with a viriditas all its own.
We tend to forget, I think, that part of what makes things grow in us, like crops, is a slow unfolding under the long summer days and a warm temperature in the "ground of our being" at night. To simply bask in the sun and do very little is not an unproductive thing, even though we feel slow and things move slowly. It lets our spiritual imaginations grow and flourish and stretch broad green leaves skyward...Godward.
I've thought about how much faster paced my life has been in the past ten years, even in the slower locale of Kirksville. I can whip out my smart phone and find most anything I want in seconds. Something that was different in this last Kirksville summer storm compared to only a couple of years ago for me was I have the weather forecast at my fingertips. Thanks to social networking, I never have to be alone if I choose not to. I've thought about how when I was a younger adult, to do anything but "go, go, go" seemed lazy and wrong.
But these days, to lie around the yard, to lounge, to daydream, to simply connect to God and be--is not so much a treat (like ice cream) but more like air--I must have it to live. When I don't get it, I feel as if I'm suffocating. I am happy with my comparatively laid back work life than the one when I was a young attending at the University of Missouri. I've thought about how I don't regret the years I kept trying to go up, up, up the academic ladder and I really don't regret the move to step off the ladder, although at times my ego pokes at me that I am not famous, not the "expert in something" I envisioned I'd be, not the big cheese in the big cheese factory. Oh, I suppose I am a little bitty big cheese, but it's a pretty small cheese operation! I'm doing what would have been unthinkable twenty years ago--contemplating being less of a big cheese. Being more of the me God intended for me to be and less of the me I am expected to be.
It feels slow. Very slow. Sometimes I do get irritated with the slowness. But this week, I'm happy to soak in the sun in these very long days and feel myself being slow and open to the rhythms of nature and to the slow nature of the Divine in this long green season.