Dear Friends,

Hildegard von Bingen was one of medieval history's most creative figures. A prolific composer, she corresponded with Popes and kings and had wild visions with which she gained authority to critique the Catholic Church. 

I went to see a new musical last week, In The Green, which imagines her early years before she became a giant of the 12th century. At eight years old, she was walled into a small cell with an older nun who taught her the foundations of enclosed life. Imagine a spiritual Karate Kid, with singing, and you've got the picture.

Today, Hildegard is recognized as a Doctor of the Church - meaning that the Vatican acknowledges her significant contribution to theology. One of these gifts is the idea of veriditas, or greenness. 

Hildegard uses it both to mean literally the greenness of plants, and their amazing ability to spontaneously put forth leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds. But she sees the same life force inside each of us. Our innate capacity to grow, give birth, and heal. 

Victoria Sweet, a historian and medical doctor, has long looked to Hildegard for inspiration. In her paper Hildegard of Bingen and the Greening of Medieval Medicine, she closely reads the tract Causae et Curae for clues about the paradigm of health and healing that Hildegard developed.

She finds that "The four elements - earth, water, air, and fire - were not conceived of as abstract, literary principles, but as concrete elements of land, rain, wind, and sun." This was not distant philosophy - but daily reality of living so dependent on the land.  

"Like plants, human beings were sustained by viriditas, greening power; like gardeners, medical practitioners used the elements to help their patients flourish," she writes. 

Whereas today our dominant frame for medicine is mechanical - take out the sick element and replace with a new and improved healthy part (and thank goodness for much of modern medicine!), Hildegard understands medicine as that most basic of medieval activities - agriculture. 

Inspired by Hildegard, Dr. Sweet has brought this approach to her own practice, asking herself when treating patients if anything interferes with the viriditas, or the intrinsic power to heal, in their treatment. To think of herself as a gardener who removes impediments and nourishes health, in a sanctuary-like setting.

So much of this reminds me of adrienne maree brown's teaching on fractals: that the whole is always a mirror of its parts. Indeed, Hildegaard has beautiful language for this, writing that, "The firmament contains stars just as a man has veins that hold him together."

In another tract, Hildegard explicitly names viriditas as an attribute of divine nature. That our “greenness” is an expression of heaven, the creative power of life, which can be witnessed in the gardens, forests, and farmland all around us. And like those lands, viriditas is something to be cultivated in both our bodies and our souls.

I wonder what a viriditas lens might offer healthcare systems today. How might the architecture of hospitals change? What would care-giving look like day-to-day? How might it influence staff recruitment and retention? What greater role might there be for chaplains, for singing, and indeed, for nature itself?

May we tend to one another's viriditas this weekend. Shabbat Shalom,

PS. I'll be off for the next two weeks but back at the end of August. Enjoy this summer tune in the meantime :)


Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

- Wendell Berry
Copyright © 2018 Casper ter Kuile, All rights reserved.

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