Last Swallows: A Poetic Journey

For Hildegard, health and healing sought balance in all aspects of life. She honoured interconnectivity – of spirit, mind, body; of humanity, the earth and the universe. This is the heart of Hildegard’s healing philosophy, though not unique to her. Buddha emphasised the middle way as the path of moderation and the path of wisdom. The Tao always reminds us to move towards finding the balance as with dark and light.

What would eventually set her apart, however, was how she chose to embrace the middle ground set forth in the Rule of St. Benedict. This enabled her to engage in her individual passion while serving the stringent institutionalism of the Church.

It was within this middle ground that she pressed her will and intellect into the interconnectivity of the physical and spiritual worlds, culminating in her foundational work in natural medicine.

From her early years Hildegard worked with  garden plants and herbs for healing. This can be seen in the following poem when Jutta is dying. ( from Book 111 of Hildegard of Bingen: A Poetic Journey)    

 

 

 

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Some of the books of the 21st century I have that are inspired by Hildegard of Bingen

 

 

 Last Swallows  

Hildegard’s world stands bleak, 
bare.    The last swallows long gone.
In cold light 
dew drops hang on a blade of grass.
Lingering dread 
knots her stomach.

She enters the anchorage 
sighs deeply,
lights Advent’s second candle.
Its smoky glow 
reveals the pale beauty of Jutta’s face,
she lies stilled. 
Hildegard puts down some bowls, 
kisses her forehead.

 Jutta, my mother,
your ascetics are too harsh.
Your imprisoned cell here 
is mortification enough.

Let our spirits give praise 
with rhythm of music,
with song of jubilation.
Our God, the Just One, is she who offers life 
with all its bountiful gifts.

She nurtures Jutta, 
urges with sips of fennel tea,  
warmed broth, mulled honeyed wine. 
Oil from the olives, freshly pressed, 
she heats over the smouldering hearth,
gently massages Jutta’s hands and feet.
Her flesh wasted.
Jutta has her mind only  
on heaven, 
to be remembered as a saint. 
Hildegard kneels beside her
holds her cold hands,
listens to her trailing breath.
She loves this broken woman.

 

Colleen Keating

from Hildegard of Bingen : A Poetic Journey

 

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Later Hildegard came to understand everything is given us
for our wellbeing. She would write later about the interconnection of all things.
There is no creation that does not have a radiance, 
be it greenness or seed, blossom or beauty, 
it could not be creation without it.  Hildegard of Bingen

In 1150, Hildegard left the Monastery at Disibodenberg and led her sisters to set up the new Abbey at Rupertsberg. There she embarked on deep and valuable work in lifestyle, nutrition, and well being for her sisters. Word spread around the  of her healing ways.

When Hildegard left the Monastery at Disibodenberg and led her sisters to set up the new Abbey at Rupertsberg in 1150 she embarked on deep and valuable work in lifestyle, nutrition, and well being for her sisters. And word spread around the Rhineland of her healing ways.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, declared “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be they food.” The concept of food as medicine is ancient. Hildegard was one of the first in Mediaeval Western civilisation that connected health and nutrition. 

Food as medicine is the core for Hildegard of Bingen. Her notion that a kitchen is also a pharmacy reflects a common theme among ancient traditions of healing: food is the first medicine. Medicines at the time were all plant based or specific combinations of foods prescribed according to their unique healing qualities.

Hildegard’s original work, was eventually split into two treatises, Physica  and   Causae et Curae –

“Physica” represents the history of natural remedies, which Hildegard had intended for public use. and in Causae et Curae Hildegard describes healing and treatment methods using humoral techniques along with traditional creation teachings, combined with ancient mystic Cosmologies.

 

 

 

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The wonderful selections of breads at breakfast, in our Bingen Hotel overlooking the Rhine. It felt very much as if hildegard is present.

 

 

Today especially in Germany, Hildegard’s healing treatments have found a resurgence in holistic health and wellness.

Within this renaissance Hildegard’s philosophies around health and nutrition provide concrete ways to achieve a healthy spirit, mind, and body, which ultimately lead to a healthy lifestyle. From this healthy lifestyle we harvest many benefits, not the least of which is avoiding illness and unnecessary suffering.

Expansion to Eibingen: A Poetic Journey

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From my writing desk, in Bingen, looking down the Rhine

 

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At Bingen, looking down the Rhine.

 

Expansion  to Eibingen  

Hildegard’s fingers tap restlessly 
on the refectory table. 
A new plan consumes her mind.
She moves to the podium
tucks back some loose strands of grey hair,
smoothes her veil
waits for her sisters to end supper.

She looks around.
A hundred sisters sit close in lines
share their own produce, 
freshly baked spelt bread,
honey, warmed grape wine. 
Hildegard breathes the aroma 
of the delicious broth, 
a recipe she has created 
for their health. 

Her mind holds a bold horizon
as the shape of Rupertsberg
grows its silhouette into the sky.
Its soul is their singing, her music.  

Hildegard inspires their hearts 
again with the bravery of St Ursula.
Her voice lowers,

My gaze is drawn across the Rhine
to the hamlets and people of Eibingen.
To a destroyed, abandoned convent.
How the local people beckon 
for our sisters.

Chatter buzzes, hums
like a hive of  Odelia’s bees.
Excitement palpable.

They imagine the old buildings 
brought to life again 
by their efforts.

On the first Sunday of Lent

Hildegard crosses the busy Rhine 
with thirty volunteer sisters 
to found a new convent 
amongst the people of Eibingen.

Sister Inez,  chosen the new Magistra. 
The monk Volmar comes to bless them.
Carpenters and stone masons
follow, enthusiastic about a new project.

On the return journey,
the smell of the river captivates Hildegard.
Undeterred by the rough swell,
she turns to Volmar,
We will visit twice a week
to encourage and support them

The buildings and spires of Ruperstsberg
from the  perspective of the Rhine
catch warm rays of a sun, deep in their hearts.

 

 

 

Schwester Raphaela (l) und Schwester Maria Magdalena von der Abtei St. Hildegard bei Rüdesheim (Rheingau) lesen am Mittwoch (30.09.2009) Spätburgundertrauben im Weinberg. Das Kloster bewirtschaft 6,5 Hektar Rebfläche, die zu 83 Prozent mit Riesling und zu 17 Prozent mit Spätburgunder bepflanzt ist. Die geschichtlichen Wurzeln des Klosterweingutes reichen bis ins Mittelalter zurück, in die Zeit der Gründeräbtissin dieses Klosters, Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179). Schon damals betrieben die Schwestern Weinbau. Foto: Arne Dedert dpa/lhe +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Abtei St. Hildegard bei Rüdesheim (Rheingau) 2009  ( in 12th century situated at Eibingen

Touch of Silk: A Poetic Journey

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A happy photo of a Benedictine sister picking the grapes at  the  Eibingen Abbey.

This poem in Hildegard’s poetic journey  Touch of Silk is a transitional moment when she is inspired to showcase her sisters, singing, and her music, with her sisters dressing in beautiful gowns and flowers. It is a fact many of the women were quite wealthy and did bring jewellery maybe as part of a dowry,which they used to adorn themselves on special feast days. One must remember the 12 th century was a moment of Renaissance. Many frowned on her actions but it was still able to be done. In less then 100 years this would not be allowed.

 

Touch of Silk

There must have been a moment
when the idea arose.
Maybe it was the visions
when holy virtues spoke to her.

Maybe when all fifty sisters spent time
laughing together as they picked grapes,
for the winepress,
to make the sacramental altar wine,
and their sweet wine
to give warmth and strengthen blood,
as Hildegard says.

Maybe it was the day
the cousins Bertrude and Agnes
from a noble family joined her sisters,
proudly announcing they were seamstresses,
and donating reams of silk
for priestly albs and vestments.

Just maybe, the touch of the silk
gave Hildegard the idea.

Excitement drives her thoughts and words,
as she muses and then reflects out loud,
My sisters will wear silk gowns
as they sing our opera.
We will have it ready to perform
for the Bishop and his entourage
at the consecration of our new Church.

After Matins,
Hildegard gathers her sisters,
My sisters, God loves beauty.
For our concert we will dress,
as noble regal souls.
We will wear silk gowns that flow.
Gold wreaths and flower-circlets will crown us.
Let our hair loose under light translucent veils.
Our hair is our glory,
not a temptation to cut or hide.

Feverish as excited children
the sisters sing and sew
and with every practice
Hildegard watches their confidence grow.

Below is some special mementos I brought home from Bingen.
The wines I shared with Michael were special and my Hildegard candle energises me and the whole room while I write.

wine from Abbey

Hildegard’s wines from Eibingen

Epiphany: A Poetic Journey

 

 

 

 

tulip bud in Liz garden

Tulip bud by Elizabeth Keating -Jones

 

 

Epiphany

 

In the garden, Hildegard sings
of the soft hills
curved as a mother’s breast,
The earth is at the same time mother,
She is mother of all that is natural,
mother of all that is human.
She is the mother of all,
for contained in her
are the seeds of all.

 

She sings of trees and plants
ferns, herbs, flowers and stones.

 

The greening power of God’s love
surges through her
palpable holiness
surging with vitality.

 

Hildegard learns
names of the plants, herbs
their healing properties.
The sisters’ garden explodes
a paint box come to life
spilling across a landscape.

 

Richardis follows her
discerns culinary and medicinal plants
bubbles intensely,
alive with the world.

Image may contain: plant, flower, nature and outdoor
 Photo taken by Elizabeth Keating-Jones in her spring back-yard garden, which we began while visiting in the past autumn.

Viriditas: Poetic Journey

 

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This is one of my reflective times in Hildegard’s Kapelle at the ruins of her
Disibodenberg Monastery in Germany where Hildegard
lived for the first 38 years of her Religious life. And the snowbells are a first of spring moment of viriditas taken by my daughter Elizabeth Keating-Jones in Sussex England.
Disibodenberg nurtured Hildegard. She listened to the vitality of the greeness and alivemenss of her world. She made the word “Viriditas” and heard the Spirit whisper to her but still young and fearful as a woman she clams shut. Even though this suppressing her thoughts and feelings made her sick many times, she still not know how to go forward.

Viriditas  A word coined and made famous by Hildegard. The word combines the essence of truth and green, meaning vitality, fecundity, lushness, verdure and growth.  Hildegard  uses it metaphorically as vitality. She sees it in the moist fresh greens..In her writings viriditas means the ‘greening power of God’

Hildegard was one of the first to speak of nutrition being linked to wellbeing.
She saw food as medicine.  And as we will read as my story of Hildegard unfolds
she cares for her sisters well being.

 

Viriditas

After the rains
Hildegard tends the garden
knee deep
in wet grass,
up to her elbows in soil,
worms, snails
and ruff of leaf compost.

Marvels at the ramble
of a pumpkin vine,
a stray seed gone free.
Lingers in the fragrance
of chives and basil,
coriander, lavender and mint,
and the smell of parsley.

Savours their bouquet.
Being jubilant
with the flirt of white moths,
and the canticle of bird song
from an oak branch above.
Dwells on her knees
as if in prayer.

Hildegard stands
her hands on her lower back
stretches and arches
skywards. wisping clouds
ruffle and the  Light whispers,

I am the breeze that nurtures all things green
I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits
I am the rain coming from the dew
that causes the grasses to laugh
with the joy of life. 

Fearful of her own mystery
she clams shut this light
into the tight knot of her gut.

 

Hildegard’s Highest rated foods
Spelt, chestnuts, fennel and chickpeas (garbanzo beans).

“Spelt creates healthy body, good blood and a happy outlook on life,” – Hildegard

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A website healthyhildegard.com is an excellent resource. Thank you to the creators of it . It is an inspiration.
Other resources that focus on Hildegard and health
Dr. Wighard Strenhlow, Hildegard of Bingen:Spiritual Remedies, Healing Art Press 2002
Dr. Wighard Strenhlow, & Dr. Gottfried Hertzka, Hildegard of Bingen’s Medicine, Bear & Co. 1988.
Jany Fournier-Rosset, From Saint Hildegard’s Kitchen Foods of Health, Foods of Joy, Liguori Publ. 2010.
Victoria Sweet, God’s Hotel, A Doctor, A Hospial, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine. Riverhead Books 2012

Unearthing Heaven in Music: Poetic Journey

 

 

 

 

“Hildegard’s music is not easy. It is demanding with the breath…there are even a couple of songs that have two and a half octave ranges, which is extreme for music. In our day, we don’t even have most music like that.” ~ Linn Maxwell on Saint Hildegard’s music

This poem is set in Hildegard of Bingen’s new Abbey at Rupertsberg near the town of Bingen at the junction of the Nahr River and the Rhine in 1151. It is before her new Church is completed and before her sisters sing in flowing silk robes their Opera Ordo Virtutum  written by Hildegard (believed to be the first opera written by a woman in History. This poem is an extract from my up and coming writing on Hildegard of Bingen: A Poet Journey

 

 

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                                                          Unearthing Heaven in Music
Unearthing Heaven in Music

Seamless fold of seasons
Not so seamless, human endeavour.
Life is still comfortless,
harsh, rough.

Hildegard is invigorated
by harmonies of sound,
sees music in the dawn,
dance of light on the hills,
in the caress of the wind,
shape of the clouds
sound of the entwining rivers,
the patter of rain
chatter of verdant tendrils of vine.

Music sings in her mind
fills her writing
defines her day.

In giving voice to her poetry
Hildegard bursts into song.
Words of Divine Light,
sounds from the heavenly spheres,
O fleeting soul, be strong.
Clothe yourself in the armour of light.
You are surrounded
with the embrace of divine mysteries.

She sees creation, a symphony
of joy and jubilation,
a great chorus
of the cosmos itself.
She sings with her sisters.
Her sisters sing with her.
Singing softens their tired
discouraged hearts
like blossoms soften stone walls.
In the garden with her sisters around her
she draws lines with a stick on the earth
dots out the shift of sounds,
and with the stick as a baton and pointer
she teaches them her new music.
Their eyes shine.
Her antiphons and canticles
enrich the Divine Office.
Richardis leads, her voice ethereal,
the sister join, words and rhythms soar,
breathless notes, thin higher and higher.

The unfinished church
embraces their song,
a new heaven and new earth.

 

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A Healing Colour: Poetic Journey

 

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1.Hildegard of Bingen with her  tablet to write while listening to the Divine Light  

 

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Colleen Keating at Disibodenberg where Hildegard lived for 38 years. (1112 -1150)

 

A Healing Colour

The none bell fills the air
for afternoon prayer. 
Richardis runs ahead with the sisters.
Hildegard in the new garden
adjacent to the monks gardens,
lingers a moment, cherishing the freedom.
Her basket filled.

She gazes around her 
sighs with joy.
Her smile can hardly be contained.
How she relishes these moments
to be lost in the loving, living Light.

Dappled, the sun textures 
trees and grasses,
with crunch of heaping leaves underfoot, 
a riot of russet and gold.

Affirmation comes on the breeze,
God hugs you.
You are encircled by the arms 
of the mystery of God.
Feast your eyes on the green
a thousands shades of green
a healing colour, let it heal you 
with its greening power rooted in the sun. 

This moment is my miracle
she murmurs,
as she hastens back to the convent.
Colleen Keating

 

 

VERIDITAS

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Photo of Veriditas  taken by Elizabeth Keating-Jones

I watched an aerial view of the destruction of forests and bush in Queensland recently, yes in 2018, we are still destroying forests here in Australia. I thought of the natural habitats, animals loosing their homes and the birds’ nests falling and the wildflowers and moss and tiny orchids now gone and the bare vulnerable earth left to be washed into erosion gullies and then the droughts, because the forest canopy has been destroyed and the earth no longer sustaining the people. And I thought how relevant are Hildegard of Bingen’s words from the 12th century across the ages to us today in this age of climate change and greed and with the loss of so much wilderness and natural habitats.

Hildegard has a word veriditas that was a touchstone of her spirituality. It is said to be coined from two words green and truth.
For Hildegard this was the greening power, the animating life force manifest in the natural world that infuses all creation with moisture and vitality.
She talks of the “exquisite greening of grass and trees,   of earth’s lush greening.
She says all of creation and humanity is “showered with greening refreshment, the vitality to bear fruit”

Clearly for Hildegard creativity and greening power are intimately connected.
To her, the divine was manifest in every leaf and blade of grass. Hildegard saw the manifestation of the Creator in every flower, every stone. For her creation revealed the face of the creator.

Hildegard celebrates the sacred in nature.

I am the breeze that nurtures all things green,
I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits.
I am the rain coming from the dew
that causes the grasses to laugh
with joy of life

For all of us who know and love Hildegard of Bingen,
let us be aware, awake and alert to bring lush greenness to the shrivelled and dried and wilted, to our earth and all its people. It only needs one more to sway the scales to change the critical mass of people who say,  leave our trees, our rivers, our forests, our air alone. This tiny blue sphere we live on is our home . . protect and love it.

Hildegard says,  we are here to cultivate the earthly and thereby create the heavenly. We do this in all of our creating . . . music, art, poetry, sculpture, bush walking, hobbies and culture.
The tragedy of drying up and ignoring the greening power is that nothing is created.

Colleen and Michael at Disibodenberg at Hildegard’s Kapelle

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Thomas a poem :Canterbury Cathedral

 

 

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Thomas Keating-Jones  . . . Poet

 

POEMS FROM OUR JOURNEY TO CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL

BY

THOMAS KEATING-JONES

 

 

 

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The Glimmering Windows

The windows are bright and colourful
You can make out the story
following the pictures that you find.

Details show the past is there.
The candles flicker
when you put in your prayer.

It is ready to keep it
and send it to God.

 

 

 

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The Prayer song

by

Thomas Keating-Jones

 

The people are singing,

the whole cathedral is filled
with beautiful music and prayers.

It stopped me .
My body could hear
the beautiful notes that they sing.

It caught my ear
and I started singing
without even knowing
that I was joining in

a prayer song.

 

 

 

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People have been coming on pilgrimages to Canterbury for centuries and today’ our adventure was a pilgrimage, well a drive and picnic to see Canterbury Cathedral with the family. It is of course famous for the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer and referenced by Charles Dickens and then Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot to name a few.

It is one of the oldest and most famous  Christian structures in England. Foundered in 597 AD  and rebuilt and blessed in 1070 AD. It was originaly a Benedictine monastic community. Its architecture is breath-taking.

A pivotal moment in its history was the murder of Thomas Becket,  Archbishop to Henry 2nd He received 4 stabs to the back by 4 knights of  the King,  just after dawn at the first Mass  of the day 29th December 1170,

 

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To continue my pilgrimage with Hildegard of Bingen and my continuing research for my book . . . It was in 1170 that Hildegard received word in Bingen of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket . She heard of his holiness and courage and his murder via artisans travelling for work. It energised her to rise up for one last missionary journey and travel to Cologne to lecture once more against greed and corruption and power of the Church.

Sound familiar ?

What’s changed?

Hildegard has given her life to make us listen and see. She was in her 70 ‘s and  her body was tired but she set out one last time to warn people to listen to the Light .  For me the Canterbury cloisters being around 12th century caught my attention because the cloisters of Hildegard’s Church were destroyed in the Thirty Year War in the 14th century and over the centuries little is left to imagine.

 

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Now I kneel at the altar where the murder took place and reflect on this sculpture of suffering above. The black metal fluted cross and the swords hanging from the wounds and shadowed on the wall behind is very compelling.

Below the altar in the paved stones is the word Thomas.

Today it is appropriate to have my grandson Thomas sitting on the paved stone near me with his fingers curving through the printed words  Thomas.

 

 

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We together light a candle and Thomas closes his eyes and prays. I didn’t try to eavesdrop his whispered mumbling, except his last words came louder  and thank you for the world . Amen “ 

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A Solitary Tomato Plant

“There was a pact between us . . .
not just to survive
we will thrive”

At the time of writing this poem I was struggling with a few life issues and being out in the sun , in the garden with the herbs and the birds I realised how wonderful it was to be alive and to be strong and I had a new feeling to live life to the fullest.

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a solitary tomato plant

feast your eyes on the green   a healing colour
said hildegard of bingen

let its thousand shades and dappled ways
imbue your eyes
give resilience

i carry her words into my garden
plant out chilli chives and coriander
zucchini lettuce of different kin and basil

and a solitary weedy tomato plant from the throw-out table
there’s a pact between us
not just to survive
we will thrive

i prepare the soil with extra blood-and-bone
gently plant it out settle it in
with stakes for it to climb
circle with sawdust to ward off those
that love to munch

under the sprinkler
its limp leaves uncurl
sit up so vibrantly
i hear it grow

in the garden I come alive
the soil
and its rich textured compost
feel good

I marvel
my scraps now this wonder
the worms
have worked their magic

a kookaburra sits above
a magpie stalks
turned soil their turn on

smell of sun-warmed grass
lightly so lightly wafts
i stand stretch watch a white butterfly hover

in shorts and sleeveless top
i enjoy the sun
resilient in my gardening boots and gloves
i manoeuvre the wheel-barrow
and we patiently wait to bloom