Thursday, April 10, 2003

Hildegard of Bingen rocks my world. I actually hate that expression, but in this case it's appropriate. I stare at the illustrations to her Scivias [or at least the copies of the illustration; the original survived into the twentieth century but was lost in the firebombing of Dresden] and feel literally shaken from the foundations of self. My emotion approaches Emily Dickinson's reaction towards the written word: "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."

In the illumination I am currently trying to comprehend, Hildegard depicts God as a circular flame in reds and oranges, with a blue flame in the center. The blue flame apparently represents Jesus, integrally part of the nature of God the Father. Don't ask me about the theological details; this is an Interfaith Nunnery and I'm Jewish.1 The part that really shook me, though, was the fact that the same flame, or half the circle, appears again at the bottom of the image. I think Hildegard is trying to manipulate time and show several moments in history simultaneously, but it's not what I expect to see... anyway, I am joyfully boggled. There are some kinds of confusion, like the one I am currently experiencing, which approach mystical experience. Hildegard obviously didn't need to approach mystical experience. She just lived there.

1Unfortunately my professor is going to ask me about the theological details. It's a Medieval Art and Theology course, after all. Why don't they ever mean Maimonides or Rashi when they say "Medieval Theology"? Or how about Muslim theologians? I'm sure there were Muslim theologians in the Middle Ages.


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