Last night St. Hildegard of Bingen visited Calvin College. She sang, accompanied by a plucked psaltery, or by a handheld harp, or by a fancy wooden box that she cranked to create an otherworldly drone. She told us that she was worried about people of our time, and she had come back to remind us to seek the Living Light and honor the unity of life. Apparently, the Calvin Women’s Chorale knew she was coming, as they had prepared several of Hildegard’s plainsong Latin compositions. They stood surrounding the gathered crowd, these beautiful young women in long black dresses, and their pure voices transformed the recital hall into a medieval abbey church. I felt myself settling, after a long week, into the poignant, flowing serenity of modal music.
St. Hildegard seemed in a chipper mood, perhaps because she’s been dead now for 833 years, and thus has had plenty of time to rest up. Or perhaps she was feeling triumphant because she has recently been canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church—well deserved and overdue for this extraordinary visionary. During her life, she was a beloved abbess, a composer, an expert healer, and a writer and illustrator of her visions. She is admired now both for her loyalty to the church and her insistent challenges to reform it—not an easy balance to achieve, as we all know.
From: The Twelve