Celebrating the Feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen: September 17

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There are many ideas for celebrating the life of St. Hildegard of Bingen in this post. Her feast is on September 17th but I encourage not to worry about “missing” the date if you’d like to celebrate…simply choose a day in the month when something works for your family. Feasts are for living, not for box-checking! Let’s enjoy. Saint Hildegard, ora pro nobis!

But first, it is important to clear up some misinformation about this dynamic woman of God to avoid being misled by enemies of the Church…

For the majority of my Catholic life, I intentionally avoided St. Hildegard. I had come to associate her with the many New Age practitioners, wiccans, and dissident Catholic nuns who like to claim her as their own. I had lived in that sphere and I didn’t want to go back.

She doesn’t belong to them, of course, and she never ascribed to their heretical and spiritually deviant ways. But because her writings are not as accessible as other saints and her ways a bit uncommon, they have been more easily co-opted and distorted by people with an agenda.

I once brought a St. Hildegard peg doll to a peg doll exchange. One astute woman there asked me why I had chosen Hildegard…and I knew why she was asking. Because generally, it’s not the faithful Catholic women who bring Hildegard to the party.

I assured her that I wasn’t in line with the dissidents and their fiction…

Those distortions are bunk and should be thrown away like the garbage they are. Most of the information readily available in books and online is unreliable. Many translations are done by those with an agenda. Not every quote on the internet is hers. Not every quote that is hers is properly translated. Not every work is interpreted with her faithful Catholic vision. Her letters should be read with caution since some have been proven to be false. In fact, I give you warning ahead of time if you go looking, you will find a lot of false information and should be extremely discerning of what you choose.

So why did I bring Hildegard to the party?

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Hildegard was a deep ocean, full of life and fire, music, wildcraft, salves, painting, visions, poetry, theology, and prayer. She was an Abbess, an artist, a preacher, mystic, healer, composer, polymath, and Doctor of the Church. She loved the earth and saw that “God has arranged all things in the world in consideration of everything else.” She challenged the corruption in the Church around her and raised her voice against it while demanding fidelity from her shepherds. She was not tame…

But she was obedient. To the Church and to Christ. If you see information which varies from that…you will know it isn’t true. She did cause her convent to be placed under interdict but it was ultimately lifted when she was found to have been falsely treated by the bishop. The feminists love to use this as a weapon against patriarchy and proof of her defiance, but the opposite is true…

She obeyed the interdict but also fought to have it removed. She loved the Church and the priesthood even when she was treated unjustly. She served truth.

She was NOT an ecofeminist, a proponent of “global humanism,” a witch, an earth-worshipper, a gnostic or a goddess.

She was, in fact a contemplative cloistered nun living under the Rule of St. Benedict which she loved. Within the Catholic faith, there is room for a creative fire like Hildegard. And the silence and prayer which formed her for many decades, became the school in which her soul burned with passion and flourished with productivity.

To listen to the voices of dissent in the Church who want to remake her into their own, you’d think she was as defiant against orthodoxy as they. If you present them with the facts so prevalent in her writings, they will dismiss those facts by saying that she was a product of her times and didn’t fully realize her own enslavement.

How disrespectful. How dull. How wrong.

She once preached to an Archbishop saying: “The tower is assigned to you. Protect the tower and cause the whole city not to be ruined and destroyed. So watch out, keep the discipline with an iron scepter and educate yourself. Grease the wounds of those who have entrusted themselves to you.”

She was hardly the dissenting radical she has been portrayed to be. But she was radical in her own way. Aren’t all mystics? All saints?

She was made for her time and for ours. She raised her voice passionately against the clerical abuses of power and money and perversion. She did not give bad leaders permission to follow their own path into sexual or spiritual confusion…she spoke vehemently, exhorting religious men and women alike to return to purity, grace, and zeal for the Lord.

Quite the opposite of of a progressive modernist, she fought vehemently for a return to truth and fidelity to the faith.

And frankly, she does come across as a bit unusual.

She embraced the natural world, recognizing God’s Presence in every cell of creation. She expressed that passionately, in a way that modernity often finds uncomfortable. But if only the hearts within the Body of Christ would burn with such passion! We would see that God has neglected nothing in His care for us. And perhaps we would sing like Hildegard.

In celebration of her life and with a fervent prayer for the renewal of the Church, I put together a list of ways we can celebrate with our families. Let us rejoice with St. Hildegard, Doctor of the Church and handmaid of Christ.

Let’s celebrate!



IDEAS FOR CELEBRATING THE FEAST DAY

First, look up the beautiful compositions of St. Hildegard and flood your home with her music. Learn more about her life HERE. Then consider one or more of the following…


HILDEGARD’S COOKIES

“Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves, and pulverize them. Then make small cakes with this and fine whole wheat flour and water. Eat them often. It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your hear and impaired senses, and make your mind cheerful.” (Physica, Hildegard von Bingen)

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Obviously this loose recipe quoted above leaves the modern reader with a bit of room for interpretation! Many of the adapted recipes on the internet add sugar and butter to balance the bitterness (and appeal to tastes formed by Oreos). When I made them, I did not…but I added honey to stay closer to the original purpose of bodily health. I also replaced the wheat (or spelt) with almond flour, which Hildegard wrote would give strength. (Both wheat and spelt have gluten which won’t fly with a healing celiac.)

The cracker/cookie was still somewhat bland but I like that it does indeed promote good health through the beneficial chemistry of the spices and nourishing ingredients. And definitely doesn’t trigger a cascade of sweet cravings! Interestingly, it comes remarkably close to the first “sweets” I was able to eat when first beginning my healing journey.

You can try your hand at adapting your own recipe from Hildegard’s instructions or go for a more dessert-like cookie like this one HERE. I also found this recipe HERE to be much closer to Hildegard’s original (plus brown sugar) but you have to convert the grams (I know, Americans, this is tough…but at least we have online converters now!).


HILDEGARD PRINTABLE

Print this St. Hildegard quote and draw, color, paint, or paper piece images of God’s creation:
ST. HILDEGARD QUOTE PRINTABLES

And please tag me on Instagram if you would like to post your finished piece! I would love to see them all. Here are some that my family made…

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NATURE HIKE

Go for a hike and collect and identify plants, rocks, scat, anything (I don’t mean that you should collect the scat unless you really want to…we won’t be doing that. lol) There are so many fun (and free) nature journals for the kids to take along. And great books (like these Fun With Nature guides) which are really helpful for helping to identifying and record findings.

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GATHER AND DECORATE WITH HERBS

Gather a bunch of fresh herbs to decorate the table then use them in your meal. Hildegard studied the earth and it’s plants and elements, giving glory to God for his abundant treasures and their beneficial properties.

Display dried blessed herbs from the Feast of the Assumption if you had them blessed. Or find local sources to dry, display, and use. (See our Assumption herbs below)


MAKE ELDERBERRY SYRUP

Hildegard used the gifts of God’s creation to make healing food and remedies. Make a batch of elderberry syrup to prepare for the sniffle season. September is the perfect time! Freeze using a silicon form for individual servings or just use an ice cube tray. Then store in freezer bags.

I adapt this basic recipe (which is delicious, by the way!), adding additional essential oils, herbs, or astralagus root depending on what I have on hand or the level of immune oomph I’m looking for.

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PRAY

  • Pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet for the priests, bishops, cardinals, and religious men and women who have lost their faith or are causing scandal. St. Hildegard received permission to leave her cloister later in life so that she could travel and preach repentance to the corrupt clerics of her time…and also to exhort others to fervent fidelity to Christ and His Church.

  • Pray a Rosary in imitation of Hildegard’s deep love for Blessed Mother.

  • Spend time in silent contemplation after reading Scripture. Do this outside if you can!


STUDY

  • Read the Apostolic Letter proclaiming St. Hildegard a Doctor of the Church (JPII 10/7/12)

  • Look up the Rule of St. Benedict to see how St. Hildegard lived. Inexpensive book and kindle options HERE. I did not find a reliable translation at our public library but I did find free PDF’s online.

  • As I mentioned, there are many translations and books about St. Hildegard of Bingen which are unreliable and tainted by agenda. But I was pleased to discover the recent publication of Hildegard’s Book of Divine Works (Liber divinorum operum). It is considered her magnum opus and is a meditation on a mystical experience of the Gospel of St. John. I wouldn’t call it light reading, but it does provide insight into a soul on fire for God and has inspired me to expand my eye for His goodness. I am no mystic and do not pretend to understand the sometimes unusual expression of her vision. Pretending to understand her fully would be false…but I can weakly imitate her fearlessness in prayer and the surrender of her vision to Christ.

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PLAY

Let your little ones delight in this little St. Hildegard doll from Shining Light Dolls. Paint a peg doll. Have a woodland adventure. And follow me on Instagram this week and enter to win one of my hand painted peg dolls! Above all…delight in life and give thanks with your family for the goodness of creation, designed by God for His beloved children. He considered us in everything.

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A Catholic Perspective on Essential Oils (A Skeptic Confesses)

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The first time I heard a friend talking about essential oils I confess that I pretty much tuned her out. She might as well have told me that she was using crystals to heal her broken aura while burning sage smudge sticks for the shaman. My head nodded politely but I was probably thinking about dinner... or wallpaper... or something.

My dear cherished friend... I am very sorry.

Up to that point, my experience with "natural" healing came primarily from my familiarity with New Age enthusiasts who made up the majority of the stereotypical alternative medicine crowd that I knew. And when I walked away from that environment to embrace my Catholic faith, I walked away from everything that I associated with them. Take your patchouli incense and yoga and go find your reincarnated Buddha... I want none of it!

I needed that distance at the time. I needed the clarity. But ultimately, I discovered that in multiple respects, I had thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. 

Does that mean that I embrace all of the accessories of the New Age natural healing movement? No...

I'm saying that the natural world belonged to God first... And that I am seeing things rightly ordered for the first time. If something is good, true, and beautiful, it isn't freaky or nutty... It's wholesome and designed to support us in our vocation in the service of God.

Yes, I threw out the crystals, the spiritual yoga, and the Buddha. But there have been a few things that I have reclaimed as a Christ-follower, understanding with a clearer vision that their goodness is a gift. 

One of those gifts is essential oils.

THE SKEPTIC

I am a skeptic. A questioner. I also have baggage that exacerbates that tendency when it comes to the healing arts. So coming to terms with essential oils has been a mountain climb. Here is what finally convinced me...

THE SCIENCE

We know experientially that the natural world provides real solutions to illness and disease. We love the smells of nature and buy the products that feature them. We walk in beautiful places because we instinctively know that it is good for mind, body, and soul. We breathe it in, feel it on our skin, and bring it into our homes. We slather stuff all over our bodies until we smell like walking orchards and flower gardens.

Whole industries have grown out of our desire to be smelly like things that grow from the earth and to heal our bodies with the same. We crave it. We literally salivate over the smell of cookies. We boil cinnamon and cloves to feel festive and happy. 

What we also know is that the data supports our intuition...

Oregano, for example, has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties which can be demonstrated in a lab. We know also from clinical studies that frankincense oil has the ability to penetrate the blood/brain barrier and has a supportive impact on cellular health. Orange oil has anti-inflammatory properties and acts as a kind of anti-depressant by stimulating the senses. What we forget, however, is that these benefits aren't restricted to a scientific lab... but available to anyone with access to these potent plant compounds.

WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?

Pure essential oils are simply distilled plant compounds; potent, concentrated, and straight from God's creation. Their molecular structure allows them unique access to our bodies at a cellular level. There's nothing freaky, nutty, or unexpected about that. God's intelligence and benevolence is made manifest throughout all of creation. 

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

For those who have followed my journey through sickness and health, you know how seriously I have had to take this discussion. Out of real necessity, I have looked beyond traditional medicine for help and found it through nutrition, movement, and environmental changes. One of those changes has been the use of essential oils. 

Remember... I'm a skeptic. I don't throw plant compounds on my body or into my environment without tons of research and when I use them, I use with care. But I can't deny it...

My body responds to essential oils. 

God is good. He loves us. He provides for us. He gave us amazing, beautiful bodies, the materials of the earth to serve those bodies, and the intelligence to use them. That applies to natural as well as traditional medicine. They both have a place. 

(Even patchouli has a place, by the way. But if you're ever tempted to buy it for me... just... don't. My sensory memory will throw an ugly fit.)

THE CATHOLIC SIDE

The natural world belongs to God. He is master of all creation and just because non-believers use a plant or move their bodies in a non-sacred way, does not make them master over those things.

Catholicism, more than any other religion, recognizes the beautiful integration of mind, body, and soul. We are charged with the care of our bodies and the earth and it is entirely consistent with who we are as Christians to recognize the gifts inherent in the created world. 

The Church herself uses oils. At the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, her bishops bless them for use throughout the year. They fill our sensory memories, carry symbolic significance, and are used as sacramentals. After our babies are baptized, we breathe in the balsam that was touched to them and regret that we ever have to wash it away! Frankincense has long been used in liturgical celebrations and was even given to Our Blessed Lord as an earthly gift, and was considered at the time to be a medicinal treasure.

We do not worship the created over the Creator... but neither can we wholly remove the gift from the Giver. 

INTELLIGENT USE

Essential oils are potent. I would never advise using them without proper knowledge and care. It's not complicated but does take a certain amount of awareness. Like any tool, they can be misused. I dilute my oils so that they are safe enough even for the kids in my family. I research and keep charts on hand to make sure that I'm using each unique oil in the proper way.  

I was probably more surprised than anyone when my interest led me to earn my certification as an aromatherapist. And what I found through that training is what I had already learned through my own experience: that essential oils are an affordable, safe, and effective health care option.

AT THE END OF THE DAY...

... you don't have to use essential oils to be a whole and healthy Catholic person. They are simply another tool in the wellness tool box. Your use or non-use doesn't divide us. Using them doesn't put you in a particular camp of health nuts or crunchy Catholics. Nor does not using them make you less a good steward of your body. But...

It is good to know that there is nothing inconsistent about natural health options and a strong life of faith. God's creation is magnificent. Thanks be to God!


WHY I SHARE

Two reasons... and I'm going to be completely transparent...

  1. I can't NOT share. Just like with the rest of my health journey, I feel compelled to reach out to others with my story of renewal and healing. It drives me past my shallow concern over what people will think. But I will say it a million times more if it reaches just one person:

    When I was 35, I sincerely thought I was going to be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40. I was that sick. I am now 41 and nowhere near that wheelchair. Doctors couldn't help me. But I changed my diet, my lifestyle, my environment... and God gave me new life with which to serve.

    I want that for other people. So many are suffering. Maybe someone out there will benefit from my story.

  2. I did a lot of research before choosing a company. And truthfully, I left one popular essential oil company because I was not happy with the integrity of the leadership or the quality of the oils. It was uncomfortable. But my first priority is to my God, my vocation, my family, my health... not to a company or to my friends. Since I have to purchase from somewhere, I still had to find a source... and I did choose one that seemed more in line with my priorities than the others. I have decided that I can stand behind these essential oils enough to become a Wellness Advocate with doTERRA. That means that I get to bless my family by doing what I would already be doing: Sharing wellness.

So many of us are sick, hurting, exhausted, seeking joy amidst the physical struggle, and having a hard time staying afloat. Essential oils are not a magic cure... but they can be another means of supporting our amazing bodies. God is good.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

If you are interested in learning more, just contact me HERE or start at the link below... "Why Essential Oils?" 

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