Introductory Note:

As we enter the Lenten season this Ash Wednesday, we come with hearts needing to be searched and spirits needing to be healed. No better time for a bracing call to holiness and confession from medieval abbess, Christian mystic, and composer, Hildegard of Bingen.

From the introduction to her entry in Spiritual Classics:

Hildegard wrote many letters to clergy and members of religious communities, but she was also concerned with laypeople. In the selection that follows, Letter 36,” which appears in Book of Divine Works, a collection of her writings, she writes as though God were speaking and directs her thoughts to the spiritual growth of Christian laypeople.

May your walk this Lent be a holy and blessed time of reflection and repentance. 

—Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

Dear Christian Laypeople 

All of you people who were born and cleansed through God’s wisdom, hear what I, the radiant light and Creator of all of you, have to say to you. You were planted in My heart at daybreak on the first day of creation. When I created the first human being, I made him a touchstone of what the Devil mocked. In other words, I gave him the commandment the Devil through his evil nature had disregarded. But evil does not correspond to My nature, for I am the good in all its fullness, power, and penetrating clarity. 

Why do you forget? 

But you, O people, do not know what you say. The crafty traitor has sneaked up behind you so that he can teach you the opposite of what I command. When I gave you the commandment, I did not prescribe that you carry on indecently with adultery, murder, theft, and imprisonment. It was also not My intention that you throw someone in prison whom you did not create. Rather I commanded that you should increase through having offspring in the lawful institution of marriage and not in mere lust. I also specified that you should possess the Earth by building it up through your work, with fruit and wine and everything needful for life. And this is why you must adhere to my commandment and not discard it. For I specified that you love your children in an environment of lawful love and not in the poisonous atmosphere of adultery. But you act as though you are at liberty to do whatever you want and to carry out whatever evil purpose you can complete. But why do you cast off the cohesive structure of law by saying: The regulation that we restrain ourselves and exercise discipline — as though we were angels — does not apply to us. For life in the world does not allow us to be heavenly. Then, too, our children and our farmlands, our sheep and our cattle and all the rest of our livestock and all our possessions make this kind of attitude impossible.” It is God who has given us all of these things. Why do you forget the One who has created you and given you everything? When God gives you what is necessary, God does it in such a way that sometimes allows you certain things and sometimes does not.

You are like my servants 

But you say: It is not our job to live a good, disciplined life. That is the business of priests and those who are in religious communities.” Since you are not concerned about these things, there is something which is important for you to hear: More than all these clergy, you are bound as God has commanded, to live in that way which was declared to you. For those who live in the religious state do not carry those legal responsibilities incumbent on you. And thus they are free, because the binding character of the commandment, that was established in a special way for you, is not applicable to them. But they embrace Me with the kiss of love when for My sake they leave the world and by climbing the mountain of holiness become My beloved children. But through the binding character of the Law which is especially placed on you, you are like My servants. Thus you must understand Me and obey your law, so that when the Lord comes your conscience cannot accuse you of having thrown off God’s commands. For the guiltless Lamb of God embraced you with great love when because of your sins God allowed the Divine Son to be placed in the winepress of the Cross. 

Remember your loving Creator 

O beloved sons and daughters, remember your loving Creator who redeemed you from all the wounds of your burdens and cleansed you in the blood of the beloved Son from the worst of all sins, murder. Woe to this evil that Cain committed through his shameful rage, the companion of death. For that same end adheres to you as well, that the disintegration of your bodies is accompanied by great pain. That was Abel’s experience in his sufferings when his bodily life ended in pain through that first murder, because his brother Cain in that sinful fratricide forced Abel’s soul, before its time, to forsake the tent of its body.

Now may there be salvation and redemption in the blood of My beloved Son for all those who because of their sins have decided to run on the path of true repentance.

Encouragement for those who bend and fall

One last note of encouragement from Hildegard, perhaps the first identified female composer of sacred music, on letting our Lenten repentance be tempered by song:

Don’t let yourself forget that God’s grace rewards not only those who never slip, but also those who bend and fall. So sing! The song of rejoicing softens hard hearts. It makes tears of godly sorrow flow from them. Singing summons the Holy Spirit. Happy praises offered in simplicity and love lead the faithful to complete harmony, without discord. 
Don’t stop singing.

—Hildegard, Scivias