Editor's 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

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