Much of the idea of monastic spirituality is particularly attentive to establishing a sense of sacred time(kairos) and sacred space (temenos). Both Julian and Hildegard spent over thirty years of their lives enclosed in anchorite cells attached to Benedictine monasteries that were established on top of older sites dedicated to Celtic monastic houses. As such, they inherited the idea that part of spiritual practice consists of tuning oneself to be in harmony with the Earth and its seasons. It is equally important to be in conversation with our spiritual ancestors.
Rhythm of the Heart The two mottos of Benedictine life are "Ora et Labora" and "Memento mori" . The first means "pray and work" , the twin pillars of this ancient form of spirituality. "Ora" first and foremost was the Divine Office, the eight intervals throughout the day when the chapel bells would ring to call the community to silence and song. The foundation of Benedictine prayer life was the chanting of all 150 psalms over the course of each week. The psalms are the very words that Jesus himself knew by heart ( his last words on the cross were quoting Psalm 22). These form the basis for the vast and magnificent repertoire of what we call Gregorian or Benedictine chant- a topic we will explore in depth in week 4.
Creating an Altar As we begin this class, I encourage you to dedicate a place for the work we will do together. If you can dedicate a room for this exploration, wonderful, If not, a corner of a room will do. If not a corner, than a table. If not a table, even a small portable cardboard box that can be a "moveable altar" or retablos will help give you a focus for contemplation. In the Celtic tradition, we can tune ourselves to the cosmos by seeking wholeness and fulfillment rather than "perfection". To that end, finding our place in the larger natural world is deeply grounding and healing. Hildegard stresses that the Symphony of Creation consists of the harmony of all natural things. To that end, consider how you might create an altar that includes elements of air, earth, fire, and water.
We will also consider the importance of the veneration of the ancestors- both physical and spiritual. For Hildegard, these consisted of the religious figures of her tradition, with particular attention to the "local saints" of her community at Rupertsburg. Who are your "saints"? Consider putting objects that belonged to them or pictures of them on your altar and rotating these with the seasons In my studio, I currently have icons of Hildegard and Julian, with rocks gathered from Iona and La Baume; candles blessed from Chartres, a scallop shell from the Camino Santiago Compostela, roses from my garden.
I actually have "altars" in every room of my house. I also have a "family altar" of photos of my grandparents, a statue sculpted by my father, my daughter's small dolls and books written by my aunt and mother. On top of my piano are books of Bach and Beethoven and pictures of my former piano students. In our bedroom, my beloved and I have made an altar of an Indonesian spirit house, a statue of Buddha, an enormous piece of jade and candles we light before our evening meditation. You might consider how can you make an "anchor" in every room of the house that evokes your connection to the spirit of things that matter most to you and remind you of who you are and where you came from.
Song of the Week: Caritas abundant Caritas abundat in omnia, de imis excellentissima super sidera, atque amantissima in omnia, quia summo regi osculum pacis dedit. Translation: Charity abounds toward all, most exalted from the depths above the stars, and most loving toward all, for she has given the High King the kiss of peace. Text by Hildegard von Bingen
Recommended Sources for Readings:
Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life and Revelations of Julian of Norwich, Veronica Mary Rolf
Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader, Carmen Acevedo Butcher
Rule of St. Benedict: Insight for the Ages, Joan Chittester