Monthly Archives: February 2013

Hildegard Does Chick Lit

IMG-20120416-00928Lesson from Anita Heiss

I recently won, courtesy of the SA Writers Centre a place at an Anita Heiss writers workshop.

Anita is a stunning woman – a force of nature. I think she and Hildegard would have been very happy having a conversation in the garden chatting about all kinds of things – dispossession, power plays, what sets women’s hearts on fire and how to be influential in a whole range of media. After the workshop I wondered: What kind of chick lit would Hildegard have written?

A love affair in the cloister? A young novice falling for a visiting Bishop to fuel her ambition to become Abbess?
How about a visitor on retreat in the Convent who turns out to be the Pope and who falls in love with her?
Maybe she could write a crime novel where one of her recipes was used to poison an unwelcome visitor sent from Rome to close down the convent?

Hildegard was such a prolific writer and she certainly was full of feminine advice on everything from orgasms to property management.

It has got me thinking about either writing a chick lit novel in Hildegard’s voice or one set in her Abbey.

Here are a few early ideas – let me know what you think.

Our heroine Hildegard of Bingen receives a young and ambitious Gunther. Gunther is the youngest curate to come to the Abbey and he is keen to ensure the Abbess will not get in the way of his plans to be Bishop one day. He knows her poewre and influence throughout the Rhine and if he wants to get ahead he will need to have her respect but more than that access to the land and produce she rules over. Bon decides to ask the Abbess for her blessing to give instruction on the sacraments to the novices at the convent. Hildegard agrees but it must be under her tutelage and must begin with an 8 day silent retreat. Bon agrees and sees this as a wonderful opportunity to prove his worth. There are eight novices he will be instructing. On the first day of the retreat he begins with Mass and the reading of the day includes the Scripture When the bridegroom comes; As the novices come to receive communion from him one by one he looks into their eyes fairly and squarely and says Body of Christ; the fifth woman, unlike the four before her who close their eyes and put out their tongue to receive the holy and blessed bread, this one simply smiles and winks at him and then puts out her tongue – he is totally disarmed and for the remaining days and nights of the retreat his ambitions are challenged and the fifth novice quest to get Bon to question his vocation is set. The fifth novice is Gisela of Rudesheim – she is a force of nature. Strong, beautiful, dark hair and dark eyes – though you can’t see any hair through her wimple and veil, Gunther swears she leaves a single strand every day not completely tucked in – a most flirtaeous act. Gisela has no intention not to be a Bride of Christ, but she does fully intend to see just how far she can go before she takes her final vows and is resigned to the charity and silence of the walled village that is the convent on the Rhine. Gisela is the youngest of ten children, something she and Hildegard share, but unlike Hildegard she was not given to the church, she freely chose to join the convent – in fact against her parents wishes. Her family ran a boat business and took goods up and down the Rhine, she had six brothers and was the only girl to survive and while the family were guaranteed heirs and grandchildren, Gisela’s family were hoping she would be the one to look after them in their old age as the boys would not be able to do that. Gisela had no intention on waiting on any man, even if it was her father or brother, and even if it was a priest! She only wanted to serve the mission of her God to support Hildegard in her work and bring land justice to the valley. Every week young women like her were wanting to join the convent and she thought it would be fun to be independent from all earthly men. But when she winked at the young Father Gunther she knew that her choice of the cloister might be in trouble.

Would love to hear your thoughts …

One Billion Rising

It’s personal. It’s everybody’s business.

At the Abbeti

From the window of the Abbey in Rudesheim

I am one of the two in three women that have never experienced violence in their homes and I have a responsibility to support and speak up on behalf of my sisters. This week all around the world, women, children and men, danced their way to a new world of nonviolence – the goal was to have a billion rising.

As I got ready to go to my local event I was quite emotional thinking about who I was rising for – its personal. And the personal is political is the fundamental first principle of feminism.

As a social worker I counselled and supported many women and children who were choosing to say no to domestic violence and helped them on their way one way or another to a new start. I didn’t do this for very long and it was incidental to my main role and responsibilities at the time. But rising up wasn’t for professional reasons – it was personal.

I was rising up with two women in mind.

For Maxie and Mavis (names changed) – two very different women from two very different worlds.

Maxie: in her 30s, user of drugs and alcohol, mother of two young boys, friends in motorcycle gangs and friends in prison, lived in suburb with highest unemployment rate and in public housing. Literacy rate of a ten year old. Honest, hardworking and loved her kids.
Mavis: in her 40s, glass of wine at Christmas, devout Christian, mother of three teenagers, friends in the church choir and clergy. Lived in a suburb and indeed same street as the highest elected official, home owner and employed. Honest, hardworking and loved her kids.
Both victims of domestic violence.
One turned up in a women’s shelter one didn’t.
One was stalked by her ex and murdered in front of her children – lured to the site of her death by her own child maliciously used by his father.
One is happily re-married and living on the edge of a beautiful national park.

I knew them both. One was the mother of a young friend in a youth group I supported, the other was an employee of a shelter where I was on the Board of Directors.

When I heard the news that Maxie was dead, I was in my car taking one of my children to school.
I helped Mavis move out of her home and packed up her kitchen – all the pots and pans – leaving one or two for the man remaining behind – she didn’t want to leave him with nothing to cook in.

I have never experienced violence in any home I have lived in. I have always been respected and protected.

On the street, outside of the security of my home, I have had a knife pulled on me as a teenager at dance; a gun held to me while doing a home visit as a social worker; driven past unexploded land mines in a war zone and been subjected to verbal and physical abuse for speaking my truth about injustices I’ve seen around me. I witnessed one of my daughters being assaulted on public transport.

I don’t like the words domestic and violence being put together. Violence is violence and there should be no distinction. If you get attacked in your home or in the pub – it shouldn’t be any different – violence is violence. Violence is not domesticated because it happens in the home!

Maxie was killed on the street, in a shopping centre car park. It was reported as domestic violence and her death was recorded and reported in that way. If it had been an outlaw motor cycle gang member killed in front of the same shops it would have been a very different story on the news that night.

In your time Hildegard, women flocked to your convent – leaving the land, their families and their lives to join you. I wonder how many of them were also leaving behind violence and taking up with you as their ‘no’ , their rising? I remember reading once that Clare of Assisi had attracted over 10,000 women to her order in the first 10 years – can you imagine what kind of impact that would have made at the time (early 1200s)? I can’t help thinking that the women joining together in this act of solidarity was their rising up, to say no to the patriarchy around them, to choose a life that was defined not by their relationship to their father, husband or brothers, but to their relationship to other women and their God. Unlike Clare, you Hildegard were a property owner and used your power to redistribute the wealth and for land reform. Your genius was honoured by B16 when he made you a saint – I find this link between you both quite amazing now given the turn of events. He has used your example in his letters and sermons as someone who challenged the church to turn away from the abuses it was experiencing at the time.

The redistribution of wealth is happening now too, and as the church bleeds from the violence of abuse compensation is transferring to those who have been the victims and are now the survivors of that abuse. For me their bodies are the Body of Christ and through the unholy acts, their witness to call the church to account is no less prophetic as the acts you took dear Hildegard.

They are rising and in their rising, they are helping to purge the Church. This too is not domestic. It is personal and it is political … and for me it is spiritual too.


Vacancy at the Vatican

Dear Hildegard,

A+lightning+strikes+St+Peter's+dome+at+the+Vatican+on+February+11I am sure you would have something to say about B16 resigning. You certainly weren’t shy about coming forward with you advice to the Bishop of Rome in your day.  I am pretty confident you would be pleased that B16 had enough presence of mind to call it a day and make way for the next generation; I also think you would be willing to concede that if he didn’t feel up to the job anymore he was entitled to a rest; and maybe you might have thought your prayers were being answered.

Now there is a vacancy at the Vatican and the job description is well known. The signs of the times are less clear, for many it is the Dark Ages. The sex scandals and conservatism of Rome have left many of the faithful finding their homes outside of the Roman church. The divisions may not be able to be healed in this generation or the next.  Listening and watching to the social media is both entertaining and disturbing in equal measure. This is a time of great vulnerability and in a way B16 has modelled what it means to be vulnerable by saying “I’m not up to the job” and courageous stepping down. The mark of this papacy will be this resignation – B16 has set a precedent and in doing so is able to make the path easier for the next person – and that is the mark of a leader.  I can’t believe I am saying that as I have been no fan of the person I generally refer to as “the German Shepherd” – but I do feel the need to give credit where credit is due.  The cynic in me says he resignation must be for political reasons and the coverups of pedophilia may just be waiting in the wings and B16 might have been held to account like any CEO for the sinfulness of his brother priests.  We will wait and see on that front.  I hope I am wrong.

What does this act tells us about what it means to vacate something that you love?  I can only imagine that B16 made this decision as a result of his own prayer and discernment, and made it in consolation. I wonder who his spiritual director is and what piece of scripture he mediated on to come to this decision?  Having been someone who has just left a job they loved and not able to retreat into retirement to write and research as B16 will do; I am intrigued about the process he would have employed to get to this historic decision.  The relationship between this personal act and the political consequences also fascinate me. As a feminist I hold the belief that the personal is political and when I filter B16’s actions with this principle I come to a few conclusions:

– resigning is one way of leaving a job and sending a message to your peers and community

– saying enough is enough is an act of vulnerability and courage

– when you take the action to withdraw your labour it may be the only action you can take as all other avenues have been exhausted

There is a part of me that wonders if the corruption and puppetry that even B16 was subjected to, meant he could no longer hold his own integrity in place …. could that be possible?

Whatever the reasons, it is truly between himself and his God.  Having resigned from a job not so long ago I know that the reasons are often complex and multi-layered and sometimes you just have to get home.  Dorothy was able to click her heels to get back to Kansas – but if you’re the Pope resignation is preferable to going out boots first.

Study in Blue

Hildegard Man in Sapphire Blue

I decided to mediate on one of Hildegard’s illuminations this week and see what she had to tell me. I chose the Man in Sapphire Blue. When I looked at it, I was reminded of finger stitching we all learnt as youngsters and created on the top of cotton reels with a square of four little tacks or nails. Do you remember creating one? Then winding it round and round into a circle?

In this image the weave surrounds the Man in Sapphire Blue and has one entrance and exit. Matthew Fox invites us to notice “the aperture at the man’s head, so that this powerful healing energy can leave his own field and mix with others – and vice versa” (Fox, M Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, 1985 p.23). The energy we have to heal and to receive to be healed can seem to seep into and out of us if we allow ourselves to receive that energy and let it soak in. The outer concentric circles remind me of two things – the planets pathways circling around the sun and ripples on a pool when a stone in thrown in. Both these images require something solid and steady and energised at the centre and here she has the Man in Sapphire Blue holding that space.

I have held the Man in Sapphire Blue at the centre of my meditation, and considered what healing energy might ooze out to me this week. Interestingly I was surprised that the focus I drew was on the little (and big) prejudices I hold and how I allow them to be reinforced. When I hear about the tragedies of shootings in USA, it reinforces my attitudes to the US as gun toting, war mongers who don’t appreciate their place in the geo-political realities of being a super power. When I hear someone shouting at their children in the shopping mall I wonder how long it will be before child protection services will need to be called in. When I see a man being extra helpful and kind to a woman I am suspicious of his motives. All irrational and illogical connections, but ones built on some flimsy facts and experiences.

As this has been a Study in Blue, I also was drawn back of a song of Sinead O’Connor’s: We People are Darker than Blue and with the choir and a mixture of musical styles yearns for the end of prejudice, segregation and separation.

Divisions are big and small – from the Gaza strip to the internal conflict between our false and true selves. It seems to me that there are big and small prejudices just below the surface for those of us who think we may be above them. None of us are really exempt from the virus of division, and it is an act of constant vigilance to keep above it all. There are many times however where I hang on to my prejudices and they even serve to protect me – but isn’t that the lesson? To learn to be vulnerable in spite of our differences?

Hildegard’s Man in Sapphire Blue seems to be reaching out with outstretched hands as if to channel a blessing for equanimity to me – surely the antidote to division.

I wrote this little Blessing for Equanimity in the genre of Blessings shared by John O’Donohue.

Blessing For Equanimity
As the dawn breaks and your head aches
May you be blessed with a still mind

As the morning opens to the day
May you put down divisions and look for synergies

As the sun reaches its height
May you call on your higher self

As vespers arrives and unfinished business haunts
May you gratefully gather up the remains of the day

As evening comes and you toss and turn
May you be rested and refreshed by a deep sleep

As the darkness settles in
May you be filled with starlight.

And may the Man in Sapphire Blue
Bless you with equanimity.
(c) M Deslandes, 2013

Walking, Running and Standing Still

Last week I was fortunate to be amongst some wonderful souls playing and improvising. It was good food for the body and the spirit! One of the exercises was the simple task of walking, running and standing still – surely the best metaphor for what it means to be human and to be in community and to be with yourself! I have been reflecting on this all week and taking time to run, walk and stand still and to notice when it happens naturally – like at the traffic lights or a pedestrian crossing or to get out of the rain or to catch the bus. There is a lot of walking, running and standing still in everyday life. When I am walking alongside people in the street or standing next to them while waiting to cross the road I am noticing our common quest to get to where we want to go.

In politics this week, we’ve seen some running, walking and standing still as well. When I was a candidate for election I asked people not to say I was “standing” for parliament, but rather I was “running” for parliament, because it never felt like standing! I love the fact that “to run” is an irregular verb and means that both legs have to leave the ground. So it isn’t really even related to standing, as to stand means to take an upright position or to come to stop (as well as a whole host of other meanings). And just to be fair; to walk is all about travelling, advancing at a moderate pace. These are all good advices about how to go about the day – walking, running and standing still.

I am impressed that running and walking can be done backwards or forwards (or towards or away) while standing has such a solid and sensible feel to it. In reflecting on the qualities of standing I have come to view that standing is both an act of vulnerability and courage. Ever the activist, prophet, mystic, you Hildegard have mastery over running, walking and standing still. You say: “Resist strongly. Become a tree. Just as the soul is in the body, the sap is in a tree, the soul passes through the body just like a sap through a tree (Fox,M Book of Divine Works, p275). In the stubbornness of standing still, in the flight of running and in the steady steps of walking there is a lot to offer and learn from these simple movements.