Monday, September 15, 2014

Mysticism Unveiled: The Gentle Heart of Hildegard of Bingen

By Megan Hoyt

Our guest poster today is Megan Hoyt, a longtime Ambleside Online user and the author of Hildegard's Gift (see details below).  Hildegard of Bingen is the AO composer for this term.

When I first began reading about the early life of Hildegard of Bingen, twelfth century composer, artist, herbalist, visionary, and lover of God, I really began to identify with this mysterious, solitary child. Like other good Catholics of the Middle Ages, her parents sent her away to live as an anchoress in total isolation at an early age. As their tenth child, they considered her a “tithe to the church,” which seems like a beautiful and godly idea unless you are the frightened little girl being sent away.

I was a frightened little girl, too – I was almost scared of my own shadow for most of my childhood and constantly worried about the social norms of school life, which seemed so elusive to me. I was mystical, too, in the sense that I genuinely “felt” connected to God when I worshipped at church. Unlike my peers, I cried while singing anthems in children’s choir. Christmas and Easter services? I sobbed through them. My parents called me sensitive. My Aunt Gretchen said I was one of God’s special ones. Looking back, I now wonder if I had a form of clinical depression.

Perhaps that’s why I so strongly identified with young Hildegard’s first teetering steps into the cell where she would spend years of her life, praying alone. I could definitely see myself being happy in isolation like Hildegard. And that is the duty of an anchoress, in case you didn’t know – they must live a secluded life as cloistered nuns. I wonder. Did Hildegard WANT to join the convent at Disibodenberg? She was only eight years old, after all. Did she agree with her parents’ decision? She certainly embraced her new life. And the world is better for it. But where does our genuine responsibility for accepting the advice of our parents end? Where does it begin? I really don’t have any idea. It’s a new thought for me – do we have choices when we’re very young? Do we get to decide to love God or are we simply expected to? See, I told you I was mystical. I could sit and ponder these things all day and never accomplish anything else.

Hildegard was already experiencing brilliant visions by the time she was sequestered with only one fellow nun, Jutta, nearby. She was unable to write her visions down without the assistance of a scribe, but it was clear early that she was a gifted young woman with big ideas that she insisted came directly from God. Here are a few things God was saying to her:

The fire has its flame and praises God.
The wind blows the flame and praises God.
In the voice we hear the word which praises God.
And the word, when heard, praises God.
So all of creation is a song of praise to God.

God hugs you.
You are encircled by the arms
of the mystery of God.

Good People,
most royal greening verdancy,
rooted in the sun,
you shine with radiant light.

I have read two or three of Hildegard’s books now and even written one of my own about her, Hildegard’s Gift, available through Paraclete Press. The more I read, the more I love this little girl with a giant heart. She seems so intimately acquainted with God and so firm in her convictions about how we should live. Reading even a few excerpted quotes from her chant music refreshes my soul and gives me fresh hope for the future. Taking time to contemplate, to brood, to rest in the presence of our Lord is so important and also richly rewarding in this fragmented, hurry along culture of ours.

The child Hildegard grew up, of course, as we all must. Her adult years were spent as an Abbess, leading others, writing letters of conviction and encouragement to popes, bishops, and princes. She was a strong woman with the courage to confront those living in sin. She also wrote plays, operettas, and listened for God’s whispered design for herbal remedies. Here are a few of her thoughts. They may seem a little silly now, but when she wrote them, there was no medical care, no medicine at all really.

The head of a catfish should never be eaten—it lacks viriditas (greening power) and will cause headaches and fevers.

Spelt rectifies the flesh, produces proper blood, and creates a happy mind and a joyful human disposition.

The wood and leaves of the nutmeg tree are harmful, but nutmeg itself gives a person a positive disposition and calms bitterness of the heart and mind. (Physica, p. 21)

Hildegard was a remarkable and complex woman with many talents, but she considered herself merely “a feather on the breath of God.” May we all trust God so much that we float on the wind of the Spirit, on the very breath of our sustaining God.

Megan Hoyt is a veteran writer with credits in television and print. Her children’s book, Hildegard’s Gift, illustrated by David Hill, was released by Paraclete Press in 2014. Recipes, a secret alphabet, and coloring sheets are all available at her website. For the Orthodox and Catholic among us, Hildegard’s Feast Day is September 17.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From The Parents' Review: Only these days we do it on a phone?

"We see it in the smaller details of life. A man reads a paper while crossing a crowded thoroughfare. His forebrain is in full attention on the newspaper. He takes no heed of the traffic. But his sub-consciousness guides him. That is, his sight centre and ear centre announce the approach of a vehicle, and without telegraphing to the forebrain for directions, wire on to the walking centre on which side to move. This shows that a large amount of information and knowledge is acquired by the brain, and stored up there to be used in a quiet fashion, without always rousing the full intellectual activities. One can see what a saving of brain work there must be if the brain can act automatically, or sub-consciously, without calling on the forebrain for its aid."  --  "The Brain in Relation to Education Part 2," by A. Wilson, Esq., M.D., in The Parents' Review, Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 435-450

From The Parents' Review: Icky Bugs

 "Now, I labour under one great disadvantage in my present subject, namely, the prejudice which exists in the minds of some against beetles, nay, the very mention of the name produces in them a feeling of creepiness and horror. "What! collect beetles, cockroaches, and earwigs! ugh!" and, perhaps, some fair reader wrings her hands with dismay. She considers those ugly black beetles only fit to be trodden upon. Now, if I had time, I would set up a brief on behalf of these greatly maligned insects, which, I am sure, would lead you to respect them very much. However, at present, you must be content to learn that the cockroach and the earwig are not beetles. I admit, candidly, that both of our old friends just mentioned are very like beetles, and therefore, I must try to give you a good reason--only one out of many--why they are not put into the same class with the beetles. Suppose we had opportunities of watching the development of the eggs of the common earwig, and also those of some common beetle, say the cockchafer. Please don't confuse this with the cockroach. One morning we find that our earwig eggs have hatched; and what do we see? A number of little creatures very like the parent earwig from which they were derived. Just a few slight differences, and that is all. It is a very pretty, and not at all an uncommon sight, to see these little broods of baby-earwigs following their mother about, as chickens do a mother-hen. In a short time, also, our cockchafer eggs hatch, and we see resulting, a few little fat grubs, totally unlike their parent, and, indeed, possessing no resemblance to a beetle at all."  -- "Natural Science Recreations: Beetles," by Rev. A. Thornley, M.A., F.E.S., in The Parents' Review, Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 834-840

From The Parents' Review: When the children ask the questions

"Water Babies" is another favourite. As I wish to be veracious I must confess that our little ones like best the classics of the nursery - they have made few new discoveries in the literary heavens. Kingsley's satire is less natural and cheery than Thackeray's, and I don't think the small folk make much of it. But then they are, like all children, wonderfully patient of longueurs, and they wade through disguised sermons on over pressure, and on insanitary cottages, for the sake of the inimitable charm and grace of the story proper, with an impartiality which they will be happy if they maintain to maturer years. Our young philosopher's logical faculty is developing; and I well remember the chuckling glee with which he detailed to me the plausible but fallacious arguments by which Kingsley establishes the existence of the Water-baby. "What do you think about it yourself?" he added, with judicial gravity. -- "Our Children's Book Friends," by Their Sister, in The Parents' Review, Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 331-334

Saturday, August 16, 2014

More new Plutarch studies on the AO website

If you've looked at the AO Plutarch page lately, you may have noticed that we have changed the schedule of the Lives that we will be reading.  The schedule for the coming school year schedule will stay the same, but starting next year we will be adding a few new Lives to the rotation, and taking a couple out that don't have as much to offer the area of Citizenship.

There are revised study notes up now for this term's Life of Crassus, and for Aemilius Paulus in the spring term.  Both of these have Thomas North's text included.  Let us know how they work for you and your students!

Friday, August 1, 2014

New on the AO site: Plutarch studies and Westward Ho!

Recently added to the Ambleside Online site:

Study notes for Plutarch's Life of Marcus Cato the Censor (brand new!), with text included

Revised study notes for Plutarch's Life of Timoleon, with text included

Study notes for Charles Kingsley's Westward Ho!, used in Year 8 Literature.

Keep watching the Plutarch page...we are working on some more new things.

Friday, July 25, 2014

In which Ralph Vaughan Williams writes to the children of the P.U.S.

(posted by Anne White)

To the children of the Parents' Union School, Ambleside

February, 1951

A small girl was once having a music lesson.  Her teacher gave her a new piece to learn, which she explained was composed by a well-known musician who had lately visited the school.  'But,' said the little girl, in great bewilderment, 'I thought all composers were dead.'

Have we really been taught that all composers are dead? Then indeed our art is dead. Vital art must be creative.

It has been said that we should stand in the present with one eye on the past and one on the future.  Let us by all means build our house on the foundations of the great masters, but let us remember that the composers of our own time and of our own country have something to say to us which even the greatest masters of the past age cannot give us; that is the only way we can build a great future for our music.

We must not let let the dead lion swallow up the living dog.

R. Vaughan Williams.

From the Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1895-1958 edited by Hugh Cobbe.  Retrieved from Google Books.