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“Treat Yo’self!”: When small indulgences take over


Elizabeth Scalia - published on 03/13/17

Assume that the Holy Spirit wants you to glean an insight of your own, and readily consent to give yourself over to it. Re-read the passage aloud if you can, even if you must whisper the words, and then invite the saint to teach you what they know. Be willing to let your imagination travel into it; perhaps try breaking the idea down into a scene, or a dialogue, or even a haiku or a simple song. The point being, if your attention is being pulled toward a specific line, then do not read forward; rather, allow yourself to linger there, and to be led.  In doing so you will better commit what you’ve read to memory, if not word-for-word at least in essences, and then you will be able to revisit what has intrigued you whenever you like, and continue to learn from it.

Researching the life of the great Benedictine Abbess and Mystic (and Doctor of the Church) Hildegard of Bingen, I read her words, “Thus am I ‘a feather on the breath of God,’” and became entranced at so delightful an image: imagine being a feather, blown about by God – it would mean surrender to God’s will, of course, an idea I had often found (and sometimes still do find) challenging, and for the same reasons you probably do: what if God’s will is something I really, really don’t want, like illness, or financial hardship or untimely death?  Hildegard’s words were pretty, but just beneath them lay the reality of Christ Jesus at Gethsemane, and who among us really wants Gethsemane?

But thinking of it further – imagining a feather blown here-and-there, up and down, what struck me was the lightness of it all: lightness of flight; lightness of descent; lightness of landing. A feather can be strewn about, in the harshest of winds, and yet it remains light; it lands lightly. Hildegard was saying that beyond being obedient to God’s will, she was so confident that any event through which she was led was to her ultimate good that she could bear all things with lightness; no grimacing. Therefore, because God is Good, only good can arise from our living within his slipstream even if it looks ominous. It is a message we have heard before: Jesus tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Hildegard’s image spells it out in a remarkably accessible and beguiling way; subjecting it to a bit of lectio has helped me to remember it, and ponder it at challenging moments. In a prayer journal written several years after reading those words, I found myself writing, “O Love, keep me faithful, sustained by your lift — your air-dancer moving in time.” It was a prayer directly informed by Hildegard, and yes, prayer-journals can sometimes get very romantic like that, so don’t judge; just go with the flow!

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