Hildegard of Bingen is one of those few attractive historical personalities who combines energy and piety, creativity and practicality, feistyness toward authority and otherworldly virtue. She was not a solitary, but she withers the pretensions of culture and power in order to safeguard herself and her community in the pursuit of creative and reflective lives.
Hildegard has a refreshing self-consciousness that peeps through her otherwise relentless, even nervous, pace. She herself describes her combination of energy and fearlessness as “masculine” characteristics, while defining a new sense of motherhood and nurture in her relations to her “virgins.” They are free human beings precisely because they have renounced the world and conformity to its ways.
Why would anyone put their shoulder against a mountain they can’t possibly shift? Why not live in the valley instead and learn day-by-day who you are? Why not stay there and explore your potential and how you can best express it?
I’m not sure the original is best translated as “explore your potential” (Carmen Butcher’s version) but it puts the point well, for Hildegard is not merely defending the monastic vocation but is pointing to a universal psychological truism, that the pursuit of worldly success is often blind to the very nature of the world it hopes to champion.
Resting in simplicity is what best gives us the insights to understand just what we are capable of.