Blessed greenness

Hildegard of Bingen

‘My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; and the time for singing has come, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.’

Song of Solomon

When Noah looked out over the endless ocean, he finally saw the white dove return with the iconic olive branch: a sprig with green leaves – the end of the destruction of the flood, and a symbol of hope, peace and renewal. It represents the dove’s and every living creature’s yearning for independence, and that life will thrive again.

Here in south west England, it’s been a long, dark, and extremely wet winter with lots of flooding, and very high river levels; but spring is more or less here. The trees I can see from my window are now turning green – and although it’s still not warm there is growth, and the promise of sunshine.

This is the ‘blessed greenness’ – benedicta viriditas. The term ‘blessed greenness’ is taken from the writings of the twelfth century Benedictine Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, and is about the greening power of God. She wrote ‘Hymn to the Holy Ghost’ which begins:

‘From you the clouds rain down, the heavens move, the stones have their moisture, the waters give forth streams, and the earth sweats out greenness’.

The idea of greenness is one of Hildegard von Bingen’s guiding images, as an expression of divinity and the creative power of life that is mysteriously inherent in all life forms – plants, flowers, trees, animals and in all the beautiful things of the world. The word ‘viriditas’ is possibly derived from two Latin words: green and truth, and as well as its literal definition as in greenness and growth, there is also a metaphorical meaning as in freshness and vitality, and by extension the intrinsic power and potential for all human beings to grow and heal.

Carl Jung was also attracted to the benedicta viriditas, blessed greenness, as a psycho-spiritual state:

‘… of someone who, in his wanderings among the mazes of his psychic transformation, comes upon a secret happiness which reconciles him to his apparent loneliness. In communing with himself he finds not deadly boredom and melancholy but an inner partner, more than that, a relationship that seems like the happiness of a secret love, or like a hidden springtime, when the green seed sprouts from the barren earth, holding of the promise of future harvests. …the secret immanence of the divine spirit of life in all things. … Therefore this … might be called the Soul of the World’.

The soul, as the life force in the body, is green, and spiritually this greening power lies at the heart of salvation; it is the force toward healing and wholeness and is the Word of God.