Friday was a trying day. Fridays are my day “off” and I have a routine. I put a load of laundry in, and then head to the computer to work on my sermon. Each load of laundry gives me a break, a chance to walk around the house, stretch my legs and my mind, and then it’s back to the computer until the sermon is finished.
This past Friday, I had a good start on the sermon already. I thought I’d be finished by 12 or 1, and have a chance to get to the gym before packing up for our annual women’s retreat.
Friday started normally. I glanced at my phone before I headed downstairs about 6. No urgent emails, everything looked normal. By the time I got on the computer about an hour later, I had dozens of emails. Turns out that my email system was hacked into successfully at 6:30 AM, and (after I changed my password), I began responding to…eventually…hundreds of people who received an email from my email address with a suspicious-looking attachment. Aargh. So much for the gym. Finished laundry, finished sermon, picked up bread for communion and headed for the women’s retreat only 15 minutes after my intended departure time.
One of the things I love about living in Cleveland is the ease of traffic, but Friday was an exception. The trip to the Jesuit Retreat House that usually takes 30 minutes took 90. An accident created a major back-up. I arrived at the retreat house an hour after I’d wanted to, only minutes before dinner began. I tried to hide the stress I was feeling, the frustration that my day hadn’t gone as I’d hoped, the disappointment that I hadn’t been able to work out, the anger at the time wasted and lost.
Our first session began at 7. We were introduced to the life of Hildegard of Bingen, the most influential woman of the Middle Ages – a writer, preacher, leader, herbalist, musician, composer, and rabble-rouser. Hildegard was sent to the monastery at age 8, and spent the first 30 years of her life in what is called “an enclosure”, a small room attached to the monastery which she DID NOT LEAVE for 30 years. With no ability to explore the outer world, she developed, fully, a rich inner life. She learned everything she could from those who taught her, she absorbed the rhythms of life in a Benedictine monastery, she became a confidante to those outside the monastery walls who would come to her window and tell them her problems. She began to play and compose music while she was, literally, walled-in. She developed strong opinions about the way the church was being run; she knew of its corruption and – because she also was a student of scripture – she knew the corruption was unbiblical.
I try to imagine being unable to leave one small room for 30 years, and I cannot. I can’t imagine 30 days. Hildegard’s time was different, to be sure; opportunities for women were certainly limited and the monastic option was one of the more attractive. Still, most people who lived a cloistered life were much less productive than she. She sowed seeds for every one of those 30 years; growing within her was a curiosity about music, spirituality, the natural world, and ways she could speak her mind.
When she was finally able to leave the small enclosure, all of those seeds took fruit. She was more widely traveled than any other woman of her time. She founded two monasteries, wrote prolifically on a wide variety of topics, and corresponded with popes. Hers is a prototypical example of a life lived well: talents and time used to the fullest.
After listening to what Hildegard did with her life under acutely difficult circumstances, somehow the angst of my day faded away. Problems with technology and traffic get on our nerves, but some historical perspective makes our complaints almost laughable. If I thought my Friday was a day to try one’s patience, well…let’s just say I ended the day full of gratitude for the peace of a retreat center and the lesson of Hildegard’s life.