Tumbling in the Sand
“I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” – Genesis 9:13
Hildegaard von Bingen is one of my favourite church ancestors. She is the only person who I quoted and studied in all three of my masters degrees—she worked with medicinal plants, thought a whole lot of about the sacredness of bodies, and advised Popes. She also ran an abbey, composed plays and music, and did an innumerable amount of other stuff too. An amazingly accomplished woman. I wouldn’t mind being a little like her when I grow up.
One of my favourite texts of Hildegaard’s is her reflections and teaching on baptism (it’s called, of all things, “An Explanation of the Athanasian Creed” and it has an attached appendix: “The True Beginning of the Life of St. Rupert” (ca. 1158)). She wasn’t exactly a systematician or anything (at least not in how we tend to understand that these days), instead she weaves meaning around image to deepen her students’ understanding of the beauty and meaning of this central sacrament of the Church. One of the most beautiful images she uses is the rainbow—and she uses it not to describe what you might think, but rather she uses it to describe what the transformation of baptism does to Christ and the Church (the body of Christ), so that through baptism, Christ (and the body of Christ) becomes like a rainbow.
To kind of pick what that means apart: A rainbow is made by light refracting through tiny water droplets in the air. You don’t have a rainbow without light or without water—you need both. In all of Hildegaard’s writing, she consistently uses the image of light to describe God and she consistently uses water to describe created creatures, like you and me. In this writing on baptism, Hildegaard suggests that human beings are recovered and joined to Christ in baptism, becoming like a rainbow in clouds—in which the colours of the rainbow are the work of the baptized.
In baptism, we receive the promises of God, but they are then refracted through us and the beauty of the promises of God are revealed in our good works—in our works that reflect the promises of baptism: forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, promise, etc. Actually Hildegaard says it most beautifully: “In the varied colours of the aforesaid bow, the might of the virtues of the thousand-fold number of the saints is signified. In the fiery colour, chastity and continence; in purple, the martyrdoms of the martyrs; in jacinth, the teachings of the ancestors; in green, however, are represented the virtues of the good works of the saints, that, breathed out by the Son of God, proceed like rays from the sun.”
It’s so beautiful to think that because of the promises made to us, we might be like little droplets of water, reflecting beautiful colours (not otherwise seen) of promise that speak of the hope and healing of God to the whole world.