Be a friend to your soul and be a friend to God. These two principles are intrinsically linked, said Hildegard of Bingen, as emphasized by spiritual director Susan Garthwaite in this book.
Saint Hildegard is so titled because Hildegard of Bingen was recently canonized (“made” a saint) in the Roman Catholic Church. She was also declared a “Doctor of the Church,” only the fourth woman in history to be given that honor as a superior theological teacher. But other than the repeated use of “Saint” to describe Hildegard, there is nothing particularly Catholic about this book. It presents Hildegard’s thought and practices for any spiritual seeker desiring to know God.
Hildegard lived in twelfth century Europe, was a nun and abbess, and had many special visions and receivings of divine wisdom, which often confounded her contemporaries. She wrote books, poetry, and letters, which was extraordinary for anyone at that time, most of all a woman. There is a growing body of literature and studies about her influence and the meaning of her many works.
Specifically, Garthwaite presents Hildegard for those seeking spiritual direction in their lives, and then even more specifically, she explains how Hildegard can be useful to those who are, or would like to become, spiritual directors themselves. Garthwaite mines Hildegard’s writings for insights that are useful in helping others find their way on a God-journey.
Garthwaite explains spiritual direction as flowing “from the anam cara, or ‘soul friend,’ tradition.” She says that a spiritual director is someone who helps you recognize the Holy Spirit working in your life. And then she shows how Hildegard’s teachings are relevant to help process and understand these pursuits. Garthwaite writes: “Are we aware of God’s constant, fiery activity [in our lives]? St. Hildegard says our spiritual journey is our work ‘because God is full Life, without beginning and without end, so a person’s work is also life in God.’ A spiritual director helps us with the work that is life in God.”
Most of all, this book shows how Hildegard of Bingen wanted every person to find their way to friendship with God. This journey involves becoming a friend to your soul, where God is found. As Hildegard says: “Be a faithful friend to your soul, so that you may live forever.”