Monday, November 12, 2012

IT'S NOT EASY BEING A VISIONARY

Thanks to the recommendation of Tobias Haller, I put "Vision", the German film based on the life of Hildegard von Bingen, in my Netflix queue and watched it last week.  The film, written and directed by Margarethe von Trotta, opens with gory scenes of flagellation, and I debated whether to speed the scenes forward or stop watching altogether, but I did neither, thus the movie and I got off to an inauspicious start.  However did Christians come to think the sick practice of self-flagellation served any good purpose?   The reminder of one instance  amongst many of how often the followers of Christ went off track throughout the history of the church helped me to put today's conflicts and wanderings off the path in perspective. 

Hildegard was an extraordinarily gifted woman, who was well-educated from her childhood in 12th century Germany, when few women were fortunate enough to receive that sort of attention.  She was a "writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath."  Hildegard faced opposition nearly every step of the way from the male-dominated church in her efforts to fulfill the visions and messages she received from God, but she usually had her way in the end, often aided by the patronage of the powerful.  The church has come a long way, baby, but is not yet where it ought to be in terms of equality for women, as witness the struggle in the Church of England over women bishops and the roadblock in the Roman Catholic Church to ordination of women.  And that's not to mention the fundamentalist Christian churches which, to this day, teach submission of women to men.

Barbara Sukowa is formidable, indeed, as Hildegard.  She would have intimidated me.  All of the actors performed well.  The scenes in the monastery were well done, and seemed authentic to me, although I'm hardly an expert on life in a 12th century religious community.  The triangular relationship between Hildegard, Jutta (Lena Stolz), Hildegard's best friend from childhood, and the young sister Richardis (Hannah Herzsprung) hints at something beyond best friends and/or mother/daughter, but we are left to draw our own conclusions.  Except for the gory parts, I enjoyed the film and the lovely music in the sound track, which included Hildegard's compositions.   

12 comments:

  1. It was shown earlier in the year through a local college and I saw it too. The gory parts were not my fave parts either but the story certainly makes you think and look at the woman, and women of this time a bit differently. (LOVED the music too! I have a CD with her music and play it often!)

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    1. I enjoy Hildegard's music, too, Ciss, and play it sometimes when I pray The Daily Office.

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  2. Mimi, as to the flagellation bit, yes, a bit much. How and why it happens -- in many religious traditions -- probably has something to do with the flood of endorphins that such practices can generate. Many "ascetic" practices (like extreme sports) can ultimately produce a "high" that is its own reward. That this -- or the use of mind altering drugs administered by other means -- is believed to be "spiritual" is part of the undying desire people have to ecstasy -- literally to get out of themsevles.

    There is a book, the title of which escapes me, on the impact of fasting on women religious of the middle ages -- how it produced states of altered consciousness. This is why, I think, such practices developed and endured...

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    1. Well, the endorphin effect would explain part of the attraction to that sort of activity. And what about Teresa of Avila? When I visited Santa Maria Vittoria in Rome and saw Bernini's sculpture...well, I'll stop now and not detail the commentary in our group.

      I've never understood the saints who prayed for God to send them suffering. I pray for grace when suffering comes my way, but I don't ask for it.

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  3. Yes Tobias. There seemed to be a lot of starvation among women religious of that period - a book by Caroline Walker Bynum- Holy Feast and Holy Fast explores the reasons.

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    1. Strange. I'm not an ascetic type, so I've never been tempted.

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  4. Yes, Ann, that's the book I was thinking of. Fascinating analysis.

    Mimi, I think one aspect that has to be recalled is the self-inflicted nature of the "suffering" -- no need of a "safe word" and when the desired effect is acheived, one can lapse into the ecstasy -- like Bernini's Teresa!

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    1. I hope you enjoy the movie, Prairie Soul.

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    2. I'll let you know as soon as I see it. I've got over 400 movies in my queue, however, so I think I may need to bump it closer to the top!

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    3. Ha ha. I have trouble keeping six movies in my queue, because I forget to add to my list.

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    4. Ha ha. I have trouble keeping six movies in my queue, because I forget to add to my list.

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