Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thick and Dark Like Blood

Rosa recently had an interesting post in which she talked a little about Hildegard von Bingen. I have never read Hildegard's writings, but I have listened to some of her music. It is lovely and enchanting, but also somewhat disorienting and unnerving. It does not calm my fears; it does not comfort me; it does not say, "I'm OK, you're OK." In a word it is holy music in exactly the same way that most of the Christian music we hear on the radio is not holy music.

Her music reminds me of CS Lewis's TILL WE HAVE FACES. In particular, her music makes me think of the Priest of Ungit. I hesitate to post the following quote, because if one has not read the book, the quote will seem somewhat obscure. It needs the whole book to flesh it out.

But if I were to make a film of TILL WE HAVE FACES, Hildegard's music would have to be playing every time the priest of Ungit or the house of Ungit were in view. Here is a quote from the Priest of Ungit that may explain what I hear in Hildegard's lovely, dark, thick, holy music.

"We are hearing much Greek wisdom this morning, King." said the Priest. "And I have heard most of it before. I did not need a slave to teach it to me. It is very subtle. But it brings no rain and grows no corn; sacrifice does both. It does not even give them boldness to die. That Greek there is your slave because in some battle he threw down his arms and let them bind his hands and lead him away and sell him, rather than take a spearthrust in his heart. Much less does it give them understanding of holy things. They demand to see such things clearly, as if the gods were no more than letters written in a book. I, King, have dealt with the gods for three generations of men, and I know that they dazzle our eyes and flow in and out of one another like eddies on a river, and nothing that is said clearly can be said truly about them. Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood."


Rosa said...

A wonderful Thanksgiving to you, too, Doug!

I'd have to agree that there is something in Hildegarde's music that is less than comforting, but in a good way. I think it causes me to think upon myself and see my own faults in the light of Christ's holiness; the unnerving aspect is probably from the realization that I am NOT enough: He is.

It's so funny that you mention Ti;; We Have Faces here. I have not read it, but my dad was telling me about it just today! I'll pick up a copy as soon as I get the chance.

Have a great holiday weekend! =)

Doug P. Baker said...


Yes, I agree, it is a good uneasiness that her music creates.

Enjoy Till We Have Faces! It will challenge you on many levels as you read it; I found it most remarkable on my second reading of it. But once you've read it, you tell me what you think.