Long before the term “holistic medicine” came into use, Hildegard of Bingen was putting it into practice. This twelfth century figure had a resume that could rival Leonardo da Vinci. She was not only abbess of a Benedictine monastery, but also an artist, poet, playwright, biographer, preacher, and theologian. Although she never formally studied music, she wrote seventy-seven chants and is believed to have composed the first musical drama. She was also a practiced herbalist and healer. As part of her ministry to care for the sick, Hildegard proposed a moderate approach to living. “Do not lay more strain than the body can endure. Immoderate straining and abstinence bring nothing useful to the soul.”
Hildegard was also a visionary. Her experience with visions certainly underscored her extraordinary gifts and talents. Perhaps this is why she was able to see so clearly the connection between art and science, and to recognize the intricate connection between the physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. She grasped the literal meaning of health as wholeness. Hildegard is a model of well-being in its most expansive sense. It is truly a holistic way of living, one not limited simply to the body, but also to the mind, heart, and soul.
With the coming of a new year, we might take a lesson from Hildegard and set aside unrealistic resolutions about physical regimens, such as excessive dieting or exercise, that are destined for failure. By embracing wellness in a holistic sense, we might look instead to the needs of our whole being – mind, body, heart and soul – and attend to each one. By year’s end, we might find to our delight that we are living with less strain and more strength.
Celebrate the coming of a new year with a prayer of hope. Share it with your parish or students and then discuss how you might seek wellness in the months ahead.
Download my “Prayer for Wellness” and share it in your home or parish to promote a more holistic view of health and well-being for yourselves and all people.