Greening Power

By Shelly A. Skinner & Sharon L. Baker Putt

Partnering with God will create new life in you so you can create new life in the world.

Spring has sprung and as I write this little essay, I look out the window at the newly blooming, flowering trees, the bright green of new growth, and the resurrection of green life after the dreary, colorless winter. Twelfth century abbess, theologian, and mystic, Hildegard of Bingen contemplated this budding renewal of life and compared it to our relationship with God and others. She wrote literally hundreds of poems, songs, mystical treatises, and letters, as well as theological, medical, and scientific works. Considered the founder of scientific natural history in Germany and named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI—unheard of for a woman in those days—Hildegard lacks the contemporary recognition she deserves. Her work in the gardens of the lush German countryside led her to coin the term viriditas, “greening power” or the “power of springtime.” This key concept describes God’s life-giving action on behalf of nature and of those who benefit from its fruits. She expresses this greening power in two directions—one coming from God to us and another coming from us into the world. In other words, through an intimate relationship with us, God infuses us with life-giving greening power and we, in partnership with God, disseminate that life-giving greening power into the world.

First God, pulsing with agape love, infuses us with divine viriditas, giving us the capacity for an intimate relationship with our creator. This greenness serves as the divine, eternal power that permeates the universe, giving life to everything. It radiates throughout the universe sustaining life both physically and spiritually, luring all creation toward the extravagant salvation found in Jesus Christ. Hildegard imagines the entire Trinity as the source of this life-giving viriditas: God the Father as the source of the greening power, the Holy Spirit as “green fire” or the fire of God that animates all life, and Jesus as the “green word” because of his life-giving action in life, death, and resurrection.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, with the greenness of the divine finger, God infused all things with viriditas as the life-force that animates all creation and explodes continually throughout the universe bringing life, energy, growth, and healing. God breathed that same viriditas into Adam and Eve, and from that point on every breath they took (and we take) was inhabited by the breath of God, that greening power that inspires life and love and creativity in all of us. That greening breath of the divine Spirit brings spiritual life and transformation. It makes us alive with God and gives us the ability to recognize, receive, and welcome the divine Spirit as we heed the call of God to work as partners in transforming the world with the sustaining life-giving power of holy viriditas.

Second, as we commune with God within the energy of the divine greening power, God prepares us to serve as life-givers in a divine/human partnership that has the potential to transform the world with divine, life-giving viriditas. Hildegard believes that human beings can dry out and wither, much like the plant life in winter during which no growth occurs, if we do not continually tap into the greenness of God through relational practices such as prayer, worship, and Bible study. Since we partner with God, we possess the power to be as a flowering orchard, a greening presence in the world that draws others to the life of God through Christ. Hildegard calls us “the banner of Divinity” and says that “God created humankind so that humankind might cultivate the earthly and thereby create the heavenly.” So we, as God’s flowering orchard, filled with the divine greening power of new life, offer to the world that same heavenly life. This power, in relationship and in partnership with the author of life brings healing, reconciliation, restoration, and salvation to a world withering in the winter of human existence.

Hildegard contends that we feel most alive when we allow the breath of God, the viriditas of new life to continue in us as we receive, nourish, and gratefully work with God every day, in every way, in every place. As we breathe that creative, divine breath into the colorless, dry lives of those without Christ, we create the fresh greenness of new life with God, through God, and in God.

But how do we make God’s greenness a reality in our lives and, consequently, in the life of the world? Contemplative practice creates space for making God’s greenness a reality. One contemplative practice, the Breath Prayer, is a simple yet profound way to engage in God’s greenness. Rooted in Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” and the familiar interaction between Jesus and the blind man, Bartimaeus, who shouts “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” the Breath Prayer serves as a tool to engage in viriditas, the “greening power” that comes from God.

There are a variety of ways to engage in breath prayer: praying a word or phrase as one inhales/exhales, praying a specific verse like the Bartimaeus prayer, spending time in silence, or listening for God’s voice as we focus on our breathing. I have a friend who uses this practice; every time she reaches out to turn a doorknob she breathes in and inwardly prays, “Lord Jesus,” and as she shuts the door, she exhales and inwardly prays, “have mercy on me.” It’s her way of focusing on God’s work in her and the work he does through her as she interacts with family, friends, and coworkers throughout her day. In this way she combines the breath prayer with the movement of her body to keep God’s purposes in the forefront. Breath prayer harmonizes with Hildegard’s description of the “greening power” of God that keeps us in an intimate relationship with God as we inhale the divine viriditas and exhale that same renewing power out toward those with whom we come in contact.

Another contemplative practice is cultivating Christian friendships. Tish Harrison Warren describes Christian friendships as, “call-and-response friendships.” She describes these friendship interactions as bringing food to someone who is sick, taking walks together, speaking the good news to one another, and sharing our true selves—including our doubts, mistakes, and struggles. In essence, “we become the good news to every other” as we share life together. I think of a Christian friendship I’ve had since eighth grade. Our call-and-response friendship evolves as we live life together. No longer are we in the same church or for that matter in the same state, but when we connect, we see God at work in our lives as we share our true selves. This too points to Hildegard’s viriditas as we encourage one another on two fronts; to become who God has created us to be and to serve others through God’s power rather than through our own.

A call-and-response posture toward those in our communities also includes practicing hospitality of the heart, a contemplative practice that encompasses all of life including home, work, a stranger on the street, those of other faiths, and those with opposing political beliefs. Elizabeth Canham puts it this way: “People do not enter our lives to be coerced or manipulated, but to enrich us by their differences, and to be graciously received in the name of Christ.” We first receive hospitality from God, the source of viriditas, the hospitality fueled by the “green fire” Hildegard refers to as she describes the Holy Spirit. It is this inspiration of the Spirit that sends us into our communities as servants. Working in a local food bank, tutoring a student in an after-school daycare program, reading to those in a senior living facility who no longer can read on their own, or graciously listening to another from a different faith tradition all reveal the viriditas of God calling us and empowering us for intimate, life-giving relationships both human and divine.

We need not wait for spring to see the world transform from death into new life. According to Hildegard, every day should spring forth with the breath of God empowering us to see new life, to live new life, and to give new life. So, indeed, every moment our spirits can sing with Hildegard her song of living and growing through the greening power of God’s Holy Spirit:

Spirit of fire,


Our Comforter,

You’re the Live in alive,

The Be in every creature’s being,

The Breathe in every breath on earth.

Questions: Which of these practices resonate with you? Can you think of other ways to go green with God and the world? What does divine greening mean to you personally?

Sharon L. Baker Putt is Professor of Theology and Religion at Messiah University. She holds a Ph.D. from Southern Methodist University and is the author of Razing Hell, Executing God, and A Nonviolent Theology of Love. She and her husband love to travel.

Shelly A. Skinner is Associate Professor of Christian Ministries at Messiah University. She also directs the Fitness for Ministry Program. She earned an Ed.D. at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She leads cross-cultural course trips to Los Angeles, her home town.

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.

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