Fifth Sunday After Epiphany

Vision of the Man in Sapphire Blue by Hildegard of Bingenfrom the German copy (completed by Hildegard Abbey in Eibingen, 1927-33) of Book II of Hildegard’s illustrated volume, Scivias, mid 12th century. Hildegard’s original volume was lost in transport for safekeeping during World War II.

February 6, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year C
Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13)
Psalm 138
I Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

View Lectionary

If you are not familiar with Hildegard of Bingen, that’s ok. I have only begun to learn about her myself in the past year. Naturally, I am drawn to her illustrated visions. Hildegard is known (among many other things) for taking issue with the church back in her day. She rigorously confronted corruption of power with hard hitting (sometimes hilarious) accusations. Her illustrated visions, in direct contrast to the chaotic and disorderly human world she pushed against, give us a view of divine order and God’s power in presence and action.
Hildegard herself may not have painted the illuminations found in Scivias. Most likely she explained to a skilled visual artist who rendered them for her. Hildegard wrote concerning this image:

Then I saw a bright light, and in this light, the figure of a man the color of a sapphire, which was all blazing with a gentle glowing fire. And that bright light bathed the whole of the glowing fire, and the glowing fire bathed the bright light; and the bright light and the glowing fire poured over the whole human figure, so that the three were one light in power of potential. — Hildegard of Bingen

In reading and reflecting on this week’s lectionary texts, both the mentions of God on the throne, in the temple plus the appearing of Christ to various individuals, Hildegard’s blue image of Christ came to mind.
Along with presenting Christ to us, Hildegard is illuminating the triune nature of God in this image. The fire she describes, depicted as the orb of gold with vibrating red-brown rings surrounding the figure, is representative of the Spirit. The outer ring of lavender with vibrating gold rings represents the Light and the Father. You will note the light interrupting the golden area flowing down and completely around Christ.
I have mentioned an early Christian concept in a previous post and we see it here also: Hildegard’s use of sphere representing heaven/the divine and rectangle-square (background) representing earth and further emphasizing Christ taking on the earthly form of a man.
If you do a quick search for “sapphire” in Scripture, you will find several visions describing God sitting on a throne made of sapphire. Related to this, one of my house church mates shares in our weekly art explorations how she finds blue to be a holy color. Long before finding Hildegard’s image, I had myself envisioned Christ in monochromatic blue tones.
Sapphire, which is a deep rich blue color (think pure primary blue) has long been a color said to exude compassion. Many people in sitting with the Vision of the Man in Sapphire Blue, say they experience Christ’s compassion in this image.
I was struck by the Luke passage where Jesus tells Simon to move out into the deep (blue) waters to let down his nets. As I look at the face, the open hands and Christ’s flush of sapphire, I sense an invitation also to go deeper… deeper into compassion and love …deeper into mystery and communion with the divine and triune God.

Practicing Visio Divina

  1. View the artwork and read through each of the lectionary passages. Simply observe the piece looking over all areas of the art…
    What do you see?
    Note color, style, movement, etc.
    Try to keep an open mind and hold back any thoughts of judgment/opinion.
  2. Now take a second look over the art this time exploring feelings and thoughts that arise…
    What about this piece has me curious?
    What stands out for me? what am I drawn to?
    What questions do I have?
    What does this make me think of?
    How does this make me feel?
  3. Finally, read the lectionary passages again and view the art a third time. Now explore meaning…
    Listen for anything the Spirit wishes to reveal.
    Is there something you wish to speak to God?
    Do you sense a prayer or blessing rising in you?

After speaking for a while, Jesus speaks to Simon, “Move out into deeper water, and drop your nets to see what you’ll catch.” Simon (perplexed): “Master, we’ve been fishing all night, and we haven’t caught even a minnow. But . . . all right, I’ll do it if You say so.” Simon then gets his fellow fishermen to help him let down their nets, and to their surprise, the water is bubbling with thrashing fish— a huge school. The strands of their nets start snapping under the weight of the catch, so the crew shouts to the other boat to come out and give them a hand. They start scooping fish out of the nets and into their boats, and before long, their boats are so full of fish they almost sink! — Luke 5:4-7

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