It all began half way up a mountain. Not a solid rock and earth sort of mountain, but a lofty, green place reached with lightness and joy in a guided meditation. In my mind’s eye I had ascended a narrow pathway to reach a rocky cave, where I was to meet someone who would help me. There at the cave’s mouth stood the figure of a nun. I don’t remember our conversation, but she gave me a red flower and told me we would meet again. At the time I did not ask the nun what her name was, and over the following days I felt a strong desire to know who she was. I was working for an international magazine at the time, and within a week of my experience in meditation there arrived on my desk two quite separate and unsolicited articles; one from South America and the other from the Middle East. Both were about Hildegarde of Bingen, a 12th century Abbess. Until then I had never heard of her, but the synchronicity of these events seemed to be telling me to get to know her. I discovered there are a number of books about this remarkable woman, modern publications of her writings on philosophy, poetry and medicine, as well as her many letters. Then there was the music; unique, pure, angelic sounds swooping down through eight centuries to fly out of my CD player.
I thought I might write a serious biography of Hildegarde of Bingen, but every time I sat down to write something factual, I found myself turning out snatches of a story about an imaginary group of nuns. I filed these away in a big yellow folder. It was three years later when, during another of these serious attempts to write a biography, I ended up with the paragraph which forms the opening of Chapter One, and understood this was a starting point. “OK,” I said (I had no idea who I was talking to, but it seemed an appropriate time for a conversation). “If you want this story written, you write it.”
Well, that was it. We were off at a galloping pace and within three months the book, almost exactly as it appears here, was written. It was a bit awkward at first, I didn’t feel comfortable sitting at my word processor trying to convert the torrent of ideas that flooded my mind into electronic symbols. I consulted a friend, someone who was quite at home with the concept that a long dead nun might be trying to dictate a novel. “She seems to be having a little trouble with the technology,” was his conclusion. So I switched to pen and flowery backed notebooks and the story flowed. Day and night I scribbled away, as if to dictation, putting down on paper the words that invaded my head, and before long I discovered that all those snatches I had filed away during the previous three years were slotting in to the narrative.
I still don’t understand where it all came from, and I am interested in any theory which may shed light on its origin. Some might call it “channelled” from a higher source, in which case I feel extraordinarily privileged to be the means of its transmission. Others could say it came from my own head, the product of an overactive imagination and 30 years of writing for a living. If this is the source I feel equally delighted. I really didn’t know I was that clever!
I do not think for one moment that this is a biography of Hildegarde of Bingen. Much is known about her life and times and this is not her story. But I like to think the writing captures some of the spirit and message which originally inspired her and which is as urgently needed today as it was 800 years ago. It is a message of perseverance and hope, of trust in the guidance of a higher power and the importance of listening to those inner voices.
My Sister’s Song
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