Prayer for the Desolate
Even in a world that’s being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong.
—Hildegard of Bingen
Sometimes there’s a strange, wild splendor in what otherwise looks desolate. I’m thinking about the meadow I frequently walk. Now that it’s in full winter garb, some might describe it as shabby, unkempt, even desolate. Most of it hasn’t been mowed since early last spring so as to preserve it as habitat for meadowlarks. Even its edges, last trimmed in September, have grown ragged. The various wild grasses, dried to nearly monochromatic shades of gray and tan, are bent from rain, wind, and the bodies of passing deer. The stalks of last spring and summer’s wildflowers are desiccated and broken. The huge oaks are bare of all but a few tattered leaves. Even the evergreen cedars and pines are a dark, almost black, green.
The meadow will green up again this spring. Meanwhile, even in what looks like a desolate state, it exudes a raw beauty. In its winter textures, everything is exposed. Tall grasses no longer conceal shorter plants. Patches where one species thrives before giving way to another are readily visible. Also revealed are the meadow’s topographical contours. These several acres are not as flat as they seem in other seasons when vegetation obscures the land’s gentle rolls and curves.
Raw beauty can be found in the winter colors as well. Though the palette seems monochromatic at first, when I look more closely, I notice variations in the shades of grays, browns, and dark greens. How many could there be? To get an idea, I consult the Benjamin Moore paint website. The answer is hundreds, at least—some with names like Golden Thread and Honeybee, Sugar Cookie and Sand Dollar, Dove Wing and Cinder, Rainy Afternoon and Boreal Forest. There’s also Metropolitan, said to be “a stylish gray with cool undertones [that] emanates nuance, harmony and extravagant ease.” Metropolitan is Benjamin Moore’s 2019 Color of the Year. Elsewhere the website describes Metropolitan as “color, off-duty.”
Sadly, also off-duty at the moment—and not by their choice—are the park rangers and other personnel who, when our government is healthy and fully operational, manage, protect, and interpret this meadow as part of the Yorktown battlefield, part of our National Parks system. Missing from the meadow’s colors are the park ranger uniform shades of greens and browns. The gate to the road leading to the parking lot is closed and locked, but I’m on foot, so I duck under the bar. The doors to the NPS Visitors Center are also locked. No one is about. No flags are flying from the flagpoles along the sidewalk. This closure of the park is its own kind of desolation—for park staff, their families, and the public. Sometimes there’s a strange, wild splendor in what otherwise looks desolate. Sometimes something that looks desolate is, purely and simply, desolate. In the latter case, beauty is hard, maybe impossible, to find.
Almost a thousand years ago, the mystic Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) coined the word Veriditas (from the Latin for “truth” and for “green”) to mean the power of the Divine to generate, invigorate, transform, and heal. She believed that Veriditas, God’s divine greening, “trueing” power, is present in all living things—including, I think, the human heart and human communities.
Even in deep winter, it’s easy to affirm the power of Veriditas in places like the meadow. May such power also be at work in our human lives, hearts, and communities—and indeed, everywhere things look desolate anywhere across this land.
P.S. To learn more about Hildegard of Bingen, join us at the Appalachian Women’s Retreat (April 26-28, 2019). For more information, click here.