Rev. 22 vs 1-2 The angel also showed me the river of the water of life, sparkling like crystal, and coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing down the middle of the city’s street. On each side of the river was the tree of life, which bears fruit twelve times a year, once each month; and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.
In turbulent times such as ours, with pandemic conditions, political divide, social unrest and unexpected devastating storms, it is easy for me to fall into despair. But I am finding that when I truly quiet myself especially in prayer and also when I make art I find an enduring optimism that refuses to be extinguished, despite it all. I’ve examined this positivity for “Pollyanna-ism,” a form of denying reality. I have come to believe that this deep optimism is instead a seed of undying hope planted by the Holy Spirit. It is a hope in the healing force of our God, a promise of resurrection, and a springtime of greening and growth when I feel like I’m in a dry desert.
I’ve found company in the writings of Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine abbess of the 12th century. She coined the word “viriditas” to mean the greening force of the Holy Spirit. Hildegard says that the “Holy Spirit is greening power in motion, making all things grow, expand, celebrate.” And that salvation or healing is the “returning of the greening power and moistness.”
We see this greening force in nature all around us. After every winter there is a spring. After every forest fire there is a resurrection of ferns and fireweed and aspen, leading the way for the larger forest to recover. If the Holy Spirit is in, with, and through us, present even in the tiniest leaf (Martin Luther) then no wonder I cannot extinguish this force deep within me that plants the promise of growth and abundance and fullness of life.
During this long season of Pentecost we use the color green in our worship space to reflect this long season of growth. In nature through the growing season we see an abundance of different greens; from springtime yellow greens, to vibrant true greens and deeper blue greens of summer trees, to greens tinged with golds, reds, oranges and browns of the harvest season. I have tried to include many of these variations in the Green Season paraments to reflect these color changes. Just as these greens change through the season, so does the season of our own healing.
The photo to the left is a decorative parament 14 feet tall by 28 inches wide, silk dye on silk, depicting a fruitful tree of life “nurished by the crystal waters of the river of life, flowing from the throne of God.” This is what the tenacious positivity feels like inside of me.
Above: “Iowa Tree of Life”, silk dye on silk, 14′ x 28″, ©Kristen Gilje
These pieces were commissioned by First Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, IA.
Each of the three paraments (a decorative niche parament, an altar parament and an ambo parament) have ripe fruit in them and a reference to water as a symbol for the verdant nurturing power of the Holy Spirit. In the tall niche parament the tree of life has grown ripe fruit because it is nurtured by the crystal waters of the river of life, flowing from the throne of God. The altar parament depicts golden wheat and purple grapes, expanded and ripened by the “greening power of the Holy Spirit in motion,” for making the bread of wine of our communion. Behind these altar fruits the water of life can be seen gathered as a still deep pond, a place at which to rest.
In the Ambo piece below there is evidence of the moist nurturance of the Holy Spirit in the various ripe fruits growing from the same vine. This is a celebration of the complex and varied fruits of Christ the Vine, who is active today in our lives. May we all be nurtured by the Spirit to produce good fruit for the health of our families, for life of our communities, and for the healing of our world.