Brigid and the return of hope

Though many in the northern hemisphere are deep in the throes of an extremely cold and uncommonly bleak winter, February 1st marks the day the earth begins to return us to the bounty of spring.

For our kinfolk who live their faith in earth-honoring traditions (especially in Ireland), the first day of February is Imbolc. Imbolc marks the half-way point between Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox and in Ireland is honored as the first day of spring. Brigid of Celtic understanding is a goddess of fire and represents the divine gifts of poetry, creativity, smithing, fertility and midwifery.

For our Catholic cousins, especially those from Ireland, February 1 is celebrated as the feast of St. Brigid. St. Brigid is known as the female patron saint of Ireland. According to sources all over the interwebs, St. Brigid of Catholic veneration is claimed by a wild array of people as their patron saint – “babies, blacksmiths, boatmen, cattle farmers, children whose parents are not married, children whose mothers are mistreated by the children’s fathers, Clan Douglas, dairymaids, dairy workers, fugitives, Ireland, Leinster, mariners, midwives, milkmaids, nuns, poets, the poor, poultry farmers, poultry raisers, printing presses, sailors, scholars, travelers, and watermen.” (Thomas J. Faulkenbury, Out of the Mist)

According to the many stories about her, Brigid is a healer, protector, creative force and a bit of badass who confronted the dominant forces of her day to become the founder of the first nunnery in Ireland, a place that later evolved into an abby for both monks and nuns where the abbess outranked the abbot!

“Like community activists and nurturers, Brigit wove the fragile threads of life into webs of community. She invented a shriek alarm for vulnerable women travelling alone, she secured women’s property rights when Sencha, the judge, threatened to abolish them and she freed a slave-trafficked woman. Above all, her bountiful nature (23 out of 32 stories in one of her Lives concern generosity) ensured that the neart (life force) was kept moving for the benefit of all and was not stagnated by greed.” Mary Condron, ThD

St. Brigid may or may not have been a real person, but I am particularly drawn to stories about her.   When so much of western religiosity has suppressed and oppressed the divine feminine, it is good and right to mark this sacred day that weaves together different understandings of a strong female presence in both pagan and Christian traditions.
 So, whether a goddess’ day or a Saint’s day, the 1st of February is an good day to honor the feminine as a source of healing, creativity rebirth and the return of light and warmth to the world.

I’ll leave you with this lovely poem I found…

The Acorn and the Oak
In honour of St. Brigid (composed by Rev. Liam Lawton for the Brigidine Bicentenary Mass)

In hearts we wonder where love is found.
We keep on searching, our quest abounds.
From darkest valleys to brightest skies,
Through all of creation we are inspired.
For God is near us, and never far,
God’s place of resting is every heart.

So let us journey to the end,
With hands now open to foe and friend.
To light the darkness and seek for hope,
To fight for justice as prophets spoke,
And in creation your wisdom know,
Your sign and symbol,
The acorn and the oak

In places darkened by fear and war.
We speak forgiveness to every heart.
The poor, the lonely, the ones who mourn,
Will find us waiting with open doors,
For God is near us and all who weep,
Our Lord and Shepherd who never sleeps

There is no future that we can build,
Without love’s presence and be fulfilled
To build a new world where hope is born
Where lives once broken will watch the dawn,
For God is with us to hold and heal,
No longer strangers, our God is near.

The God of history calls us to be
The voice of freedom so all can see
The flame of Brigid to light the way,
The words of Daniel echo in prayer,
So may they guide us as Saint and Friend,
Our own companions till journey’s end

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