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St Brigid, Mary of the Gaels

Many years ago now, I made a pilgrimage around some of the sacred sites of Ireland. I saw some amazing places and towards the end I visited Kildare which was the holy site associated with St. Brigid.
Together with St. Patrick she is regarded as the Patron Saint of Ireland and was, in fact, baptized by Patrick in about 525AD
Her feast day is February 1st so she is the Saint who brings to a close the Christmas season and points us towards Lent and Easter.
Her festival day coincides with an earlier pagan festival – IMBOLC, the season which marked the coming of light after the dark days of winter.

Once again, the Christian Church displayed ingenuity and common sense in replacing a pagan festival with a Christian one, because Imbolc became the feast of Candlemass, the day when we celebrate Christ as the light of the World – the light which overcomes darkness, or to put it into the words of Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis – the light to lighten the Gentiles (the world).
Brigid was herself a showing forth of Christ’s light in the darkened world of her times.

She was a gentle, caring soul who had a special love of the poor.
Before she became a nun and founded a monastery at Kildare she would regularly give possessions to the poor – not all of them her own! Her father didn’t take kindly to losing some of his goods and he complained to the King when he discovered that his sword was passed on to a leper.
He dragged his daughter before the King who asked her if she intended also to give all his property to the poor as well.
She told the King that if the whole of his kingdom was at her disposal she’d give the lot away!
The King gave her father a new sword on her behalf!
She regularly gave food to people.
Whenever she made butter she divided it into twelve equal pieces in honour of the 12 apostles and a larger lump in honour of the Son of God.

Here also was a clue to why she cared for those in need for she said,

“It was Christ and his Twelve Apostles who proclaimed the Gospel to the peoples of the world and it is in their name that I look after the poor, for Christ is to be found in the person of every faithful poor person.”

She believed it was her duty as Christ’s servant to lead people over the dangerous bridge of this life to the gleaming country of heaven.

This was the heart of her faith.  Brigid was a bridge between this world and the world of heaven. As such it is fitting that she occupies that point in the Christian Calendar which turns our thoughts and prayers from Christmas to Easter – from the wonderful joy of God coming to be amongst us in the Incarnation, saving us and the world from within to the completion of that salvation in the Glory of the Cross and through the Crucifixion.

An illustration of this bridging of the world by Manger and Cross, is through the Cross that is called after her – St. Brigid’s Cross.
It is said that it saw the light of day because, when  a pagan chief from the neighbourhood of Kildare lay dying, he sent for Brigid to come and to talk to him about Jesus.
By the time she got there, he was delirious and raving with fever. It was impossible to talk to her nor could she instruct him about Christ. Instead, she sat by his bed and gave him comfort.
As was usual, the floor was strewn with rushes for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid picked some  up and began to weave them into a cross as she talked.
His delirium quietened and he was able to ask her what she was doing. As she talked, she gently explained about Jesus, his Cross and the salvation he brought.
In that quiet moment, handing him the little cross she moved him gently from earth to heaven as she baptized him at the point of his death.
And to help her do it, she had taken symbolically, some strands of the Manger and turned it into the sign of the Cross – the Saving Sign.
The straw of the Manger and the wood of the Cross.

God uses what he finds and through the simplicity of nature and the ordinariness of our lives, as with Brigid, He moulds consecrated vessels to contain His grace so that He can touch others.
So it was with Brigid and it can be so for us.

High Cross, detail. Kildare churchyard

Brigid

You were a woman of peace.
You brought harmony where there was conflict.
You brought light to the darkness. You brought hope to the downcast.
May the mantle of your peace cover those who are troubled and anxious,
and may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world.
Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all God has made.
Brigid you were a voice for the wounded and the weary.
Strengthen what is weak within us. Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body and spirit.

Amen.

a traditional Irish prayer about St Brigid.

It was the usual custom

Today is Candlemass Sunday when the Christmas Season ends with the visit of the Holy Family to the Temple. Jesus was dedicated to God and was then blessed by Simeon and Anna, both waiting for their own blessing by Jesus. Simeon said the words of the Nunc Dimmitis – Lord, now let your servant depart in peace. He also made a prophesy about what would befall Jesus as his ministry culminated with His Crucifixion.
This meditation takes up a theme which goes on that journey – in which the ordinary things in life are made special by God.
I have used the words many times but I cannot tell you where they came from. Whoever wrote them clearly wants people to think about how Candlemass leads us on the most significant journey of the Christian faith. It therefore deserves a wider praying

It was the usual custom
– nothing special, nothing fancy.

Two young pigeons, the minimum requirement,
they weren’t rich.
A baby to be dedicated –
the formalities at the Temple.
Get the baby done, and we’ll be on our way.
But God made it special.

It was the usual custom – nothing special, nothing fancy.

Bar-mitzvah boy, a trip to Jerusalem.
The age of adulthood –
some prayers and a family celebration.
Move past another milestone and get on with our lives.
But God made it special.

It was the usual custom – nothing special, nothing fancy.

Cousin John with his wild shaggy beard,
dunking the crowds – they queued for miles –
into the water.
Join the new movement – the latest hot preacher.
But God made it special.

It was the usual custom – nothing special, nothing fancy.

A wedding in the village.
A family occasion –
laughter and singing, far too much drinking –
the wine has run out, what a disaster!
But God made it special.

It was the usual custom – nothing special, nothing fancy.

A Roman crucifixion –
whip and nails,
taunting crowds,
left hanging to die.
But God made it special.

Lord – such ordinary things,
a dedication, a coming of age, a baptism, a wedding, a death –
but you filled each one with hope and promise.

So in the ordinary things of our lives – may we see you,
and in seeing you – may the ordinary things in our lives
become heavenly encounters,
special moments, not to be missed.
Amen.

Birds of Auschwitz

Photo: Holocaust Memorial Trust

Yesterday, January 27th,  was Hololocaust  Memorial Day (HMD).
This year it took the theme of, ‘Light the Darkness against prejudice and hatred’.

On the morning of Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, Dame Joanna Lumley handed out commemorative HMD candles to commuters and passers-by in Central London. She was joined by Joan Salter MBE, a child survivor of the Holocaust, and Martin Stern MBE, a survivor of the Holocaust, and Antoinette Mutabazi, a survivor of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Dame Joanna invited people to light the candles and place them safely at 4pm that day for the Light the Darkness national moment.
Dame Joanna commented:

It is a real privilege to be able to mark Holocaust Memorial Day by being here in central London with survivors of genocide. I hope that by handing out these candles and inviting people to light them at 4pm this evening, we can provide people with an opportunity to remember those who were murdered for being who they were, and to reflect on ways that they can challenge hatred and prejudice today.

At 4pm on 27 January, people across the UK took part in the Light the Darkness national moment, lighting candles in their windows to remember those who were murdered for who they were and to stand against prejudice and hatred today. Social media was flooded with photos of candles as people joined the online conversation about Light the Darkness.

Whether a myth or a truth, it is said that because of the Holocaust, birds do not fly over Auschwitz and other death camps. I wrote the poem below inspired by this as a tribute to the thousands of victims of the so-called Final Solution and out of respect for the victims of ‘prejudice and hatred’ from the Jewish people, Gay and Romany people.

Birds of Auschwitz

This is a place where the voice of song is silent.
A place for remembrance,
reflection;
and numbness of feeling.
To feel would be to break apart.
The ground, though watered with myriad tears,
is cracked open and dry.

Some say that the birds don’t sing here.
How can we?
How can we sing joyfully,
melodiously,
in this place of deep terror and pain,
of total hatred and barbaric torture?

Long ago, in those satanic days,
we took council together;
high in the trees where the acrid smoke
spewing from chimneys did not choke our lungs
and the roasting stench of death could not singe our feathers.
Hidden deep in the branches and leaves,
our eyes could no longer see
the piles of discarded humanity tossed aside.
The birds of prey were not our species,
but belonged to man.

We decided then
that here and in places like this,
our voices would be still.
Forever.

Our gift to those who had themselves been silenced.
Our memorial.
Our act of remembrance.

Through a glass, darkly

This photo of Tarn Hows on a misty morning, was taken by my friend, Gill Henwood. She gave it the title ‘Through a glass darkly,’ which is a quotation from verse 12 of what is probably St. Paul’s most well known writing – 1 Corinthians Chapter 13.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face. (that is the King James Version. The more recent NRSV has, see in a mirror, dimly, which, to my mind is poetically is weaker.)

As I contemplated the feast day of the ‘Conversion of St. Paul,’ I found the title Gill chose, and the fascinating and rather evocative scene, kept coming back to me. I wrote this poem and tried the let the photo speak to the event I am trying to address.

It is a very amazing photo and it deserves to highlight a very amazing event.

The Conversion of Saint Paul

Brooding mist 
blurs edges of perception.
Colours muted.
A whisper of wind kisses the water,
rippling on the shore of the soul.
Visibility impaired,
a cloak of quietness drawn across the mind.
Stilling all movement.
Intentions passionately  held,
melt into deep darkness.
Yet this is not the cause of fearfulness 
nor of despair.
Out of the shadows,
of seeing “through a glass darkly”
there is a pinprick of growing light
which slowly, perceptively,
burns away the haze
as new vision takes shape.

A Voice,
crisp, gently directive,
unfettered by illusion,
beckons,
touching  eyes to see a wonder,
“face to face.”
The waypath is irrevocably changed.

[Mr. G. Conversion of Paul. 25th January 2023]