It had been raining steadily for most of the day when we got ready to go to St Brigid’s Well last May. I was on a pilgrimage to Ireland with a group from Anam Cara ministries, and we’d spent the day walking the Irish coast, before driving to Kildare, where Brigid founded her monastery under the oaks. Of all the places we would pass through on our pilgrimage, Brigid’s Well was the place I was most anticipating. Her story had come to mean so much to me in my own search for the Divine Feminine. There is much discussion (sometimes heated) about what parts of the swirling stories around her are of Brigid the woman, and what are of Brigid the Goddess. For some, that makes her feel problematic (and I sensed that discomfort in the priest who met us at Kildare Church to show us around). And yet that is what has made her so attractive to me. The faith I grew up with suggested - and occasionally outright stated - that religious and spiritual traditions outside of Christianity were meaningless; this was the one true faith and a narrow understanding of Jesus' death the one way to God. Everything that came before, and everything now outside its boundaries was empty and false. And yet I know in my bones and in my soul that that is not true. I’ve lived alongside neighbours who follow the paths of Islam and Sikhism and Hinduism, and their devotion to the Divine Mystery as they articulate it is authentic and real. I trust the same is true of my ancestors many generations ago, before Christianity came to this part of the world. When they encountered the Divine it took a particular shape and story that resonated with the land they lived on and its circling seasons, with their own way of being in the world. It was a story that brought meaning and security while still embracing that mystery. Brigid the abbess or Brigid the goddess? You’ll often hear a narrative that denounces the way Christianity wiped out the former spirituality of the land, and yet in St Brigid I see a beautiful continuity - one that we sadly only see a shadow of now. I wonder, perhaps the abbess who founded the abbeys in this place had been named as a child for the goddess. Or perhaps she took the name herself, as an intentional way of stepping into the flow of life and goodness that the goddess represented for her people (her name means exalted or shining one). Both Brigid the abbess and Brigid the goddess are clothed with stories of provision and generosity, of the natural world being brought to life and fruitfulness - stories of hopefulness.
Brigid reminds us of (in the words of Hildegard of Bingen, another fabulous abbess) the “greening power of God” to bring fresh life and vitality to the world.
She is remembered this week, as the Celtic feast of Imbolc is held (that "stirring in the belly" to remind us that spring is awakening) and the church feast of Candlemas is celebrated (the light of Christ dawning in our hearts). There is an awakening happening. The first spring flowers have blossomed in my still frost-covered garden. A similar awakening is happening in our faith. I see it as a movement away from a fear-based religion, to a faith that is curious, wonder-filled and open-hearted. The ground is still frozen, but there are signs of life for those who seek them (as there have always been) and those set my heart afire and give me hope to continue on this pilgrimage.
Back to the story… we spent over an hour at the well. The sun came out as we arrived and I found myself weeping as soon as I walked under the woven archway at the garden’s entrance.
I spent that hour sitting by the well, singing my songs of invitation to God Who is She and Who is Mystery. I offered dried pressed flowers that I’d brought from my own garden, I lit a candle and I touched my forehead to the earth, feeling such a sense of homecoming within me.
It was one of those moments that a space becomes thin, and you find yourself filling up and spilling over with a deep awareness of the divine.
In Brigid's story I hear the invitation of the sacred feminine, the invitation to a deep groundedness in the land we live on and within, and the invitation to welcome the divine in its many surprising and life-giving forms.
God of Brigid, Awaken us to your greening presence in the world. Birth in us new life that is boundless in generosity and fearless in love. Awaken us to the sacredness of the earth and the holiness of the stranger. Birth in us a fierce power to protect the vulnerable and topple the oppressor. May we seek you and find you in the threshold spaces, in the here and not yet, in the both and. May we seek and find you in the thresholds of our own souls. May it be so.
Read this post to find some suggested reading and ideas for engaging with this sacred threshold day - drawing on both liturgical Christian practices and earth-based Celtic practices.
I've created a free page of reflection questions to take to your journal or prayer time that I hope will help you connect with that stirring life in the belly. Click here to download the PDF.