The other day I posed a question on three different Facebook pages using something called “Crowd-sourcing.” Essentially crowd-sourcing is a term that invites a large number of people, usually from an on-line community, into a discussion. In less than 24 hours I ended up with over 15 pages of notes from the responses I got .These responses have come from people I have never met, who worship in a wide array of Christian traditions, all offering their perspective on the question posed.
In addition to having great discussions, Facebook is also a place where I find and maintain friendships from people I have known throughout my life. More than just a social networking site, Facebook has become a place of connection, and even, dare I say, formation.
A few years ago I was pleased to reconnect with a high school friend after almost forty years of lost contact. We had much to catch up on. I still remember the conversation that ensued after she learned that I am an Episcopal priest. She wrote something along the lines of, back in high school, with my long hair and earthy spirituality she thought I would become Druid, not a Christian priest. Now that really caught me off guard. I am certain I didn’t know what a Druid was when I was in high school and the thought of being one has never crossed my mind.
That is until I heard about St. Brigid – the patron saint of Ireland, a beloved Christian saint, and a druid. Brigid is known as the Celtic saint of fire, poetry, healing, childbirth, and unity.
Brigid was born in the 5th century. According to legend rays of the sun emanated from her head. In Druid mythology, the infant goddess was fed with milk from a sacred cow from the Otherworld. Brigid owned an apple orchard in the Otherworld and her bees would bring their magical nectar back to earth.
It is said that wherever she walked, small flowers and shamrocks would appear. As a sun goddess her gifts are light (knowledge), inspiration, and the vital and healing energy of the sun.
In the Druid tradition Brigid became the wife of an Irish king. Together they produced three sons, each of whom became a famous warrior. Brigid and her husband came from two warring tribes and hoped their marriage would end the long feud between the two families. But that was not to be; at least not until after a battle between the two families took the life of one of their sons.
Brigid’s grief at the death of her son was enormous. She lamented the rift between both sides of her family that caused the tragic death of her son. Family members along with others in the country were so moved by her grief that they made amends, forgave one another, and worked toward unity.
The Christian tradition tells another story – claiming that Brigid never married and lived a monastic life. Who knows?
Regardless, the love and respect people had for Brigid brought unity between the Celts and Christians in the region. She successfully merged Celtic and druid traditions with Christian theology and practice. Today the Celtic tradition is still known for its profound mystical spirituality within the Christian tradition.
Brigid is credited with the invention of whistling, which she used to summon her friends to her side.
One of the most popular tales of Brigid involved two lepers who appeared at her sacred well at Kildare and asked to be healed. She told them that they were to bathe each other until the skin healed.
After the first one was healed he refused to bath the other one. Angered, Brigid caused his leprosy to return. Then she gently placed her cloak around the other leper who was immediately healed.[i]
Ireland is full of springs and wells named after Brigid. Due to her powers of healing before long coins were being tossed into her wells and thus began the modern custom of throwing a penny into a fountain while you make a wish.[ii]
Other miracles associated to Brigid involve her producing an abundance of food. In Brigid’s presence, butter is replenished; the bacon she slips to a dog miraculously reappears in the pot; a stone turns to salt; water becomes milk, or beer, or, in one instance, an aphrodisiac. For Christians her ability to create abundance is likened to the miracles of Christ – turning water into wine, a few loaves and fish into a feast. The miracles attributed to both Brigid and Jesus reveal the abundant generosity of God. [iii]
Brigid was a charismatic leader who wielded influence in all avenues of life; she advised kings and bishops; she brought healing to body and soul; she had prophetic dreams. Brigid’s powerful spirituality continues to touch lives today. [iv]
There is even an Irish tradition that says that Brigid was present at the birth of Jesus and that she served as his foster mother. This tradition reveals the profound connection of Celtic Christianity revealed in a mystical relationship between Jesus and Brigid.
Another tradition in Ireland places Brigid as a character in the reading we heard from the Gospel of Luke this morning. Brigid walked before Mary carrying a candle. Brigid’s candle lit Mary’s way into the temple for the presentation of Jesus. And, Brigid’s candle lit Mary’s way into the temple for her traditional postnatal cleansing. The winds were fierce and the walk was difficult, but with Brigid’s power of faith the candles never flickered, never went out, and Mary and Jesus made it into the temple.
Of course the legend is a bit of stretch since some four hundred years passed between Mary going to the temple with the baby Jesus and the life of Brigid.
The feast day of Brigid and the Presentation of Jesus merge into what some Christians know as Candlemas. Candlemas celebrates this connects in the early days of February, at a time when the long nights of winter turn toward greater light. On Candlemas we are invited to ponder the ways in which Mary and Brigid are spiritual guides in our lives today, guiding us with the light of Christ and God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus – the light of the world. Brigid – the patron saint of fire connects her to the light of Christ.
It’s curious that the feast of St. Brigid, Candlemas, and the Presentation of Jesus also fall around Ground-hogs day. Again dealing with a celebration of light, the eventual end of winter and the forthcoming of spring and summer.
Today is also Scout Sunday. We have with us today members of our charter Boy and Girl Scout troops, their families, and leaders. Scout Sunday comes every year in early February. It’s a time for us to give thanks for the scouts, their leaders, and their parents. As a former Girl Scout I know well the benefit of being a scout. My memories are deep and fond of selling cookies door to door and going to summer Girl Scout camp.
As human beings, what we learn on Sundays such as this, when so many factors converge, is that we are formed by all the influences in our lives.
Today is a good day to spend some time giving thanks for those who influenced you in your life – teachers, leaders, parents, scouts, saints, and others who were important in your forming who you are.
Let us give thanks for these saints in light, from Mary to Brigid and beyond, where-ever and who-ever they are.