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Stirring in the Belly

Monastic practice offers me the gift of paying attention to the seasons of the day and the year.  February 1st is a potent time.  On the Celtic wheel of the year it is Imbolc (meaning “stirring in the belly”) which is one of the cross-quarter days falling between the Solstice and the Equinox.  Imbolc marks the first day of spring, the time when the very beginning of earth’s stirrings and awakenings from winter can be seen.  In Christian tradition it is the Feast of St. Brigid (an Irish Saint who is associated with fire) and on February 2nd is Candlemas which is the day traditionally when priests would bless the beeswax candles for the year ahead.  In secular society February 2nd is Groundhog Day when the groundhog emerges from his burrow to see if there will be six more weeks of winter.  On Saturday it was the Jewish feast of Tu B’Shevat, the new year of trees which marks the time when the sap begins to rise and winter’s waning. Earth and fire are the sacred elements of this threshold time when many cultures and traditions honor the first stirrings of the earth’s belly.

Yesterday I led a group of women in retreat.  We tended to the stirrings in our own bellies and listened to the world around us for whispers of how creation invites us into blossoming.  As we began, I invited them to put their hands on their bellies – that tender and vulnerable place – and sit for a few moments in stillness listening.

You might pause right now and try this:

Connect to your body, hand on your belly, breathe deeply, and pay attention to what you notice stirring in you.

What feelings, images, memories are moving in you?

After savoring these, listen for the invitation you are sensing.

How does what you are experiencing speak to what wants to sprout forth from the fertile soil of your soul in the months ahead?

Take these invitations for a walk with you and see how the world around you helps to ripen your sense of what is stirring.

How does creation call forth what is just beginning to burgeon within you?

The photos below were taken in Ireland last autumn at the site of St. Bridgid’s holy well, a place of pilgrimage and reflection.  The ribbons on the trees are prayers left by pilgrims seeking solace and inspiration.  It is incredibly moving to witness this gathering of prayers, this sacred site holding people’s deepest desires. The green ribbon is the one I left for Bridget, carrying my own longings into winter’s incubation.  The next couple of days I will listen to how this prayer uttered in my heart several months ago is now being transformed in the earth of my being into an offering for the world.

If you were to tie a ribbon on Bridgid’s tree today, what would your prayer be?

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© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
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14 Responses

  1. At first I resisted the message of your letter, because it is still deep mid-winter here in Central Alberta. As I look out the window, the morning’s ice fog has lifted, replaced by snow flurries. Both sky and ground are white, punctuated by grey and black in buildings and trees. There is very little colour. Nothing is stirring — whether in the belly or without. Then I remember: in February, the lambing and kidding will be starting at neighbouring farms. In February, I am hanging new suet balls on my trees to feed the over-wintering birds. New life, nurturing life — this is my mid-winter connection to the sacred.

  2. Dear Christine,
    I was delighted to see that someone honours this wonderful feast and St. Brigid. I have led three Celtic Pilgrimages to Ireland and Scotland and one of our favourite places is the well of St. Brigid in Kildare. We always tie our prayer ribbons to the tree there, and at other holy wells as well. I am Irish and I know the power of the holy places to connect one to the sacred. Thank you for the meditation exercise . The reminder to connect to my own body and to listen to what is stirring within is so healing.

    Go raibh mile maith agat (A million thanks)

  3. Your photos transport me back to that sacred place as your words remind me to pause and listen for what is stirring. Blessings.

  4. what beautiful imagery of ribbons of prayers waving in the wind
    i think i should like to start a prayer tree on my property
    a nice addition to the painted prayers walk already there

  5. This is amazing. When this post came to my inbox, I was in the process of putting all the second chakra (belly) exercises I’ve found into one document, to incorporate into my combined celebration of Tu Bish’vat, Imbolc, and Candlemas over today and tomorrow.

    Thank you for this lovely addition to my celebration!

  6. Last July along with 22 other pilgrims in our group, I tied a ribbon to the tree at Bridget’s well in Kildare for my sister Marge who is dying. In 2006 I did the same, in gratitude for the birth of a long-hoped-for granddaughter. And in 1998 for the first time at Herself’s well, for blessing of a major life change.
    I continue to look for the thin places, like Bridget’s well, where grace seems more available, particularly on this day, February 1st. Thanks, Christene reminding us.

  7. Thank you for prompting me to wish for a sprouting forth in my life in the coming months and allegorically to tie a ribbon to Bride’s tree. It is the right time, isn’t it?
    Thank you as well for the images you conjure up — winter’s incubation — the womb of my soul in a way…

  8. Dear Christene,
    As I read and and followed your invitation to do the exercise, I experienced something deeply beautiful.
    Your images, as always are meaningful and beautiful.
    With Gratitude and Joy for the Blessings you bestow, I will go into my day.
    Vielen Dank.