My latest Seasons of the Soul column for Patheos is now available here:
The most important events make no stir on their first taking place, nor indeed in their effects directly. They seem hedged about by secrecy. It is concussion, or the rushing together of air to fill a vacuum, which makes a noise. The great events to which all things consent, and for which they have prepared the way, produce no explosion, for they are gradual, and create no vacuum which requires to be suddenly filled; as a birth takes place in silence, and is whispered about the neighborhood. Corn grows in the night.
~ Henry David Thoreau
Listen. Can you hear it?
Can you hear the gentle quickening beneath the earth?
In the northern hemisphere the time around February 1-2 is a potent time. On the Celtic wheel of the year it is Imbolc (meaning "in the belly" and also refers to the lactation of the ewes), which is one of the cross-quarter days falling between the Solstice and the Equinox. Imbolc marks the first day of spring in Ireland, the time when the very beginning of earth's stirrings and awakenings from winter can be witnessed. As the days slowly lengthen and the sun makes her way higher in the sky, the ground beneath our feet begins to thaw. The earth's belly softens and the seeds deep below slowly rumble in the darkness. New life is getting ready to sprout forth.
In most parts of the British Isles, February is a very difficult and harsh month and yet tiny but sturdy signs of new life begin to appear: the lambs are born and mother's milk begins to flow, bears and wolves emerge from hibernation, the soft rain brings new grass, the land is prepared to receive new seed. So even though many of you reading this may still feel like you are in the heart of winter with no signs of spring anywhere, they are there beneath the ground. The invitation is to listen for them, to trust this slow emergence beginning now.
Many traditions honor this as a threshold time when we are called to remember that winter is for rest and incubation and deep beneath the frozen ground, life is quickening. On January 19-20 it was the Jewish feast of Tu B'Shevat, the new year of trees that marks the time when the sap begins to rise and winter begins to wane. In secular society February 2nd is also Groundhog Day when the groundhog emerges from his burrow to see if there will be six more weeks of winter.
In Christian tradition it is the Feast of St. Brigid, a 5th-6th century mystic and founder of many monastic communities. Brigid is closely connected to the ancient goddess of Ireland and was known for her fecundity. Stories about the Saint reveal that one of her companions was a cow who supplied her with all of the milk she needed. When she became the Abbess of Kildare, she was said to miraculously increase the production of the abbey cows, filling lakes with milk and hundreds of baskets with butter. She transformed water into ale and fed birds and animals with a generous heart. She is a herald of spring's life-giving forces returning.
February 2nd is also the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, forty days after his birth, for Mary's ritual purification. This feast is also called Candlemas, which is the day traditionally when the beeswax candles would be blessed for the year ahead. As Mary entered the temple, Simeon recognized Jesus as the Messiah and called him a "light to lighten the Gentiles." Candlemas is often celebrated with a festival of lights carried in procession around the church. The blessed candles were brought home to illuminate people's lives.
Candlemas and Imbolc are traditionally a time to look forward. What does the new life stirring in your own world sound like? Can you hear it deep within you? How can you nurture this seedling in the fertile dark earth of your soul in the coming days?
Would you like more support for listening to your own inner stirrings?
Sign up for the Lenten Online Retreat: Journey with the Desert Mothers and Fathers (March 9- April 23, 2011) by January 30th and you will receive a free guided mini-retreat (half-day) on the theme of Stirring in the Belly (for the feasts of St. Brigid, the Celtic feast of Imbolc, and the Christian feast of Candlemas) on February 1st-2nd. The mini-retreat includes a 10-page PDF guide with suggested sequence, practices, and readings for the day and an MP3 audio recording of Christine leading a lectio divina practice. You will receive the link to this gift in the automatic confirmation you recevie with online payment.
Stop by this week's Poetry Party to read some of the amazing and fiercely beautiful poems at the Abbey this week. Pour a cup of tea – maybe something spicy! – and savor the powerful words shared. Then pen your own ode to fierceness and share for a chance to win a spot in the Lenten online retreat through the desert.