I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Elaine Breckenridge’s reflection on Saint Brigid.
I went to Ireland last year and met Saint Brigid: monastic leader and pastor, protector and companion, soul friend and healer. Oh, I had known about Brigid as there are no shortage of books detailing her life as a person in history and her tradition as a goddess of the land of Ireland. But on this sacred journey, experience expanded knowledge as throughout my two week journey, time and again I met Brigid.
My visit to the Anglican cathedral bearing her name in Kildare was a surprise. Her image in the stain glass window actually took my breath away. There she was–a life-size figure on the same par as Patrick and Comicille (Columba). And what was she holding? A crozier! What looks like a shepherd’s staff is also the primary symbol of the office of Bishop. I knew of legends that described her “accidental” consecration as a Bishop in the church. Stories tell that the Bishop said the wrong prayer over her as she was being set apart as an abbess. But to see what I had considered to be a folktale preserved in the historical record of the church (the window) was amazing. That day, I met Saint Brigid, monastic leader and pastor.
I knew that Brigid was and still is a symbol of hospitality and abundance. Walking through the village of Kildare, that tradition came alive as I saw her image in a fine tile portrait in front of a local pub. A sign advertised a special sale on Brigid’s Ale. Fitting, since among her many occupations, Brigid is the patron saint of beer makers. Just a few doors down the road her cross was displayed lovingly in a shop window. I imagined the owners hung her cross asking for her special prayers of blessing and protection.
There are many accounts about the cross of Brigid being placed in homes and shrines asking for her blessing and companionship. I knew this but I was not prepared to see her large cross guarding this house on Inish Mor in the Aran Islands. In Ireland, the presence of Brigid continues to be a blessing: in the church, the market place and home. In Ireland I met Saint Brigid, protector and companion.
No pilgrimage to Kildare could be complete without a visit to the famous well there that bears her name. While countless wells and shrines in Ireland bear her name, this particular one includes a statue of her holding the likeness of a flaming torch, reminding visitors of her association with both fire and water. Passing through the threshold into the outdoor sanctuary was passage into a world of contemplation and beauty. I walked the pilgrims way to the well led by six stones and stopped to listen at each one. At each rock, I was given a word. Presence. Healing. Inspiration. Discernment. Love. Surrender. These words guided my retreat with the Abbey of the Arts that month. Well known for her ministry of spiritual direction, at the well, I met Saint Brigid, my Anam Cara or soul friend.
Brigid followed me home, from Ireland to Lodi, California. She has appeared in my dreams and in my prayers. Part of the Brigid tradition places her at the birth of Jesus and as a companion to the Holy Family. One night I had a special dream. As I awoke, I realized that she had done for me what she had done for Jesus and his parents. When I was an infant, I was hospitalized for many weeks. Yet, she had been a special presence, a companion when I thought I was alone.
I have carried the memory of being both abandoned and trapped in my mind and in my body, kept as I was in crib with only custodial care. But now I realize that I was not trapped but sheltered and protected under the holy mantle of Saint Brigid. She was there, the healer and had been present to me just as she had been present to the Holy family and to the many women in childbirth who called upon her name. In my home in California, I met Saint Brigid, my healer.
And so a new chapter of my spiritual journey begins. The wounds of childhood have left me with a fear of scarcity—whether it be around time, money, food or affection. What better practice than to team up with Saint Brigid not only the healer, but the patron of hospitality, abundance and generosity?
As I celebrate her feast day this year, the day after Imbolc, the first day of spring on the Celtic calendar, I look forward to a new birthing taking place in my soul. I know that whatever comes forth, Brigid, saint, leader, and my Anam Cara, protector, companion and healer will be with me.
Elaine Breckenridge is a dancing monk and an Episcopal priest currently serving St. John the Baptist Church in Lodi, California. Her passions include incorporating Celtic and Creation Spirituality into traditional liturgical forms, the music of Kristopher E. Lindquist (Kelmusic.com), yoga and living the Abbey of the Arts Monk Manifesto.