St. Brigid and the Fruit Tree
There was the moment
you could bear it no more.
Your eyes brimming with
great glistening drops
summoned by the hunger of
the world, the callous and
terrible things men and
women do to one another.
Your tears splashed onto
cold stony earth, ringing out
like bells calling monks to prayer,
like the river breaking open to
the wide expanse of sea.
From that salt-soaked ground
a fruit tree sprouts and rises.
I imagine pendulous pears,
tears transmuted to sweetness.
There will always be more grief
than we can bear.
There will always be ripe fruitflesh
making your fingers sticky from the juice.
Life is tidal, rising and receding,
its long loneliness, its lush loveliness,
no need to wish for low tide when
the banks are breaking.
The woman in labor straddles the doorway
screaming out your name.
You stand there on the threshold, weeping,
and pear trees still burst into blossom,
their branches hang so heavy, low,
you don’t even have to reach.
–Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks and artists,
February 1st-2nd marks a confluence of several feasts and occasions including: the Celtic feast of Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day, Candlemas, Feast of the Presentation, and Groundhog Day in the northern hemisphere! (Imbolc is August 1st in the southern hemisphere).
Imbolc is a Celtic feast that is cross-quarter day, meaning it is the midway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. The sun marks the four Quarter Days of the year (the Solstices and Equinoxes) and the midpoints are the cross-quarter days. In some cultures, like Ireland, February 2nd is the official beginning of spring.
As the days slowly lengthen in the northern hemisphere and the sun makes her way higher in the sky, the ground beneath our feet begins to thaw. The earth softens and the seeds deep below stir in the darkness. The word “imbolc” means “in the belly.” The earth’s belly is beginning to awaken, new life is stirring, seeds are sprouting forth.
In many places the ground is still frozen or covered with snow, but the call now is tend to those very first signs of movement beneath the fertile ground. What happens when you listen ever so closely in the stillness? What do you hear beginning to emerge?
St. Brigid is said to bring the first sign of life after the long dark nights of winter. She breathes into the landscape so that it begins to awaken. Snowdrops, the first flowers of spring are one of her symbols.
On the eve of January 31st it is traditional to leave a piece of cloth or ribbon outside the house. It was believed that St Brigid’s spirit traveled across the land and left her curative powers in the brat Bride (Brigid’s Mantle or cloth). It was then used throughout the year as a healing from sickness and protection from harm.
Often in Ireland, I have heard Brigid described as a bridge between the pre-Christian and Christian traditions, between the other world and this one. She bridges the natural and human world. Brigid sees the face of Christ in all persons and creatures, and overcomes the division between rich and poor. Our practice of inner hospitality as monks in the world is essentially about healing all of places we feel fragmented, scattered, and shamed. One of her symbols is her cloak which becomes a symbol of unity. All can dwell under her mantle.
(This was excerpted from our self-study retreat Sacred Seasons)
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
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