There are a number of women saints who have intrigued me over the years. At this time of year, I tend to recall fondly stories of St. Brigid. She, along with St. Patrick, are the two patron saints of Ireland. Now it’s hard to pin down what is historically accurate about a woman named Brigid who lived 1500 years ago and what are mythical stories that developed.
And it really doesn’t matter. The Celtic imagination knows that truth and inspiration can be found in these stories, no matter what may have factually occurred.
One story about Brigid is that she was the midwife during the birth of Jesus. Now we know that Brigid lived about 450 years after Jesus, but that’s beside the point. The story of Brigid helping Mary give birth to the Prince of Peace provides real truth. The figure of Brigid herself is all about new life, giving birth, transitioning to a new way of existing.
Throughout most of history, wise women were midwives. These were women who understood nature and creation. They used the gifts of creation to help mothers as they endured the traumatic physical event of giving birth. Then they made certain this new little baby transitioned from the safety of the womb to a new existence in this world.
The message for this season of the year is about giving birth, symbolically transitioning to a new life. For each person here, we have all experienced transitions to a new life – a new birth.
Our first transition was a physical birth, just like the baby Jesus.
We had new births when we started school, and were students.
We had new births if younger siblings came along – and we birthed a new identity as an older sibling.
We have new births with celebration of birthdays – becoming a teen, a legal adult, a person of middle age, a retired individual.
We have births with new jobs and vocational opportunities.
We have new births when we enter into deep relationships which transform us and enable us to grow.
We have new births when we discover our calling in life, and take steps towards on that journey.
And at each point with the new births in our lives, there have been midwives – people who have used their gifts to ease the pain of transition and to help us be healthy and strong as we encounter our new lives.
During this Christmas season, I encourage everyone to think about how you can be a midwife. How can we be like St. Brigid, helping birth a new world?
We can seek to ease pain and suffering – whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual. We can offer words and actions of kindness and grace. As we celebrate the Prince of Peace today, we can share peace with others – and especially others who may not bring peace to us.
We can offer hope. We live in days when we are constantly bombarded by images and actions of violence, hatred, divisiveness, and fear. Hope can keep us moving forward on days when the awfulness around us can paralyze us. A midwife recognizes hope, encourages it, and helps others live in hope – no matter what we might encounter.
St. Brigid – whether she was a real woman, simply a legend which developed, or a combination of the two – inspires us to be midwives – to move forward to a new life, a new birth, a new way of being filled with peace, love, compassion, and hope. Let each one of us seek to be like St. Brigid – a midwife. Let us seek to help birth a new life, a new world, around us.
Today, as we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, I would like to close with the hearth prayer of St. Brigid.
Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.
Mothers of our mother, Foremothers strong.
Guide our hands in yours,
Remind us how to kindle the hearth.
To keep it bright, to preserve the flame.
Your hands upon ours, Our hands within yours,
To kindle the light, Both day and night.
The Mantle of Brigid about us,
The Memory of Brigid within us,
The Protection of Brigid keeping us
From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness.
This day and night,
From dawn till dark, From dark till dawn. Amen.