February 1 is Ibolc. It marks the first stirrings of spring in Ireland. St. Brigid’s Day is attached to it. Candlemas is also attached to it, marking the 40 days after Christmas when Mary went to the Temple, with baby Jesus in tow, to honor the rules for being ritually purified after giving birth, and thus meeting Simeon and Anna. It’s the Candle Mass in the old days because everyone in Ireland brought their special, home-use beeswax candle to the meeting for a blessing. Those candles symbolized the presence of God, the flame of the Spirit with them. As with all the big days of the Christian year, Brigid’s Day is all mixed up with legend, the seasons of paganism, and arguments over what is the best way to honor her memory.
I’m not bothering with the controversies too much. I feel free to strain out good things from not-so-good things whenever I can. I’m into “testing everything and holding on to what is good” as Paul instructs the Thessalonians to do. Using Jesus’ metaphor another way, I think we should strain out the gnat of good and not swallow the camel of nonsense when we need to.
I like to remember the Brigids of my own era on Brigid’s Day. As the church was first forming, brilliantly, in Ireland, Brigid was a great leader (see last year’s blog about it, if you like). At the site of the community she founded and lead in Kildare, we visited the enclosure for the perpetual flame that Brigid tended and which burned for over a thousand years before Protestants doused it. The flame was a sign of the presence of Jesus in the heart of Ireland. The guide told us that the flame’s keepers were on a twenty-day cycle. Nineteen women were selected to keep the fire going and on the twentieth night Brigid kept it herself.
I like the idea of nineteen women keeping the flame of faith going. I know several sets of those kind of women, and so do you. They are keeping faith alive in a time when there are a lot more than Protestants trying to douse it! I collected my own roster, just to celebrate the idea that women are still courageously tending the flame. I listed the first nineteen who randomly came to my mind, below, and resisted listing nineteen more. I know many women who keep the flame burning among the Circle of Hope. I thought you might like to add one or two to the list, as well.
Brigid’s Day is a good day to celebrate what burns with the fire of Jesus. It is a good day to celebrate faithful women who tend the flame and to imagine all the good they are causing to stir up springtime in the winter of the world. By selecting nineteen I did not mean to deselect all the rest, of course — this is not the Grammy Awards of spirituality! I just want us to look around on Brigid’s Day and note the spark of the perpetual flame in each one, celebrate what God has done, and anticipate what God might do.
Here’s my random nineteen.
Gwen – spiritual director, promoter of mental health, flame-builder in children
Sarah – leader of cells and cell leaders and network builder
Rachel – pastor to many and group leader for those in need
Marquita – homemaker, daring leader, student
Aubrey –vision keeper, compassionate teacher
Jen – risk taker, church planter
Martha – business maker, fearless leader
Tracey – tenacious servant, overcomer
Megan – hardworking environment maker
Katie – hospitable faith builder
Christina – business builder, evangelist, mother to many
Kelly – ambitious talent user, seeker of the deep
Angie – teacher in song, empath
Missy – missional organizer, persistent servant
Mimi – peacemaker, missional educator and fire builder
Emily – visionary organizer, risk taker, networker
Melissa – consistent caregiver, safety net sewer
Brittney – visionary outreacher, passionate leader
Courtney – multi-talented creator, brave life developer
If you feel like contributing to the formation of another nineteen flame-tenders (or more!), add a comment!