Bridget’s father was governor of Uppland when she was born in about the year 1303. She married at the age of fourteen, had eight children and often attended the royal court, where she continued to experience the mystical revelations she had known since childhood. These increased in intensity after her husband’s death and, three years later, she responded by founding a monastery for nuns and monks at Vadstena in 1346. Bridget’s daughter Catherine was the first abbess of the so-called Brigettine Order, which became very influential in northern Europe. After travelling to Rome to obtain the pope’s approval for her plans, Bridget never returned to Sweden but spent the rest of her life as a pilgrim, an adviser to rulers and church leaders, and a minister to all in need. Her Revelations were recorded by her confessors before her death, which occurred on this day in 1373.
Isaiah 61.10 – 62.5
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
I have always been fascinated by the lives of the saints – not by sickly sweet hagiography but by the facts that slip through.
There seem to be two parts to Bridget’s life – marriage, whilst still – to our eyes – a child, her child rearing years and then bereavement. Freed from her life as a wife she was then free to found a monastic order and follow God’s call on her life. Her religious visions seem to have been constants in both parts of her life. The life of women in the 14th Century didn’t involve political power – yet for Bridget her visions confirmed her sanctity and so popes, bishops and kings listened to her – she became a highly influential woman in a very male dominated world. Like the writer in this part of Isaiah she couldn’t be silent but needed to proclaim her faith.
We live in a very different world to Bridget. We don’t need to separate out a calling to family life with a call to follow God into active ministry; women don’t need to rely on religious visions in order to have influence; religious experience is no longer seen as the norm. Yet, like Bridget, we are called to let our faith, which cannot be silent, to influence the world around us. We may live more integrated lives that Bridget was allowed to but we are also called to let our faith inform how we live and how we exercise power.
Lord Jesus, help us to use the faith we’ve found to reshape the world around so that you can answer prayer in us and we in you. Amen (after John Bell)
The Rev’d Andy Braunston, minister of Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs in the Synod of Scotland’s Southside Cluster
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