URC Daily Devotion Saturday 15th April 2023 St Bridget
Saturday 15 April 2023 St Brigid of Kildare
Irish folklore abounds with stories of St Brigid of Kildare, born around 455 CE, the daughter of a powerful chieftain Dubhtach and a Christian slave girl.
The young Brigid was wearingly generous…with the property of her father! She gave away his cattle, his supply of freshly churned butter – and on one occasion even his sword – to those whose need seemed greater. To thwart plans to marry her to a poet of high standing she disfigured herself so that she would be rejected and therefore able to follow her vocation to found an abbey seeking a grant of land from the King of Leinster around the year 480. The king, it is said, initially refused, but when she said she needed only as much land as her cloak would cover he laughingly relented. Unfortunately for the king, Brigid’s cloak – when laid on the fertile earth of the Curragh – would miraculously grow to cover it all.
The abbey that she founded, a double monastery with separate quarters for men and women, was ruled over jointly by an abbess (Brigid being the first) and a bishop-abbot. It became a centre of learning whose influence extended across the European mainland. The site of the monastery had formerly been a pagan shrine where a sacred fire was kept perpetually burning. Rather than stamping out this pagan flame, Brigid and her nuns kept it burning as a Christian symbol.
St Matthew 25:31-36
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Brigid’s example – a clever, proud, determined woman of power and compassion – continues to have purchase in secular Ireland. From this year forward Ireland has a new public holiday, to be marked each year on the first Friday of February . It is St Brigid’s Day, to mark the first day of spring and a new Celtic year. Perhaps there is life and meaning to be had from the old stories still!
A symbol attributed to her has become emblematic of Ireland. For many centuries and until now a distinctive cross, made from woven rushes, has been displayed in Irish homes as a simple object of devotion and talisman of protection. To this day every Irish child learns to weave one in primary school and hears the tales of the saint whose name it bears.
Brigid’s life was lived at the turning of the ages in Ireland as Druidic ways yielded to Christian devotion. She entered culture in gentle but indelible ways and carried a story of female devotion that was compassionate and transgressive. Her contemporary ability to express progressive religious impulses in Irish culture might tell us that our world is not as ‘secular’ as we it may feel to be and that there are resources in our cultures and memories that can be resurrected and repurposed in service of the Kingdom.
We give you thanks, O God, that old stories half-remembered, re-created, passed down and loved, of place and people, still have the ability to inspire and feed the souls of the nations.
We think of Brigid, a woman of peace, and all who have brought harmony to conflict, light to the darkness, hope to the downcast, surprise to the confident and the powerful.
May the cloak of peace cover those who are troubled and anxious.
Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all God has made. Strengthen what is weak within us. Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body and spirit. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr John McNeil Scott is Principal of the Scottish College and a member of Shawlands URC in Glasgow