Celtic Imbolc: What Is Lying Dormant within You?

Celtic Imbolc: What Is Lying Dormant within You? January 31, 2023

Snow drops blooming int he winter
Snow drops burst from the ground at Imbolc, a reminder of what lies dormant. (JHenning / Pixabay)

Today marks the time of winter when our hearts and minds turn to that deep longing for spring. Standing halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, those Celts who were so attuned to the turning of the seasons knew the importance of this midpoint. The need to hasten the call to warmth and light, to the sprouting of life from hardened ground. Life was lying in wait “within the womb”, imbolc. So to the goddess of fire and fertility they called. Brigid, strengthen the heartbeat of the lambs lying curled with their mothers. Ready the milk so that it will flow freely in streams of warm and sweet. Crack the hull of seeds that stems might make their way to the surface, ready to peek their heads above the soil. To Brigid they called with fires lit, a step closer to life renewed.

a sheep in a barn of hay with the feet of the lamb about to be born just protruding
What lies in the womb, imbolc, in wait, unknown, unseen, but ready to be fed by its mother’s sweet milk at Arnprior Farm, Scotland (image: M.Somerville)

The Divine Dormant

The Celtic goddess Brigid was adopted and adapted by Christians as St. Brigid of Kildare, whom we met At the Threshold. This holy woman was the midwife of what lay dormant. In the fields and in the barns. In the souls of those who sought connection to themselves and to something greater than themselves. Born to a Christian mother and Druid father, she lived in that sacred space where an understanding of the divine was far more expansive than one way of seeing and knowing. As Marcy Hall portrays in her beautiful icon of the saint, she knew Christ in all living things. And she knew holy ritual in the flowing of the sheep’s milk to feed its lamb. She knew that boundaries could not contain a limitless God. She could feel the heartbeat of the divine pulsing in the earth. And she could see the divine lying dormant within every person she met.

A Brigid in Our Own Time

The celebration of Imbolc this year is carrying me to the powerful prayer offered by Sikh American activist and author Valarie Kaur. She opens her book, See No Stranger, by recounting this prayer she offered after the presidential election of 2016 – to a nation in shock. More than half of whose citizens felt a wash of darkness cover the earth. Who didn’t know how to wake their children that morning with the news that they did not feel safe.
She prayed with a call to hope. Her call to hope birthed a called to action.
What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?
What if our America is not dead but a country still waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor…
Remember the wisdom of the midwife: “Breathe,” she says. Then: “Push.”
Now it is time to breathe. But soon it will be time to push.

Embed from Getty Images
A Dormant Justice

Can we stand at Imbolc with the Brigids and Valarie and all those who know that in these in-between times there is so much power and promise that lies in wait? Our nation stands with Memphis this week. We weep for Tyre Nichols. Unspeakable pain festers deep within the bowels of our land. Can we find what lies dormant, needing to be pushed into being? Can we utter the names of the murderers? Of their families? Of the systems of violence? Do our faith communities allow us to pray for victims and abusers? Could Brigid see the face of Christ even in those officers? Justice lies dormant. We must midwife it into being that it might uncurl itself, unfurl itself, and poke itself above the soil.

Surely the fiery call of Imbolc is one not just to sit in patient expectation of what lies unseen, unknown, unbirthed. To wait in pregnant hope. But also to stir the birth pangs. To steady ourselves to push. That the sweet milks of justice might feed a battered nation.

Pausing to Recognize Imbolc This Week

Alignment: Interfaith Contemplative Practices will meet this Sunday online, as we meet every Sunday evening for half an hour. There are people there from different faith traditions and those who do not follow any. Each week we embrace the practice of a different tradition. It is a time in which we settle ourselves from the doings and undoings of the week that has passed as we center for the week ahead. It is time spent in personal meditation, reflection, or prayer. It is half an hour that we could easily spend on our own. But we sit together. In our own spaces, in our own meditation, but guided by the practice of something other than our own. Our hope is that if we can embrace the way another prays and incorporate that into our own practice, then surely it will be easier to carry justice in the womb, imbolc, and to birth it into this world.

You are most welcome to join us this Sunday, February 5, from 7:00-7:30 pm EST, for a meditation on Imbolc.
And to hear Valarie Kaur speak at Interfaith Philadelphia’s Dare to Understand Awards Ceremony on March 2, 2023 at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, PA.

About Rev. Dr. Margaret Somerville
Rev. Dr. Margaret Somerville is a Quaker educator and a Presbyterian minister. The focus of her work in education is the way language shapes how we see ourselves in the world. The focus of her ministry is embracing the practices of a variety of traditions to deepen our connection to the divine. Director of Alignment: Interfaith Contemplative Practices, retreat leader, and associate member of the Iona Community. Find out more about Margaret's work at www.interfaithalignment.org. You can read more about the author here.
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