On Retreat with Brigid, Simeon, and Anna

Brigid of Kildare was the abbess of a double monastery (monks and nuns living within the same monastic complex–or at least very close to one another) round about the 6th century. A Roman influence in the Christianity of Brigid’s Ireland would not be solidified formally for about a hundred years (at the Council of Whitby, hosted by another stellar abbess, Hilda.) While Benedict was writing about a “School for the Lord’s Service,” thusly creating an institution where Christianity could be practiced with a simplicity not yet known in the West, Brigid was educating and evangelizing to her people. The Irish missionaries–mostly monastics with a few roaming bishops–were well known for incorporating Christianity into the native faith. Brigid, then, became an incarnation of a sun goddess with a similar name. As such, it is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in the life of Brigid (and, one might note, even more difficult to sort out the hagiography from the biography, but that’s another story for another day.)

One that was almost certainly known about Brigid was her generosity. Some stories have Brigid’s father (who is sometimes a Druid and sometimes a baptised Christian, sometimes a king and sometimes a slave) kicking her out of his household because she was giving all of his meager wealth to the poor. After Brigid took the veil, she and her nuns founded what would become a great abbey at Kildare. Monasteries, in addition to serving as the hub of mission work in the surrounding territories, were known for their hospitality, something in which Brigid relished. Brigid is known as a patron for those extending generosity and an open hand.

It seems fitting then, that I would be the recipient of such generosity on today, the feast of Brigid.

This week has perhaps been the worst week of my life. On top of a very serious situation at Saint Hilda’s House (which I will not detail for a variety of reasons, namely confidentiality), it was a very rough week at work, some unexpected bills popped up, and my former-therapist popped up with additional stress and fees. By the end of the week, I was frazzled and exhausted, having gotten only a few hours of sleep each night. My prayer life was shot–I couldn’t bring myself to pray the Office and I couldn’t even engage in colloquy.

A priest-friend of mine noticed my distress and opened her house to me for the weekend while she and her husband would be away. I was hesitant a first–Minnesotans often find it difficult to accept gifts, especially when the gift is something which we sincerely need or desire. Accepting K+’s invitation has been very healing. I adopted this weekend as something of a retreat. My primary retreat principles are:

  • eat when you’re hungry;
  • sleep when you’re tired;
  • pray when you can; and
  • be gentle with yourself

I’ve done just that. I fell right asleep last night because I got into bed when I was tired, not when I collapsed from exhaustion as it is most nights. I’ve eaten less, I think, because I only eat when I’m hungry, not when I need to make food for other people or when it’s convenient. I’ve prayed a good deal–the Office again, but also some silent time with a cup of coffee and the sunshine this morning. And I used the treadmill for about an hour, while watching dumb television. If that’s not being gentle with myself, I don’t know what is.

Tomorrow is the Presentation of Our Lord at the Temple (Candlemas), which is taking on more meaning for me this year, partially because I’m in a liturgical context, where seasons and holy days work to sanctify time; but also because I realize that there are a lot of things for which I, like Simeon and Anna, am still waiting. “You don’t need to figure things out!,” old Simeon cried. Anna whispers lovingly, “Just wait.”




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