On the eve of Saint Brigid's day, 1 February, it is common custom still prevailing in every province of Ireland to make crosses of rushes or straw and peeled seileach [willow] and nail them above the doors and fireplaces and over the beds. The materials are collected by the young people during the day and brought to the door of the house and left there until the evening when the whole family gathers in. The straw and rushes are then brought into the house and prayers are said after which all busily engage in cross making vying with each other for beauty and effect. The varieties of crosses so made are endless.
Saint Brigid of the candles is held in great veneration and esteem by the Irish people by whom she is called the virgin of Ireland. Her feast is at Candlemass when the days are so much longer that a candle can be dispensed with and so the crosses are sometimes referred to as Candlemass Crosses. The days are then a cock stride longer - the footsteps of a cock on a gentle evening when his crop is full. At Brigid's day winter flies away and life is breathed into the earth.
Brigid was also a worker, a spinner and weaver -
And Brigid sits at her white loom
Weaving the veil of purple cloth
That covers the gate of heaven.
The dandelion is called Bearnan Brigide (the serrated flower of Brigid) - it begins to flower on her day. The linnet is Big-ean Brigide (little bird of Brigid) - it begins to sing on her day. The oyster catcher is Giolla Brigide (the servant of Brigid) - it carries her messages.
Francis Joseph Bigger
From an old leaflet found in the National Library of Wales. Undated.
I found the image of the cock’s stride on a gentle evening when his crop is full rather beguiling and it made me think about the slow return of the light after the Winter Solstice: it increases a minute a day so that by St Brigit’s Eve we begin to notice that our days have lengthened and winter is relinquishing its grip.
Just as a steady drip of water wears away stone, persistence gives power to the smallest of things.
I’ve been aware of this on a personal level. For the best part of three weeks after Christmas I was ill in bed and when I started to recover there was an overwhelming pile of things to do – Christmas decorations to be taken down, bags of wrappings from presents to be sorted for recycling and rubbish, not to mention the housework and paperwork (including the dreaded tax return) which had accumulated over the three weeks. Being in convalescent mode and rather weak the tasks seemed daunting and I could do only a very small amount each day. But then one day I suddenly noticed that the backlog had cleared and the house was looking more orderly, the paperwork nearly up to date. It had happened almost imperceptibly. And a small amount of creative work has been going on too!
This has given me a new perspective. I realise how much I had been striving to live in the past – to have finished writing an article, to have tidied the kitchen, to have achieved, to have done this or that so that I had something to show for myself and could prove that I hadn't wasted my time. This behaviour is a kind of consumerism in the world of action. Whereas in fact, life is process, is flow, is always in the process of becoming and changing; it is dynamic. As Lao Tzu said: Dao is forever flowing, yet it never overflows in its effectiveness.
I have a glimpse now of living in the present continuous, of not looking towards the end result but of a gradual being and doing which is enough in and of itself and which brings completion only as a by-product.
Lao Tzu also reminds us that:
Man, when he enters life,
is soft and weak,
when he dies
he is hard and strong.
Plants when they enter life,
Are soft and tender.
When they die
they are dry and stiff.
Therefore: the hard and the strong
are companions of death;
the soft and the weak
are companions of life.
He is talking here of the quality of suppleness, of flexibility, which is needed if one is to flow. I think that to live in the present continuous is also to be a companion of life.