I love the intricate twists and turns of the hand-carved Celtic knot that I keep on my desk. I follow the lines with my fingers as I cradle it in my hands, not knowing where the loops will take me or when I will return to the beginning. The Celtic knot is a symbol of mystery, and one of the best-known symbols of Celtic spirituality. John O’Donohue, in Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World, describes the Celtic connection to the knotted spiral:
The Celtic mind was never drawn to the single line; it avoided ways of seeing and being which seek satisfaction in certainty. The Celtic mind had a wonderful respect for the mystery of the circle and the spiral. The circle never gives itself completely to the eye or to the mind, but offers a trusting hospitality to that which is complex and mysterious.
This circular intricacy, the comfort with the complex and the mysterious, reminds me of St. Brigid. The patron saint of weavers, she weaves within her very being many opposites. As John Philip Newell writes in his book The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings:
Brigid of Kildare was said to be the daughter of a pagan chieftain and a Christian woman slave. She was born at dawn on the first of February while her mother (who worked as a dairy maid) was standing in the threshold of the household dairy. So it is that Brigid was born neither slave nor free, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither pagan nor Christian, neither in the winter or the spring, neither at day or at night. Brigid, therefore, was a liminal figure -- a woman of the margins and the thresholds.
In my own life, I’ve come to think of this woman of margins and thresholds as the patron saint of the both/and. Just as the Celtic knot weaves a complex pattern that cannot be easily untangled, Brigid weaves into a beautiful pattern concepts that are usually considered opposites: Christian and pagan, day and night, winter and spring, woman and (possibly) bishop. When I am feeling stuck, unable to reconcile two seemingly conflicting options or ideas, she reminds me to step back and look for a way to hold and include all that is before me. When I find myself thinking, “Either I could….or I could….” Shifting my gaze from my dilemma to St. Brigid invites a breath of possibility, and invites me to look for the potential both/and, to weave together my own opposites.
In this Easter season, we are also reminded through Brigid of the mystery of Christ’s rising. She points towards Jesus, who is the ultimate both/and, fully human, fully divine. St. Brigid shows us how to weave these seeming opposites, humanity and divinity, and to contemplate them within the person of Jesus. St. Brigid is an entry point to the mystery of our faith.
She is a model for us of Celtic spirituality, which holds opposites in friendship. Of this friendship, John O’Donohue says in Anam Cara, “For our sore and tormented separation, the possibility of this imaginative and unifying friendship is the Celtic gift.” In these polarized times, St. Brigid and Celtic spirituality offer a breath of fresh air. St. Brigid reminds us of the expansiveness of God, of the way God is not easily defined or limited or placed in a box. I feel the deep gift and necessity of this in my own life, to release my belief that I have all the answers or always know what is right.
I wonder, what opposites are you carrying in your life? Where are you experiencing tensions and the pull of either/or? What might it be like to spend time with St. Brigid, and allow her to reveal to you the possibility of both/and?