The legend of Brigid
‘I was a stranger and you took me in.’
This program is centered around St Brigid of Ireland, who established various gathering places around wells across the country, as she travelled to tell the Christian story to the Celtic peoples. The ‘Wells’ became sacred places of prayer and of healing and are to be found there today.
An old legend involving Brigid tells us that during one of the earliest famines in Ireland circa the 6th century Brigid’s parents were forced to leave home in search of food for the family. Brigid was left to look after the home with only a ‘single stoup of water and a bannock of bread’. Like all parents they warned Brigid not to let anyone into the house and to be careful with the food because there was no more. After it got dark two travellers came down the lane : one a man with brown hair and a grey beard, the other a beautiful young woman. They asked Brigid for food and water and a place to rest. She shared the food and water with them but knew she must obey her parents and not invite the strangers in. However she took them around the back of the house to an old barn and tried to make them comfortable. When she returned to her house the water stoup was full and the bannock of bread whole! When she looked out the window the old barn was engulfed in bright light. She knew then that Christ had come to earth.This legend reminds us that even when times are hard, and the larder is low we are called to welcome the stranger. We are called to offer hospitality and to give people hope.
As Brigid grew up her life was characterised by an ability both to found monastic centres and to travel the countryside telling the Christian story. Brigid’s great monastic centre, Kildare, attracted men and women who dedicated their lives to the service of others. It was a place of hope and healing, of learning and hospitality.
To be able to make room in our lives for others, especially strangers, is a great gift. To see Christ in others is the beginning of a transformative experience. As Joan Chittester says : ‘When I let strange people and strange ideas into my heart, a new world begins to take shape’. When Brigid’s tradition calls us to welcome the stranger, it calls us to participate as active agents in the bringing forth of a new creation. As the other is welcomed, the fire of transformation is kindled and new possibilities open up.
What would Brigid say to us today? How would she deal with the world whose climate is characterised so often by violence, threats of terrorism, mistrust, fear and suspicion?
It may be that as we face this world culture, we are acquainting ourselves with the stranger within, a stranger who is somewhat fearful and tentative. What is it to know oneself in times of uncertainty?
Brigid’s life calls us to that place of offering hospitality and hope to ourselves and to others. And she insists that this happens in community.
Brigid would tell us to interact with the stranger, to change and be changed.
Brigid would tell us to be a community, to help one another welcome the stranger, and she would tell us that the hospitality of Christ marks our hope in the midst of a world in chaos.
The voices that gather around the Well of Brigid at Kildara Centre are raised at times to reject the status quo and to take some action to address issues of justice and inequity. The voices of strangers are heard and so often transformation occurs and hope is generated. Come and join in the various offerings of the Program, and maybe you will find a place to speak, to be safe and to begin to imagine and to create the kind of world in which you and those whom you love and who love you wish to live.
A key obligation and value in the Judeo-Christian tradition is to treat the ‘stranger’ well. As Exodus 22 says ‘You shall not molest or oppress the alien, for you were aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt’.
Brigid’s Well is about giving ourselves and others courage and support to change the world, and to create the community where we care for the stranger, comfort the most vulnerable, serve the destitute and be Christ for those in need. When Jesus and the woman from Samaria met at the well in the heat of mid-day, they were mutual strangers both in need. The subsequent conversation transformed each of them, filling them with the waters of hope.
Scattered across Ireland today there are countless wells named after Brigid, and associated with these wells are healing, hope, hospitality and blessing for people in need. One can easily imagine the water from those wells, coursing through mother earth and reaching the Antipodes and flowing through our Australian waterways.
It is no accident that today our Brigid’s Well at Kildara Centre, is situated on a very ancient aboriginal site consisting of a huge underground spring. Imagine it as a watering hole for our indigenous sisters and brothers in ancient times. Today it is covered with layers and layers of concrete, buildings, roads etc., yet evidence of its existence and movement is still clear, its dampness quite pervasive, and its power ever present.
Now in this 21st century part of this ancient watering hole is transformed into a place for searchers of hope, for people who seek life-giving interaction, creative prayer experiences, deeper understanding of God, discussion of current events and value systems, involvement in issues of justice and the exploration of spirituality today. We have named our Program ‘Brigid’s Well’ remembering the pre and post Christian traditions where the Sacred Wells in Ireland were places where communities gathered for healing, hope, prayer and sustenance.
Oh come to the water all who are thirsty:
Though you have nothing, I bid you come
And be filled with the goodness I have to offer you.
Come, listen, live. (Is. 55)