Journeying Inward with St. Brigid
What most distinguishes the sacred art of pilgrimage from a tourist trip or hiking expedition, as beneficial as these are, is the characteristic inward journey, a turning of one’s heart to the Divine, with the expectation of transformation on every level of being along the way.
—Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook
In this part of Ireland, the town of Kildare is synonymous with the legend/history of a 5th century woman named Brigid. The stories that surround her are full of tales and descriptions of "what would Jesus do." Who was this extraordinary woman?
They say she founded a double monastery for women and men, and it was so strong and successful that the men ended up leaving Kildare to form their own monastery elsewhere. She was described as a spiritual leader, an advocate for the poor, a peacemaker, a woman of the land, a woman of legendary hospitality. One story tells that she spread her cloak over all the land to bless it and its people, and another story tells that she tamed a fox in order to give it to a king.
There is a beautiful cathedral in Kildare named after her and an order of Brigidine sisters who have built a lovely retreat center named after her. She is said to have "lit a flame" in Ireland that still shines today, and the cross that bears her name is seen everywhere even on the trash cans in Kildare. The picture above is from the place known as St. Brigid's well where even the stones bear her cross.
Who was this extraordinary woman? The child of a pagan and a Christian, perhaps raised by a servant, born with a spark of Divine love that spread Christianity all over Ireland. Her name is synonymous with pilgrimage here because that inward journey of a pilgrim leads to the igniting of that Divine spark, that turning of the heart to the Divine and to the transformation on every level of being.
An invitation from one of the sister's books, Rekindling the Flame: A Pilgrimage in the steps of St. Brigid of Kildare says:
Sit with the flame and make an inner journey...Become aware of your breathing...Listen as Jesus says to you, "You are the Light of the world." Allow the light to penetrate every fibre of your being...The Light of Christ is surrounding you and protecting you. Listen, as Jesus says to you, "Let your Light shine."
And so we continue our journey deeper and deeper into the soul of Ireland, to the thin places where the veil between heaven and earth is almost non-existent, across the country to a small island out in the North Atlantic : Inis Mor, a place where Irish monks have come for centuries for pilgrimage and retreat, ranking next to Jerusalem and Rome.