In America this may be Groundhog’s Day, but in Celtic spirituality these days are known as Imbolc, or “in the belly,” because you’re at the halfway point between the equinox and the solstice, and you’re emerging into spring.

Christians celebrate Candlemas today, where new candles are blessed, as the ones lit at the Solstice are now spent. And in services many will hear about the Presentation of Christ, where the ancient prophets Simeon and Anna lift him up and bless him as the light of the world.

The symmetry is stunning and intentional.

These hinge days between seasons are worth paying attention to, as our mothers and fathers did.

So bless your new candles, because you’ve spent the old ones in these winter days, and start opening the shades.

It’s time to wake from our hibernation, blink, and live again.

On Meaning

“What’s going to happen?” she wondered. “There has to be a bigger purpose…”

“Why?” he asked honesty.

“Because I need it all to mean something,” she replied, tears welling up in her eyes.

“We all want things to mean something in some bigger plan,” he said, “but what if they don’t? What if the map is being drawn one second at a time? Does that mean it’s all…well..meaningless?” he countered.

“Well, no…” she said. “I would just like some assurances.”

“I’m not sure life gives you those,” he said. “What if the larger point is for us to embrace that things have meaning not because there’s some ‘larger plan,’ but because our small, little plans are beautiful enough? And the mistakes? They don’t need to fit in some larger scheme to be redeemed. They’re redeemed because we learn from them, heal them as best we can, and move forward just a little bit on this ever-evolving, ever-scrolling map we make.”

“Significance,” he went on, “is not assigned from above. It’s assigned from within. Things mean something because they’re important to us, to you, to him. Or her. It’s subjective, by God. And that’s OK. It doesn’t make it less. It probably makes it more.”

“More?” She closed her eyes trying to wrap her head around it all.

“So, my quest for certainty is a fool’s errand?” she wondered.

“No,” he said, “because you’re not a fool. It’s the most human thing in the world, I think. But what if we just got used to embracing the idea that there is no certainty?”

“It might be freeing…” she said, honestly.

“It just might be.”

Night People

“The Christian Celts, for the greater part of two millennia, were neither puritanical nor dualistic. They were close to the Earth’s cycles of fertility. They saw the Earth as good, sexuality as good, life as good–all being generous blessings.

The Celts have always been ‘night people’ as well–the night being a holy time for storytellers, song, and mirth. Celtic poets went into the holy dark to seek its blessings and hone their craft.”

-William John Fitzgerald-

This is all probably why I’m theologically non-dualistic and love stories. This is my heritage.

Water, Water, Everywhere

This Sunday many churches will conflate two festivals, and with good reason.

Those without Epiphany services will integrate a migration of the Magi at the beginning, but focus on the Baptism of Christ for the meat of the service.

By the by: If you’ve never done this hybridization, let me know. I’m happy to pass along a worship guide.

But to aid you in your inspiration and sermon writing, even at this late hour, check out what Tamika and Jason have to say on the readings (link below).

And, if you just want a bit of inspiration, remember that the ancient Celts held that water was not only necessary for life, but the lifeblood of all things. Water feeds and destroys, breeds and bears forth in this world.

If the Christ was to do some saving, he needed to be drenched in the source of life we have on earth.

Here’s what Thoughtcast has to say on the topic:

The Welcome Door

The Celtic calendar was built on a wheel, an ancient wisdom of spirals and turning on which they trusted all life to be built upon. It was a dance that humanity participated in along with everything else cosmic to microscopic.

There were two halves, the “Sam” (summer) and the “Gam” (winter), and those were divided again with Samhain in October (the start of winter) and Beltaine in May (the start of summer), and further divided by Imbolc in February and Lughnasadh in August. In between all of those were the celestial markers of equinoxes and solstices, further providing some guidance as to what rhythm the Celts would be adopting at a particular time of year.

This is the eightfold pattern of their year, spinning round and round.

And each day itself was said to mirror this pattern with dusk (wintering) and dawn (summering) and noon and midnight. In other words: each day held a year.

A similar wisdom is seen in the ancient creation stories (Genesis follows this pattern), and also the eschatalogical understanding that each day holds the liturgical year (waiting, celebration, mourning, growing, etc.).

All of this is ancient, cycling wisdom at play, if we’re willing to pay attention.

In a modern Celtic understanding, January affords us the opportunity to focus in on thresholds (liminal spaces from the Latin “limen” which literally means “threshold”). Though it was not the ancient New Year for the Celts (which was probably Samhain), the mentality of the people was one of adaptation and so we find it has shifted to enfold the Gregorian calendar into its thoughtful rhythm.

January is our modern threshold month. It is the doorway, the threshold, to a new year. For the ancient Celts thresholds were holy places in the home, the barrier between the world and the family, a portal through which humans, as well, as other spirits traversed. It was neither here nor there. The dirt of thresholds was seen as holy ground, good for repairing relationships and cleansing the soul (haven’t you ever said, “it is good to be home!”?).

When entering an ancient Celtic home you’d say a quick blessing just inside the doorway called “The Welcome of the Door.” This is mirrored in many religions, but specifically for Western Christians we see this practice adopted on January 6th as doorways are blessed in honor of the Epiphany and the Magi crossing the threshold of the home of Mary and Joseph to see the Christ child.

January, as our modern threshold, provides us a similar opportunity for blessing and newness, is what I’m saying. The wheel is spinning, but there are important markers throughout, and now we are at the threshold of 2023 and a “Welcome of the Door” is in order.

What will be the blessing you say here?


Sometimes Writing

“Sometimes writing sits in you
like a wild animal. Maybe
you see its eyes.
Maybe you don’t see it at all,
but the hair on the back of your neck
knows it is there
where the deepest shadows lie.
Often the shadows lie
about what’s hiding in them.

The panther that has stalked you
since you were a child
is old now. No longer wild,
and tired of guarding the treasure
you yourself left behind–
blind and deaf, she will give it all to you
if you just let her go.

But how are you to know
whether the fox on the hill
in the cemetery carries your mother’s name
or is the same fox you saw
crossing your back yard in the snow

unless you put your pen to paper
and use it to release the animal
that hides in the shadow of your hand.”

-Pat Schneider-

Merry Christmas

Christ climbed down
From his bare tree
This year
And ran away to where
There were no rootless Christmas trees
Hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
From his bare tree
This year
And ran away to where
There were no gilded Christmas trees
And no tinsel Christmas trees
And no tinfoil Christmas trees
And no pink plastic Christmas trees
And no gold Christmas trees
And no black Christmas trees
And no powderblue Christmas trees
Hung with electric candles
And encircled by tin electric trains
And clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
From his bare tree
This year
And ran away to where
No intrepid Bible salesmen
Covered the territory
In two-toned Cadillacs
And where no Sears Roebuck creches
Complete with plastic babe in manger
Arrived by parcel post
The babe by special delivery
And where no televisioned Wise Men
Praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
From his bare tree
This year
And ran away to where
No fat handshaking stranger
In a red flannel suit
And a fake white beard
Went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
In a Volkswagen sled
Drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
With German names
And bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
From Saks Fifth Avenue
For everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
From his bare tree
This year
And ran away to where
No Bing Crosby carolers
Groaned of a tight Christmas
And where no Radio City angels
Iceskated wingless
Thru a winter wonderland
Into a jinglebell heaven
Daily at 8:30
With Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
From his bare tree
This year
And softly stole away into
Some anonymous soul
He waits again
An unimaginable
And impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
The very craziest
Of Second Comings

-Lawrence Ferlinghetti-