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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

January 9, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 180

 


 
 
 


 

global perspective Rural tranquility and violent times

by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

We're still in the 12th to 19th centuries with the prayers of the old folks in the Scottish islands and highlands, their saints and their times. They lived in rural tranquility and violent times.

Editor's note: Arthur Jones is musing on Celtic Invocations from Vineyard Books. The book, now out of print, by Alexander Carmichael captures the prayers and invocations of the elderly Catholics of Scotland. For the other reflections on this topic, see Jan. 6, Jan. 7 and Jan. 8.

Other Today's Takes by Arthur Jones
Jan. 8, 04 St. Magnus the non-violent
Jan. 7, 04 The preciousness of time
Jan. 6, 04 More thoughts at the dawn of a new year
Jan. 5, 04 The Gospel according to Fred Astaire
Nov. 6, 03 Don't expect anything
Nov. 3, 03 6.30 a.m. Mass
Aug. 21, 03 The fire in her belly isnít curry, itís Christ
Like their Irish kin, they were practically feudal even into the 19th century, had strictly designed places, and that meant gender, too.

Timelessness in gender assignment in the peoples daily lives was matched in one saint, however, in the co-equal role one woman saint played. Enter St. Bride (also known as St. Brigid and St. Bridget), co-patron with St. Patrick, of Ireland.

If St. Michael, "the Neptune of the Gaels" was myth made mortal, St. Bride was mortal though is buried under myth and fable.

If Magnus (see St. Magnus the non-violent) was magnificent in his nonviolence, Bride was amazing in her presence to the people throughout their day, throughout the seasons of their lives, and the seasons of Creation.

Bride, whose parents Dubhthach, a chieftain in Leinster (province), and Brocca (a slave), were baptized by St. Patrick, was likely born in County Louth, Ireland (home of half of my Irish first cousins.)

She entered the convent when quite young, possibly as a teenager, and was professed by St. Mel of Armagh. He made her abbess over her little band of eight young women and in her 20s opened the first convent in Ireland when she created the double monastery (men and women) at Kildare.

It became a famous academic center, its school of illuminated manuscripts unparalleled. The Book of Kildare was regarded as the supreme example of Irish illumination, until its disappearance three centuries ago. (Could it still be, you might ask, in a baronial English attic somewhere?)

There's little doubt that in her long life -- she died at about 75 -- Bride was legendary for her leadership, spirituality and compassion. It may have been, despite their monastic life, that some of the convent's women -- Bridge on occasion -- responded as midwives.

As Anna bore Mary
As Mary bore Christ
As Eile bore John the Baptist
       without a flaw in him,
Aid thou me in mine unbearing,
Aid me, O Bride!

She is "calm Bride the generous" in the loom blessing. In the Outer Isles the women were usually the weavers and the men fishermen. In the Inner Isles the men were the weavers. In both there was a prayer ceremony when the household loom was stopped on a Saturday evening in anticipation of the Sabbath.

In the wet and cold islands, fire for warmth and cooking, wood was absent, peat (turf) was burned. The fire needed to be kept in for the night, a process know in the islands as "smooring" (smothering).

The embers were divided Trinity-like into three with a brick of peat between them, and in the name of the Three of the Light, ashes and peat flakes lightly spread to smother the flames but keep the ember-light spreading.

I will built the hearth,
As Mary would built it.
The encompassment of Bride and Mary
Guarding the hearth, guarding the floor,
Guarding the household all.

What then have we after five days with Carmichael and his islanders and highlanders? Perhaps renewed insights into the presence of things around us, and reminders that even the most utilitarian is a worthy way to thank God. For if it made sense to give thanks for and to bless the fire, does it makes any less sense today, to give thanks for electricity and bless the light switch?

(PS: And imagine, I wrote for an entire week without bashing Bush, or blasting bishops who should be in jail for their connivances in sheltering abusive priests.)

Arthur's Daily Ditty
Today it's not the saints we've got,
Or miracles detected,
Or whether they are old or mod --
It's how they get selected.
(It's really quite a pity
it requires a committee.)

Arthur Jones' e-mail address is arthurjones@comcast.net.

 
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