Leaving Kildare

Today is my final day in Kildare, and I’ve been using my time to revisit some of the places and people that have been part of my pilgrimage here. After having some morning coffee in my favorite sidewalk café, I spent some time in Saint Brigid’s Cathedral and had the opportunity to listen to the cathedral organist as he practiced for tomorrow’s service. There are a few things as glorious as the sound of a real pipe organ, echoing through the resonant space of a cathedral; so it really was “a grace gift“ to receive this impromptu concert.

After a little more listening, reading, and praying, I went to visit with Paddy, the elderly gentleman who oversees admission to the cathedral’s round tower. I’ve been visiting with Paddy each of the last three days, listening as he has told me about his time in the army, the loss of his wife about four years ago, and his observations about life in a small Irish town. But today I was able to take him a small present—a piece of cake from a local bakery—to thank him for sharing a bit of his life with me.

Finally, I’ve spent a little more time in some of the sites associated with Brigid that I visited earlier in my stay. The first of these was Solas Bhride (Irish for “The Light of Brigid”), a Christian retreat center that seeks to pass along the values of Brigid’s ministry, which include serving the poor, practicing hospitality, and valuing the gifts and leadership of women. While there, I was able to chat with one of the “Sisters of Brigid,” who lives at the center and who leads some of the programming, and she showed me a statue that tells some of the stories associated with Brigid’s life.

  • Top left: Although Brigid had given her heart to Christ and wanted to enter a life of chastity, her father wanted to marry her off to a pagan king. When her father went away to negotiate the arrangement, she was approached by a poor beggar, and she gave the beggar her father’s valuable sword so that he could sell it and buy food. When the pagan king heard about this act of compassion, he told Brigid’s father that she should be allowEd to follow her sense of call.
  • Top center: It was said that no one who came to Brigid in need was ever sent away hungry. According to legend, this was possible because the Lord had given to Brigid a cow that produced an unending supply of milk.
  • Top right: Brigid came to be known as “Mary of the Gaels,” and legend said that she had served Mary as a midwife when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While clearly impossible from a historical perspective, the legend communicated to Celtic believers a sense of Brigid’s holiness, her compassion, and her deep commitment to serving in Christ.
  • Bottom: The figure of Brigid holds a shepherds staff, a sign of her pastoral authority. According to legend, Brigid was “accidentally“ consecrated as a bishop by a church leader who perceived her exceptional holiness. She came to be thought of as one of Ireland‘s patron saints, the other two being Saint Patrick and Saint Columba.

The other location to which I returned was “Saint Brigid’s Well,“ which is actually two wells, located close enough to each other that they’re probably fed by the same underground spring. In the lore of pre-Christian Ireland, wells and other sources of water were often considered to be “thin places,” where the veil between the sacred and the mundane was exceptionally thin. When Brigid established her ministry center in Kildare, these two wells eventually became associated with her. And legend said that anyone who suffered from an infirmity could come to the well, dip a cloth into the water, cleanse the wounded part of their body with it, and then tie it to a nearby tree. As the cloth deteriorated, their illness or infirmity would also disappear. Although I did not test the legend, I can say that both locations have a deep ambiance of peace and holiness about them, and it was a pleasure to spend some time praying for people who I know are seeking healing.

Tomorrow, I get to undertake the first significant cycling of my journey: a trip from Kildare to Clonmacnoise (site of another ancient Celtic faith community), which is a distance of about 54 miles. If you’d like to lift up a prayer on my behalf, what I’d really like you to ask is for God to guide the shipment of my luggage, which needs to make it from Kildare to the next town in which I’ll be spending several days.

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