I come to this place between winter and spring with a certain, acute exhaustion. To endure this cold, to tend the hearth of my creative work, my professional life, and my religious endeavors, seems hardest at this time of year.
I look out the window of my writing room, which also houses my small shrine and my ritual tools, and I see a large maple tree, bare and grey. It will not look like that for long, even if it feels that is has looked like that for ages.
The season is changing soon, it says. Change is coming. Have faith in the movement of the earth.
Faith is a difficult proposition for many of us. Faith requires a letting go, a surrender of will. Few among us leap at the idea. Having faith, doing faith in a religious context, is not something I'm very practiced at these days. But come February, faith is the call of the land.
I will grow. I will live. I will return to you.
My response to this call to faith, the only one I can muster, is a movement toward creative action. I cannot force the spring to come sooner any more than I could lift the sun to the center of the sky with my bare hands. It comes when it comes. But what I can do is lift my pen to the page, look inward to that place where my fire burns -- the fire inspired in me by Brighid -- and write.
These are the words I begin with:
I keep vigil to the fire in my heart.
This, for me, and for many of my companions on this spiritual journey, is the response we offer at Imbolc.
We keep vigil in the moments of great darkness and cold.
We keep vigil for the coming sun, the immanent spring, which at times during January and February feels anything but certain.
We keep vigil to this fire in us so that we might believe in the fire of others. When the fire of our heart grow dim, it becomes increasingly challenging to relate to the ones we love, to hold in compassion the life we've built for ourself. To keep vigil to our own fire allows for us to continue to nurture all we have created, and that which has been created for us.
We keep vigil to the fire in our heart as a way of embodying divinity, and as an attempt to understand the mystery of the unknown, the unknowable, the everything that is beyond our comprehension. The fire of the universe is the fire in our heart, and to come to know one is to approach the other in humility.
When the winter persists, and we forget what it is to be in the full glory of the day, we keep vigil to the fire in our hearts. Our heart is the sun, the pride of the heavens, and we bask in the warmth and glow of its light.
When we look at our lives, and we think to ourself -- How did I get here? Can I manage all of this? Is this burden more than I can bear? -- we keep vigil to the fire in our heart. There is a memory within the heart, a record of who we have been, where we originated, who our ancestors are. The fire we kindle inside of us illuminates this manuscript, and we can come to remember the complicated wonder of our humanity and our history.
For many, Imbolc is simply a time to recognize the coming spring, but I say that Imbolc is also a time to acknowledge the challenges which winter has placed before you. It is a time to reckon one's self to the fullness of their life, the fullness of their personhood, the great abilities and the necessary limitations in their humanness.
Imbolc is a time for Pagans, or for any person with a contemplative heart, to create a space for stillness, for comfort and centeredness. It is a time to ask yourself:
What is this fire in my heart?
How do I keep it burning?
How do I tend my own hearth fire?
Can I build a shrine inside of my being and light a fire there? To what would I pray? For whom, if anyone, would I light this fire? For myself? For the Gods? For the earth?
Each of us will answer these questions differently, and it is not mine to tell anyone how to keep that fire burning.
But I will say this:
Keep vigil to the fire in your heart.
Allow it to grow, that you might grow into greatness.
Tend your heart fire on this Imbolc so that you might tend the fires of others; that you might approach your life, and all of the wonder if holds, with reverence.
Then, when you look out your window at the persistence of winter, you will understand faith in a new way.
Yours will be a faith made of fire.
Click through for photos from past Imbolc celebrations: