Yesterday was the Celtic feast of Imbolc, celebrated because it is halfway between the winter and the spring solstices. It was marked by the lighting of fires, and this passed into the important Irish feast of Saint Brigid, whose monastery kept alight a sacred eternal flame. In a similar way today’s feast, the Christian feast of Candlemas, traditionally involved a procession of candles and the blessing of candles for use in the home. It would seem that these two celebrations, one older than the other, testify to a need for people to light a fire around this time, to remind themselves of light and warmth around this midway point of winter, to give some encouragement when the cold and darkness may seem to be never-ending.
It we look closely we see that we too can say – at any moment – that we are midway between two points. We cannot truly see how the future will develop and we know we have to leave the past behind. We too need moments of light and warmth to encourage us on the way, moments of rest when we nourish our inner self. In this way we announce warmth and light in the dark time of winter. This helps us see that darkness and not-knowing are natural parts of life’s cycle, just as are periods of cold and lack of growth. Stepping into the dark, into unknown territory, is necessary from time to time on our journey forward.
Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we would like to dream about. The spiritual journey involves going beyond hope and fear, stepping into unknown territory, continually moving forward. The most important aspect of being on the spiritual path may be to just keep moving. Usually, when we reach our limit, we freeze in terror. Our bodies freeze and so do our minds. Rather than indulge or reject our experience, we can somehow let the energy of the emotion, the quality of what we’re feeling pierce us to the heart. This is a noble way to live. It’s the path of compassion – the path of cultivating human bravery and kindheartedness.