If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.

Candlemas is an intriguing little festival that has attracted a range of traditions and customs along the way. It is a time for wondering and seeking to predict when the seasons will change. Is spring just around the corner, or are we in for more winter? Is change coming, or will the days remain the same?

One film which explores something of this theme is the 1993 film Groundhog Day. It is one of my most favourite films. Bill Murray plays Phil, a TV weatherman working for a local station in Pennsylvania but convinced that more widespread fame on a national news channel is just around the corner. Phil displays a charm and wit on camera that evaporates the moment the red light goes off; he is bitter, appallingly self-centred, and treats his co-workers with contempt. On February 2, 1992, Phil is sent to an event he particularly loathes: the annual Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, PA. There the citizens await the appearance of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who will supposedly determine the length of winter by his ability to see his own shadow. Phil is hugely contemptuous of this country celebration and is very keen to leave as soon as possible after the work is done. However, a freak snowstorm strands him and his colleagues in Punxsutawney. Phil wakes up the next morning with the strangest sense of déjà vu: he seems to be living the same day over again. I don’t know what you would do if you discovered yourself living the same day over and over? Phil responds initially by rejoicing. Now he can indulge all his wants, be as greedy as possible, knowing that no law or moral code can touch him. Every morning the day is reset as if yesterday never happened. Next he falls into the deepest despair. He is trapped in the midst of a never-ending winter, with no sign of spring. Neither imprisonment nor attempted suicide nor kidnapping the groundhog gets him out of the loop. But the more Phil relives the same day, the more he’s forced to look at other people’s lives, and something strange and unusual happens: he begins to care about others. He starts to respect people, he tries to save the life of a homeless man, and he discovers that he’s falling in love with his colleague Rita and therefore wants to be someone that she could love in return. This changes everything. Tomorrow finally comes, and with it much hope and possibility.

In between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, Candlemas comes at the beginning of the Celtic season of Imbolc. The word “imbolc” means “in the belly.” The earth’s belly is beginning to awaken, new life is stirring, seeds are tentatively making their way through the cold, dark earth into the light. It is time for wondering about what might be coming, emerging. It is time for noticing and attending to new possibilities.

It is a time when we are accompanied by faithful, holy people. Candlemas time includes the feast day of St Brigid of Kildare or St Bride on 1st February. Second only to Patrick as patron saint of Ireland, Brigid is sometimes described as a bridge between the pre-Christian and Christian traditions, between the other world and this one. She bridges the natural and human world. Brigid sees the face of Christ in all persons and creatures, and overcomes the division between rich and poor. One of her symbols is her cloak which becomes a symbol of unity. All can dwell under her mantle. Brigid became a nun and was eventually abbess of a double monastery at Kildare, responsible for the administration of the both the men’s community and the women’s community. It is said that when she was to be received into monastic life, the bishop, who was to confirm all the novitiates called her to the front. He had seen something like a fiery pillar which rose from her head to the roof of the church and recognised that she had already become a temple of the Holy Spirit. He received her, therefore, not as a nun, but with the ordination prayer for a bishop. Those around him were shocked; but he replied, ‘I do not have any power in this matter. That dignity has been given by God to Brigid.’

It’s taken us a little time, a few centuries, but now the Church of England has finally recognised the potential and possibility of women to serve in the role of bishop, as Revd Libby Lane was ordained and consecrated as Bishop of Stockport this week. Something new begins – a gift to give thanks for.

Maybe that morning began like so many others for Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna. They continued their daily work of being faithful, of caring, of doing what needed to be done. And amazingly, within that day that began like so many others, were the seeds of something new. They saw, they recognised the gift that was there with them – the gift of the Christ child who is and will be for all the world. After many, many days of waiting, tomorrow came and new hope dawned.

I wonder .. what is emerging for you, for us at this turning of the seasons?

May the power of Brigid inspire us,

the grace of Brigid attend us,

the flame of Brigid enliven us,

the story of Brigid engage us.

May the God who provided her all these gifts

provide them also to us,

that we may go into the world

with her lavish generosity

and her creative fire. Amen

(© Jan Richardson 2010, In the Sanctuary of Women)

Icon of Mary and the Christ Child at Burnham Abbey.

Icon of Mary and the Christ Child at Burnham Abbey.

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