The beginning of February marks the “cross quarter” – halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Is marked by “Imbolc” an ancient Celtic festival, whose name some say comes from a Gaelic word for “ewe’s milk” or “an Irish word meaning “in the belly” that marked the beginning of the lambing season, It is also called “Brigid’s Day” by the Celts in honor of the goddess Brigid, Christianized into St. Brigit’s day.
I reached out to Julie Perry, a friend of the Athens Congregation, who raises lambs in our area. She writes: “Yes, the farm cycles here in Bradford County are very similar. Most people in the area are in the thick of lambing season. ..Lambs are born with no body fat, but a fast metabolism and significant "brown fat" around the kidneys that provide the energy for warmth. Sheep milk has triple the fat content of cow's milk so they put on insulation quickly! …. Imbolc timing for lambs has their rumen (stomach) maturing to a point it can digest forage in the latter third of April ...which is right when pastures begin to green up and tolerate grazing pressure. “[i]
Julie also reminded me that right about now, tree buds are setting, and that maple syrup begins to flow any time now. On February 2 we woke to a foot of snow, and it snowed all day and into the next. The Algonquian tribes call the February full moon the “Hunger moon” because the winter stores are running low, and no new food has grown to replace it. It is a time of hibernating, of hunkering down. The air is crisp and cold, it stings my nose. Here in the twin tiers, we drink hot things like mint tea, and the last apples of fall, oranges from the south. Let’s take a moment now and share what this season is like for you- what is happening out your window? What are you tasting, breathing, drinking that feels just right to you for this season?
When I first started to observe the wheel of the year, the 4 quarters and 4 cross quarters observed by ancient and modern pagan traditions, I read about each holiday, and tried to memorize the meanings, but in any truly earth-centered tradition, we celebrate not by memory but by observation.
Since we are not raising lambs, this February 2 my family was hunkered down, in a precautionary quarantine so my son could return to school yesterday and I noticed how the season outside my window, was so like the season of this pandemic, and the season in my spirit right now- a time of waiting, of spareness, of preserving our energy. (I feel most like I am living into this season when I can curl up on the couch under a blanket with a good book and a warm dog).
As the days become longer, as vaccinations begin to proliferate, we look forward to spring. The days grow longer, and an observant eye can see the buds on the trees, But here in the North East it is way too early to plant anything.
In their wonderful book Circle Round, they write “Brigit is a time of initiation, which means becoming. We look forward to spring and summer, and start thinking about the work done in the warm time of year. We order seeds from catalogs, make plans for vacations.” [p. 125]
Since I don’t have lambs to raise or maple trees to tap, to me Brigit is seed catalogue time. If you are a gardener, this can have a delicious quality, pouring over the catalogue, imagining all the many things you’d like to grow.
This year, in particular, I believe that imaging, dreaming is important. As my community lies under a blanket of snow, and physical distancing, it is too early to plan many things- I feel like this whole past year any time I try to plan something the world changes and all my plans must change as well. But dreaming is important. Imagining is important. Like the dreams in Appelemando's story today, if we dream big colorful dreams it can help us bring color to the drab times, and light the way forward, especially when we feel lost.
Let me tell you about some of the dreams I’ve been dreaming:
I’ve been imaging that when it is safe to be together outdoors, we could build a temporary labyrinth in the yard of the old Sheshequin meeting house, and invite the whole community to join us – one household at a time- to walk the labyrinth in memory of all we have lost, and our hopes for the future. In my imagination this labyrinth is made of rainbow yarn, knit by volunteers. Will this really happen? Maybe, but the dream of it helps me imagine a hopeful time in the future.
Here’s another dream- that when it is safe for us to star meeting together again in our various buildings, we livestream our services by zoom, so all our friends near and far could join us whenever they were moved. That folks could join us for worship even when they had car trouble, even when they were recovering from some illness or injury.
Just because I’ve imagined these things and said them out loud doesn’t mean they will come true, but if I can imagine it, and you can imagine it, if a moment ever comes that the “bright colors and hues of it” will guide us together into that new place, into making real something that has only ever existed in our imaginations.
I believe the principle works for huge changes, changes that effect a whole country, or a whole globe. Consider Marriage equality. For decades people shared the dream that all people would have the right to marry, and when the moment was right it called to all the people who had seen it, who were moved by it, and reality changed, reality moved toward that dream.
If you watched Star Trek when it first came out, the tricorder was a fantastical thing, but now most of us carry a device in our pockets far more powerful than even Science Fiction could imagine.
Women’s suffrage seemed like an outlandish fantasy for almost a century, but it is an established reality for all of us in the room here today.
So today, in honor of Imbolc, as we wait for the snow to thaw, for the Covid pandemic to come under control, and time to be right for planting, let’s spend some time imagining- big things, little things. I’m going to give us about 10 minutes to do this -- to put into words or images what you’d love to see in the future. For example I suspect some of you have already imagined reunions with family, or sharing dinner with friends in a noisy restaurant. Because I believe dreams have power, we will focus on good dreams -- if they came true you’d be delighted.
- What have you already been dreaming of for a time when social distancing restrictions relax? For yourself? For your family? For your community?
- Consider small dreams that seem pretty realistic, and also your biggest dreams: what would a world that was just and compassionate for people of every race and gender look like? What would a thriving ecosystem look like where all living beings could flourish look like? What kind of world would you like to live in?
- Consider lighthearted, whimsical dreams as well- what fun and color would you love to see in the world?
- Just dream- don’t worry about the practicalities of it just now. Who knows what the world will be like in a few weeks, or months or years. It’s the dream we are cultivating today.
[Time for Dreaming and Noticing]
Thank you everyone for dreaming with me. May your dreams add color to your winter days and nights, may they bring us together when we are lost, and may some of them even stick, and make the world more beautiful.
[i] Julie notes: "Your domesticated grazing animals (cows, buffalo, sheep) are all "flowing milk" right now ...Predators are mostly in the woods and do not like open spaces. By the time grass is tall enough to hide a coyote or bobcat and the bears reappear, lambs, calves and goat kids are fast and big enough to out run/outmaneuver them. "