Midwife at the Birth
“She went into the stable and was in time to aid and minister to the Virgin Mother, and to receive the Child into her arms… ”
Genealogy of Brigid (451-525 AD), Carmina Gadelica
Brigid threw her eyes to heaven as the priest droned his way through the gospel. It’s as if he’s telling a dirge for a death, she thought, not an anthem for a birth and the best story of the year. But he’s a good man, gentle with the novices and their small sins, and not given to fawning over the pretty ones. Her mind drifted. Was it cold there, cold as this stone church on Christmas Eve? How did that poor frightened girl manage with only her old husband to help? The innkeeper’s wife would have been too busy – the shepherds knew how to deliver a lamb, they might have known been some help – but the angels waited until after the baby was born before they sang their Hosannas. Not a lick of sense between them. Why on earth didn’t Gabriel ask a midwife to be present for the birth?
The scraping of pews broke her reverie. She wrapped her green shawl close and took her place at the back, behind the line of monks and nuns. She noticed that Mother Muireann’s limp was getting worse, that Sister Imelda needed to mend her hem. She inched her way toward the altar, her breath fogging the chill air.
The host dissolved on her tongue. She bowed her head and prayed, her body suffused with the light of God incarnate. Her slave-born mother’s words flashed through her mind. You have the spirit of a nun, Brigid, and the soul of a poet, and the hands of a skilful midwife. As the choir sang the recessional hymn, she fizzed with fear and excitement. Can it be done? Could I do it?
When the abbey was fast asleep, Brigid rose from her bed. The Chapel of the Flame reminded her, as it always did, of a small child nestled beneath the protection of the great winter oak. She laid one hand on fissured bark, one hand on lichened stone, breathing deep, asking for courage. Then she lifted the latch and opened the door. Áine was dozing on a bench at the far side of the fire.
The young nun snapped awake. “Mother Brigid!”
“I will tend the flame tonight. You may go to your bed.”
She gazed into the leaping flames, seeing again the old woman, the one who had tended the flame before the coming of the Christ-story. They shared the same name, Brigid, woman of valour. The old Brigid had been the last of her kind, the seer-women who communed with the goddesses and gods of old Ireland. She remembered her words: This flame sits over the eye of a holy well. It is a marriage of sacred water and sacred fire. It will not burn your flesh. This flame is a doorway into the time before, and a doorway into the time that is to come. If your intention is pure, this flame will take you where you need to go. She had never, in all her years as abbess, tested the truth of the old Brigid’s story. Because, she thought, I am still wary of the pagan mysteries, I worry that their power might seduce me away from the Christ-story. But now, tonight, my intention is pure – none purer – to serve the Mother of God. She thrust her hand in, whipped it out. The small hairs on the back of her fingers had not been singed. She reached in again, felt a liquid coolness. She stared at the drops of dew in her palm.
Do it now, she told herself, before your courage fails. She cleared a level space in the centre of the fire with the poker, then closed her eyes. With her inner eye she saw where she needed to go – the stable – the ox and the ass – the young woman, her belly huge with child – the old man Joseph – the guiding star.
She stepped in.
She was standing in the middle of a forked tree, three splayed trunks fanning out, one bent low to touch the ground. Between her feet, between the sister-trunks, she found the small un-burning flame, her pathway home. She sighed with relief. A drunk sang a tuneless song, someone shouted at him to shush. She became aware of the bustle of the inn – the star – the lamp-lit stable.
She stepped out from between the tree-trunks and walked across the sandy ground. Through the open doorway she saw Mary and Joseph, the young woman’s face knotted with pain, the old man’s face racked with fear. She knocked on the lintel.
“Greetings,” she said. “I am Brigid of Ireland. I have come to be midwife at the birth of your child.”
2 thoughts on “A Brigid / Time Traveller / Nativity Story”
So nice to sit on a cold and frosty day and read a heartwarming story of Brigid. My birthday falls on her feast day, and that’s my name. Through my life I hope I carried some of the strength and virtue of Brigid. A great story with a happy ending.
Thanks Bridie 🙂