Today is the feast of SS Brigid and Darlughdach (DAR-le-da) and the first day of Spring in Ireland. Although I grew up there, it was only recently I realised that Brigid was one of Ireland’s patron saints, along with Patrick and Columba. Her story is a compelling one, especially for LGBTQ+ Christians who struggle to find themselves in the official histories of the Church. Yet here, in full view, is a 5th and 6th century woman who not only resists traditional marriage and the expectations of her day, but shares her life and her bed with another woman. So used are we to believing that same-sex relationships (of whatever sort) are a 20th century invention - and problem - that we fail to see the bonds of deep affection shared outside orthodoxy throughout history.
To honour their relationship of love, support and hospitality, Dignity and Worth has produced some inclusive liturgy for LGBT History Month. What have Brigid and Darlughdach to say to LGBTQ+ Christians today?
The symbol of Brigid is a perpetual fire which is also a sign of wisdom. For LGBTQ+ Christians, its burning is a sign of passion, truth, home and hurt. It draws us into its light when, sometime, we would prefer to live in the shadows, unnoticed by others. It shines into the dark corners of our Church life and exposes hypocrisy and prejudice.
As Methodists, we are reminded of Charles Wesley’s injunction to ‘
still let me guard the holy fire,
and still stir up the gift in me.
We are recipients of the gift of vocation to hold the light of Christ for others and share its warmth with all.
Brigid and Darlughdach were, like others in the Celtic tradition, committed to finding a soul friend to accompany them in the life of Faith. In the contemporary Church, we need to hear this reaffirmation that friendship lies at the heart of human relationships in Christian theology, not procreation. It is the ability to become a friend of God, and one of Jesus’ friends through the bonds of friendship with other Christians that makes and keep us faithful. These are bonds that come through voluntary association and not blood. LGBTQ+ folk are well aware of the need to form intentional families that give the light of love and safety often missing from families formed by blood and genetics.
St Brigid’s Cross is deliberately crooked, bent, probably symbolising Celtic paganism. For LGBTQ+ Christians, being bent and out of shape is a term of abuse that has been reclaimed. Like queer, at its simplest, it is about being different, and that is the designation we have often been given. In a scapegoating culture, those who are different have often then been victimised when things go wrong for the larger community.
In Ireland, St Brigid’s Cross, often woven out of rushes, is placed over doorways to proclaim the beginning of Spring and the season of new life, and to symbolise a place of protection and hospitality. Perhaps it is a symbol LGBTQ+ affirming Churches should adopt to proclaim their hospitality to others.
I know many people who read my blog are not that keen on the Communion of Saints and see it as an unnecessary part of the Christian life. For me, recovering the stories of those who have gone before is life-giving and reassuring. It tells me that I am not alone and inspires me to keep going when I am in danger of giving up. To paraphrase the heart of Ubuntu: I am because they are.