Years old, but still relevant Imbolc ruminations...
I wrote this essay back in 2010 for my circle, Full Circle UUCA's, blog. Reading it again, it still resonates. Here in Maryland in 2021, we are having a too-infrequent now snowy day, a perfect landscape to reflect upon the Imbolc season. I hope you are having a blessed and beautiful day--remember, beneath the snow the plants and trees are just beginning to wiggle their toes!
As the wheel of the year turns another eighth, Imbolc has a bolstering effect that is a necessary at this time of the year and after the lessons learned at the last quarter.
Imbolc always finds me when I am about ready to throw in the towel. Like the season which is gray and sloppy, cold and barren, I find myself frazzled, belaboring my every mistake and bemoaning each slight annoyance that comes my way.
Scarcely six weeks ago, Winter Solstice taught us faith, but in the cold, messy gray that surrounds us, it’s hard to hold to the promise of the returning of the light. Now, surrounded by leafless trees, just about out of patience with faith, Imbolc finds us asking “Yes, but when?”.
Where Winter Solstice finds us in the dark night of the soul, Imbolc is the first light of dawn. This cross-quarter marks the first salmon-colored light of the rising sun. Where Winter Solstice urged us to keep the faith that light would return, Imbolc offers us proof. Mornings and afternoons are lighter, snow melts, revealing blades of grass and rogue bulbs begin to send tender green shoots up from barren garden beds. Imbolc shows us evidence of the coming of the light. Imbolc renews our faith. Through signs of Spring, it offers us a new sacrament: hope.
Hope whispers an answer to “Yes, but when?”. The short answer is “Soon”. The more complex answer comes like the words of a grandparent spoken to an impatient child, “It’s happening right now, can’t you see it? Look right here…”
Hope differs from faith in that faith is blind belief when there is no reason to believe. Hope is built on the foundation of small things that give us reason to believe. Hope is essential to sustain faith. It inspires future action, marking the first steps that lead us to a dance.
Just as I wondered how many Winter Solstices we have a year, I wonder how many times I find myself needing Imbolc’s lesson: Look around you, there’s all the proof you need. As Unitarian Universalists, it’s easy to lose our sense of hope. Our faith does not gloss over and does not candy-coat hard realities, it asks us to consider them head-on. This can wear on us, making our world views bleak and gray and downright hopeless, when we consider the large deficit of good in the world and the great amounts of work needed to bring this good to light. Despite this facet of our religion, or maybe because of it—tidings of hope are in some ways more abundant, more concrete. In facing tough situations and accepting the challenge of working for positive change, we draw hope from the strength of the beloved communities we create. In seeking to dignify the inherent good of each individual, we find glittering glimpses of hope in the faith community that comes together to heal the world. This story of hope is not foretold, not promised as a function of blind faith—but evidenced in the work and connections within our church families.
Imbolc is a reminder to look for the little signs of hope in one’s life. We see dawn coming. We notice gentle blades of grass. The bulbs pushing their way through the hardened ground, reaching for the light remind us to look for the things that give us hope in our situations. We are reminded to actively seek evidence of hope—a smile from a stranger, the new ways of thinking mistakes bring, the unconditional support of a friend.
I hope this season finds you seeking the evidence of the returning light. May your findings sustain and inspire you-and awaken hope in your heart.