Imbolc – Samuel Felderman


So the skies rumbled and the snows came,
And everywhere down through the centuries of this gray night,
Came women gathering to pray,
And to sink their hands into the dark earth.

They gathered seeds and prepared them for planting,
They meditated in the icy darkness,
And they celebrated the lambing of the first ewe,
To hasten spring.

And when through the earth they felt the stirring,
They sang songs encouraging the tiny seeds to grow.

In the dark, wet soil you can smell their work still;
They are digging along beside us. Listen!

The north wind carries their song across the snow,
This Imbolc night.

As the Earth prepares for Spring,
Wise women gather in circles to await the promise of new life,
And to sing praises for the green earth.

And so do we, here now,
This year, and every year.

Welcome Imbolc!”

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-4

“In the Beginning, When Elohim decided to create the heavens and the Earth, everything was still without form and empty, and the only thing that could be heard was Elohim’s breath, echoing in the dark. Then stepping forward, Elohim cried out into the darkness, “Light! Come Forth!” and she did. Elohim saw that the Light was beautiful and was good, and he called the Light “Day,” and the darkness, he called “Night,” and there was morning and there was evening on the First of the Days of Creation.

Second Reading: Matthew 5:14-16

Jesus Said: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Good Morning, once again, my name is Samuel Felderman and I am so blessed and privileged to be here with you this morning. Before we jump into the reflection I have prepared, I wanted to take a moment and thank you all for the thoughts, prayers and well wishes you sent me while I was in the hospital during my negotiations with Leukemia. While I suffer from memory gaps from that period, I do remember receiving some cards, texts and even a visit from this congregation and from the bottom of my heart I want to say thank you for your support. With that said then, Lets dive in to our topic today!

It is my belief and my subject matter today that this day, February 2nd is one of the most important Holidays you have never heard of. Though having different names throughout the ages, different people of different faiths have celebrated on this day and the lesson they taught on this day is one that we need to hear badly and I hope that you will find this information both informative and uplifting.

So first, the history. Thousands of years ago, when the ancients of Northern Europe where first building things like Stonehenge and discovering things like bronze, they were celebrating a holiday called Imbolc, a holiday that our kinfolk in the pagan and wiccan traditions still celebrate today. It can be hard for us to imagine in our modern world with our modern conveniences just how cold and dreadful this time of year used to be. The cold and dark of winter has been dragging on and the food stores are getting low. In a world without electricity, the dark of winter is VERY dark and even in our modern world, February still sucks right? This is where Imbolc comes in. One of the eight sabbaths of the wheel of the year, Imbolc is a festival of light, a time where people were called on to trust and believe that though the world around them was saying the opposite spring really was coming, as the poem we heard implied, on this day, seeds would be blessed, fires would be lit and animals prepared for breeding. Preparing for sowing and Ewing was an act of faith, trusting that spring would come, that the days would get longer and that food, which is getting more and more scarce, would grow in abundance again.

The Grimwore of the Green Witch, a beginners guide to pagan rituals I happen to have my on my bookshelf says this of Imbolc, “This is the Mid-Winter Festival of Lights. Spring lies within sight, the Earth quickens, the milk of ewes flows, and the seed is prepared for sowing. Now does Grandmother Crone place the Infant God of Light in the arms of the Mother relinquishing Her hold on the Child of the New Year, the seasons begin to turn once more. Her time of midwifery is past, and the Crone departs to reunite with the Holly King in the Land of Snow and ice.”
I’m counting 2

Interestingly, There is one peice of Imbolc tradition that made it into our modern culture and that is the celebration of Groundhog’s Day. The difference between the modern observance and the ancient one is that these days we look for a groundhog, but in the ancient world people were looking for a goddess who looked like a groundhog. The story is that this goddess lives under the earth somewhere in the forests of the British Isles and on Imbolc, if you see her, that means there will be six more weeks of winter because she has come out to gather more firewood. If you don’t see her though, that means spring is around the corner because she has decided to stay in bed because her home is stocked up enough to get her to spring!

As the times changed and empires rose and fell, a new religion came to being and though the names of the God changed, the holiday really didn’t. In Ireland, Imbolc’s traditions moved under a different name and became known as St. Brigid’s day. Now, St. Brigid is one of the most revered Saints in Ireland. Her feast day, February 1st, was celebrated in much the same way Imbolc, animals get extra food and people were encouraged to give food to the poor, a symbol of goodwill and belief that spring would soon come and there would be plenty of food to refill the storehouses.

Outside of Ireland, the whole of Christendom observed a feast known as The Candlemas. The Candlemas, still on the Church calendar today, was a day when candles were brought to the Church and the Priests would bless them. Much like the other expressions of faith, the blessing of the candles specifically was a prayer for the fire that was in the candle. Though the light in the candles had not yet been lit, just like the seeds in the earth and the light hidden in the dark of the long cold nights, the blessing was a reminder that though you can’t see it yet, we hoped that it was there.

So now that you know what the holidays are, let’s talk about why I think that we should be bringing them back. If you look outside, the world is dark and grey, the nights are long and light hard to find. And its not just the weather that’s dark and grey, whether its anxiety, depression, the flu, family issues, pain, sorrow or whatever else, as people, we can have some inner darkness and cold don’t we. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, I think we can all agree that our political world could use some light couldn’t it. Disasters: both natural and human-made seem to be very more frequent, planes are being shot down, we always seem to be at the edge of wars anymore and more and more people find themselves in refugee camps, homeless shelters or on the streets. When we look around us, it seems like the dark and cold is only getting stronger and hope is going out. Yet, one this day, our ancestors remind us that the light is not dead, it is not gone, it’s only sleeping.

As Unitarians, each Sunday when you gather, you light the chalice, a reminder of the light of hope and truth that is shining in this place of togetherness. One of the great virtues of the unitarian faith is it’s belief that the light of truth and compassion can overcome anything. In the first reading we heard, Elohim, standing alone in the dark, called out to the Light was greeted by her beauty and presence. The light was there, just waiting to be found, waiting to be woken up. In our second reading Jesus of Nazareth reminds us that we, WE are the light, and that when we shine out for the world to see, it draws people in and stirs the signs of spring in their hearts as well. On this day friends, this days when generations before us gathered and in their various forms and traditions affirmed to themselves and to each other that spring was coming, that life was alive and Light would come out of darkness, on this day I invite you to do the same. The Light is not dead, the light of compassion and grace and justice and peace and goodness is here, in us, in our neighbors, in our friends, our enemies, in the world. The light is there, it’s just sleeping, its waiting for you to call to it and wake it up.

With that in mind, I have a small gift for all each of you. If the ushers would help me, I have small candles for each of you to take home with you. On this day, people would gather together to bless the light that was asleep in the candle wick and we are going to do something similar. We are going have a moment of silence and then we will hear the words of the hymn O Light of Life, number 117, and then, I invite you to take this candle and put it somewhere and when the cold and dark of this world, whether physical or metaphorical, seems like it’s winning the day, I want you to light this candle, and remember the light is here, that spring really is coming, and love really will win. Amen, or as our Pagan friends say, So Mote it be.