The Blessings of Brigid

It may sound a little weird that to join my church you need to choose a new name.  People who do this always seem to be hiding something: the most famous examples -- Malcolm X, Marilyn Monroe, Prince -- are dubious at best on that count.  And to legally change your name in the great state of Maryland, you're required, among other things, to take out advertising space in your county of residence.  Just in case your old self might owe someone money.

The practice of re-naming might make more sense when you consider that adult conversion to Orthodoxy is not the norm; most children are born into their parents' faith.  Traditionally, families have named their children, and not with mere modern anomalies -- fruit, acronyms, and absurd spellings -- but names that mean something.  Often, children are called after their ancestors, especially if said ancestors had qualities parents want to see reflected in the next generation.  My cousin, in a touching example of this, named her youngest after our musical, sarcastic and loving grandfather, who departed this world five years ago today.

So if you think of the Church as a family, including even those ancestors who lived many centuries ago in foreign lands, the whole practice makes a lot more sense.  In many cultures, children are named after a saint who entered Heaven on the day they were born; others are named for a saint whose life has been inspiring to the parents or godparents.

But woe to the adult convert, who must choose a name for herself.  I hardly qualified as an adult when I entered Orthodoxy at sixteen, and in fact tried to weasel out of the decision by asking if there wasn't a Saint Emily somewhere.  My priest said no.  Turns out he was wrong, but I'm sure that was part of the plan.

So I chose St. Brigid of Kildare.  For no particular reason besides a current obsession with All Things Celtic (including, but not limited to, Braveheart, U2 and painting knotwork on my bedroom walls.)

It goes without saying that St. Brigid's life and circumstances were very different from mine.  The daughter of a clan chief and one of his slaves, she dedicated her life to Christ by founding monasteries all over Ireland, exercised strict spiritual discipline over herself and her disciples, and in an interesting twist, supported increased independence for women.  At one point, she also ran a dairy (and thus is patroness of this local gem.)  I haven't had much success and / or interest in any of these areas, unless you count my love for milk in all forms.

As people, though, we share several striking similarities.  A devotion to and love for the natural world; one of the sweetest stories about St. Brigid concerns a red fox that "adopted" her in infancy and remained her pet, sitting quietly at the back of the church during services. A disposition that was eminently practical, and a gift for efficiency.  Also, a troublesome lack of attachment to worldly possessions: she gave away her father's goods with abandon to the poor and diseased, while I am constantly scolded by the head of my household for a lack of care in lending, gifting and misplacing things I just don't regard as important.

For some time I have wondered how to best celebrate her feast day, which just passed; the trouble is that the Feast of the Presentation of Christ is the very next day, so we serve Liturgy the evening before.  Thus, a party on St. Brigid's day can never be.  A few years ago I started making Irish Soda Bread and bringing it to share after the service, usually accompanied by Guinness or Killian's (legend has it she once turned bathwater into beer; this is probably apocryphal, but I like it anyway; plus, there's the irony of toasting my dear grandfather, who would NOT have approved.)

This year I used a recipe that Rob acquired last spring after the feast day of another, slightly more famous, Irish saint.  He had raved about it so much that I was eager to see what he thought of my effort.  Since I didn't have enough for everyone, I kept it out of the food line, but interested friends sidled up to my table with alarming speed, and before I knew it I was sharing the last piece with my sister, leaving nothing for my poor husband at home.

Somehow, I think that's how St. Brigid would have wanted it, but it didn't stop me from making another pan this morning.  We'll call it Groundhog Bread.  And if I told you that even that humble holiday has origins in the Christian faith, you'd probably think that was even weirder than my changing my name.