As we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s
commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. Never
swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the
monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that
we may deserve also to share in His kingdom. Amen.
- The Rule of St Benedict, Prologue 49-50.
The story of Jesus being presented in the temple in Luke 2 is my favourite story of Epiphany. After years of faithfully waiting and praying, Anna and Simeon see with their own eyes the Messiah and promised Saviour. In many ways, Anna and Simeon might be seen as Biblical monastic prototypes. Simeon was ‘righteous and devout’, prophetic and obedient to the Spirit. Anna was also a prophet. She is often left out of Candlemas liturgy and imagery, but Luke paints a powerful picture of a faithful woman who devoted her life to stability in prayer and fasting day and night in the temple.
James B. Janknegt, 'The Presentation of Jesus', Texas, 2008.
Both Anna and Simeon led lives shaped by prayer and faithfulness to the promises of God, coming before God to intercede, waiting patiently and prophetically, in the same place day after day, for the fulfilment of God’s promises. And as they devoted themselves to this way of life - a life of stability and obedience - they themselves experienced their ‘hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love’ in seeing and knowing the salvation and glory of God first hand.
Candlemas also shares a day with Imbolc, which marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and lasts from the morning of February 1st to the evening of February 2nd. The original word ‘imbolg’ means ‘in the belly’, and the Gaelic seasonal calendar uses Imbolc to mark the beginning of lambing season. Imbolc represents the hidden spring, the promise of natural growth, the warming and lengthening of days. It invites us to make space for new beginnings and search for signs of hope.
I think Imbolc contains something of the patient and prophetic spirits of Anna and Simeon. It invited us to pay attention to the things that have been growing and stirring in the darkness of the ground, waiting to reach its fulfilment and come into the light. Out of the soil of stability and obedience comes a new beginning and an opportunity to catch a glimpse of God's glory and to ‘share in His kingdom.’
Bénédite de la Roncière, 'Presentation of Christ', Jesus MAFA (a series of paintings collated to help spread the gospel in Northern Cameroon).
The 1st of February was also the feast of St Brigid - an abbess who founded monasteries for men and women in Ireland. This feast is truly an opportunity to remember and give thanks to God for those who have been and are called to the religious life, devoting themselves to the hidden work of prayer and who through ‘faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death’ stand before God on behalf of the world. It is also an opportunity to think about our calling as communities who are inspired by this spiritual tradition. How as individuals and as a community do we carry the prophetic obedience of Simeon? What is gently and persistently growing in us that God is waiting to bring forth into the world?
May the eager anticipation of Simeon and the persistent and patient faith of Anna be with us today as we wait in the silence of winter, looking forward to the warmth of spring and the new beginnings it brings.
Blessed (belated) St Brigid’s Day!