Yesterday, I returned from a bike trip around Co. Clare in Ireland. I spent 10 days riding around the beautiful countryside with my sister. I’ve never been to Ireland before; so I was just entranced with the clashing of the ancient cemeteries, churches, shrines alongside the golf courses and plastic kiddy slides.
One day, as we were riding up the hills to the Cliffs of Moher, we came up on St. Bridget’s Well. Bridget, of course, was originally one of the three goddesses that make up the sort of heart/head of Celtic tradition. When Christianity came to Ireland oh so many years ago, Bridget became a saint and is often portrayed as a nun. So at this well is a statue of St. Bridget, dressed as a nun, and a countless prayers and offerings to the saint. But its all mingled together–Catholic prayers, Celtic imagery, the Virgin. All adorn the inside of the well, plaintively asking for support.
I have often been frustrated by this sort of Catholic take over of native traditions in order to make all Catholic. So colonial, so inauthentic, so untruthful. But, for the first time, I wasn’t grossed out. It felt sort of organic; like people weren’t dismayed that Bridget had shifted from being Celtic to Catholic. And that maybe there wasn’t even a shift at all–Bridget remains, though the traditions around her shift.
(And then I bought this great kids’ book: “The Incredible Sister Bridget” all about how cool of a nun Sr. Bridget was! Sort of captures the entire clash and symmetry.)
I stood in that well amazed by people’s capacity to relate with the divine and to appreciate something bigger than ourselves–the names change, the experience stays. And that’s at the heart of why I still call myself Catholic.