A folk tale adapted by Becky Brooks
A long time ago there was a young woman named Brigid, who had everything she needed. She had the green hills, the tall trees and the rambling creekside. One thing she had that she had no need of was her father's wealth. But she knew lots of people in the village who had great need. Whenever folks came to her father's house, she refused to send them away empty-handed. In fact, she loved to give things away. She said: My blessings are many, my needs are small, surely there's enough for all!
But Brigid's generosity only made her father angry. When she was old enough, he sent her away to a convent to live with the nuns. Little did he know that Brigid had hoped and prayed to be sent to the convent. Here she met other women like herself who understood the value of the natural world, learning and study and generosity of spirit. Now Brigid wasn't alone when she said, My blessings are many, my needs are small, surely there's enough for all!
For years Brigid lived in the convent, and as time went on, more and more people came to join her as they heard about the good works and generosity of Brigid's community. Eventually there were simply too many people to live there and Brigid went out into the world to find a good place for a new convent. She walked and walked until she found a beautiful plain with one large oak tree standing strong. She knew this was the perfect place and went to the King to ask to build her convent on this land.
All the way through town on her way to see the King, she told people about her plan to ask the King for the land. As she did, she began to hear some bad news. Someone said: There's no way the King will give anything to you Miss, he is the greediest King there's ever been! Another said: He wouldn't even give you one square yard of land, much less enough for a convent! Brigid was unfazed. She wrapped her cloak around her and continued on. As she made her way up to the King's fortress, she heard more bad news: The last time the King gave away any land at all he allowed the baker enough room for his oven, but not for his bakery. The poor baker must work day and night to pay the rent on his shop. To another woman, this might have been discouraging, but Brigid had a plan. She stopped for a moment before going inside and remembered the philosophy that brought her here: My blessings are many, my needs are small, surely there's enough for all!
After a long cold wait, Brigid was eventually allowed to see the King. She stood before him and bowed deeply as a sign of respect. Your Highness, she said, my convent is overflowing with good souls and we wish to build a new convent on the plains of the great oak. Would your Highness be so generous as to allow us to build on this land?
The King laughed at Brigid, No! Why should I give you my land?
But Brigid persevered. Our needs are so small your Highness. She tugged on the edges of her cloak, drawing it more tightly around her small body. Is there not a very small amount of land you would be willing to part with?
The King narrowed his eyes and smiled a sinister smile. You may lay your cloak at the base of the oak tree. That is all the land you may have for your precious convent. His lips snarled as he spoke.
Brigid curtseyed. Your generosity will be repaid sir.
As they made their way to the oak tree, townspeople gathered and followed Brigid and the King. By the time they arrived at the base of the tree, there was a large crowd. Brigid unclasped her cloak from her neck and laid it gently at the base of the tree. I may require some assistance, she said, and as the King looked on, one of the townspeople came to help Brigid unfold her cloak. With one unfolding, the cloak was suddenly twice the size as before. Another townsperson came forward and unfolded it again, to twice the size, then another and another, each person unfolding another layer of Brigid's cloak to twice its previous size. First it was the size of a small shed, then the size of a room, then the size of a house, then the size of a school, then the size of a field, and on and on. What had appeared to be a thick velvety cloak was now a thin layer of fabric, shimmering as far as the eye could see.
The King looked on in disbelief, This is magic, he said.
Brigid looked over the land of her new convent. Generosity is magic, your Highness. Our blessings are many, our needs are small, surely there's enough for all!
That is how Brigid began the Abbey of Cill-Dara or the "Church of the Oak." Even to this day, every year on February 1, there is a feast day to celebrate the generosity, healing and good will of St. Brigid.
May Brigid's cleverness and generosity inspire us in our own lives today.