Lighting Our Way

Yesterday, I woke before dawn to make preparation for the ritual of Advent. Journeying on the “road home,” I’ve become comfortable visiting different spiritual traditions, some for extended stays. So it is, drawing from my Lutheran childhood and early adult years, I made ready my altar to light the first of four weekly candles.

“lighting our way to Christmas…the shared ritual of symbolizing joining my light to another, to another, and so growing our light in connection and caring…”

Nancy Steeves, Minister Southminster-Steinhauer United Church, Streamed Service, November 29, 2020

The German embroidered cloth, a gift from my chosen namesake aunt…the trio of tiny angels, delicate with age, from my Oma… the whimsical magi… a Celtic inspired Father Christmas… a “glassy baby” candle from my circle sister, Sarah…the arrangement of “ice wine” grapes, crystals and gold leaf I created years ago because it all caught my eye. Everything in its place, the same place over the years. My German heritage shimmers.

“The Advent wreath first appeared in Germany in 1839. A Lutheran minister working at a mission for children created a wreath out of the wheel of a cart…Eventually, the wreath was created out of evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter,  while the circle reminds us of God’s unending love and eternal life .”

“The Beautiful Meaning and Purpose of Advent,”

Within months of marriage, my husband and I, with our first English Setter, Beckey, packed up our VW Scirocco and drove west from Ontario in early January to make our home in Alberta. We consciously chose that next Christmas to not fly back to Ontario, but to learn how to make our own traditions. It’s been an evolving journey. Over the forty years there have been trips back east, joyous celebrations with friends made here, and years being on our own, alone.

A few years after our first Alberta Christmas, now settled into our own home, I purchased the white ceramic Advent wreath I’ve been using ever since. Its simplicity and safety appealed. Growing up, I was most familiar with white candles, though upon reading learned and now use purple candles on the first, second, and fourth Sundays, and a rose pink on the third. In some traditions, the candles are all red, or blue. Too, I didn’t recall qualities being attributed to each of the four Sundays, but was reminded when my friend posted a note yesterday:

  • The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.
  • The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
  • The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too. In liturgy, the color rose signifies joy.
  • The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace–He came to bring people close to God and to each other again.
  • The fifth candle (optional) placed in the wreath’s centre, and lit n Christmas Day, represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s Candle.”

“Hope shines as a solitary star; love is the inner light.
You and I together mirror the light of lights
and illumine the pathway home.”

Catherine Faith MacLean

Yesterday in still dark dawn, that first purple candle flickering, I sat with letting go, letting be, laying down what no longer serves nor is. Deaths and endings. Literal and otherwise. Not with hope, but not without it either. Just that soft quiet space of allowing, with grace and gratitude.

Later, in a Sunday practice learned a couple of years ago when visiting my  elder heart sisters, I shuffled the Gaian Tarot deck four times, cut it three, and felt moved to draw the top card, not one from a fanned spread. The Ten of Water – with its five salmon carcasses on the shore of the stream in which five more were swimming upstream for their lives for life – and immediately I recognized its timely portent: the cycle of descent and return, transitions and endings but within which are encoded beginnings.

Advent. Four Sundays to pause, prepare, and anticipate. The birth of the son. Here in the northern hemisphere, in the ever darkening, deepening winter. The return of the sun. From the dark, the light. From the endings, beginnings.

“Watching morning break, I realize again that darkness doesn’t kill the light – it defines it. I believe that now. For years, I didn’t. I believed I was my failures, mistakes, midjudgments, shortcomings and wrongs. But I’m not those things. I am the light that shines from my faith, my courage, my willingness to be vulnerable and to be responsible and accountable.”

Richard Wagamese, Embers, 2016

And so are you, dear friends. With much love and kindest regards.

Wabi Sabi

A long time friend and follower of each of my blogs* asked upon this current one’s launch two weeks ago, “What is wabi sabi?” to which I rather cryptically replied, “the tagline.”

Wabi Sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of what we think of as traditional Japanese beauty. It occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West. Wabi Sabi can in its fullest expression be a way of life. At the very least, it is a particular type of beauty.

Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, 1994

Koren writes that wabi sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete…of things modest and humble…of things unconventional.

I first heard the phrase in 2013, when a friend used it to describe my life with Bells Palsy. A few years later, to the day of its sudden, inexplicable onset, I wrote a poem essay, using a word play of wabi sabi and wasabi – that Japanese horseradish served with sushi – to describe that experience. Since then, this notion of wabi sabi has become a way of being in and making sense of life that has persisted, just like the Bells Palsy.

Last winter I had it permanently inked on my forearm, an embodied mantra and talisman to remind me of its persistent truth.

To remind me to be kinder, and more patient, allowing, and more gracious in the face of all that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

In this sometimes broken and mostly well-lived life.

* This is my third blog. The first I created when I took a leave of absence to begin the practice of writing and keep in touch during my year of travels. The second, A Moment Rescued, named after a favourite poem by Billy Collins, is held within my current professional website.