Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of discipline preceding the Celebration of Christmas in the Christian calendar. Traditionally this is marked by the lighting of the first of the purple candles on the advent wreath. There are four purple candles and one white. Four weeks of discipline leading to Christmas celebration.
Advent is a time of reflection, introspection, self examination. But it should never be a time of misery. Discipline should never be seen as denial – and all too often it is. The tradition I was raised with in the Catholic church was to deny yourself something you like for Lent. Give up chocolate! And so it was generally seen as a time of misery. But that is simply weak teaching.
Yoga is a discipline, one which makes us stronger, more supple, healthier. It is an expansive form of discipline. Learning is another discipline. When we learn it requires the discipline of time and mind, but the result is to accumulate knowledge and broaden the mind. Sporting exercise is a discipline that can make you faster, stronger, better. Charitable acts are a discipline that improves the lives of others.
Don’t see Advent as a time of less. See it as a time of more. More of the right kind of thing.
Purple is the colour of discipline in the Catholic church. The first purple candle is called Hope. So today we light a beacon for hope. First poem that came to mind was “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson, but I have used that in my blog before. So here is a poem about another beacon. It is also a poem of the sea and the mind, so it belongs on Mindship.
Burning Drift-Wood; by John Greenleaf Whittier
Before my drift-wood fire I sit,
And see, with every waif I burn,
Old dreams and fancies coloring it,
And folly’s unlaid ghosts return.
O ships of mine, whose swift keels cleft
The enchanted sea on which they sailed,
Are these poor fragments only left
Of vain desires and hopes that failed?
Did I not watch from them the light
Of sunset on my towers in Spain,
And see, far off, uploom in sight
The Fortunate Isles I might not gain?
Did sudden lift of fog reveal
Arcadia’s vales of song and spring,
And did I pass, with grazing keel,
The rocks whereon the sirens sing?
Have I not drifted hard upon
The unmapped regions lost to man,
The cloud-pitched tents of Prester John,
The palace domes of Kubla Khan?
Did land winds blow from jasmine flowers,
Where Youth the ageless Fountain fills?
Did Love make sign from rose blown bowers,
And gold from Eldorado’s hills?
Alas! the gallant ships, that sailed
On blind Adventure’s errand sent,
Howe’er they laid their courses, failed
To reach the haven of Content.
And of my ventures, those alone
Which Love had freighted, safely sped,
Seeking a good beyond my own,
By clear-eyed Duty piloted.
O mariners, hoping still to meet
The luck Arabian voyagers met,
And find in Bagdad’s moonlit street,
Haroun al Raschid walking yet,
Take with you, on your Sea of Dreams,
The fair, fond fancies dear to youth.
I turn from all that only seems,
And seek the sober grounds of truth.
What matter that it is not May,
That birds have flown, and trees are bare,
That darker grows the shortening day,
And colder blows the wintry air!
The wrecks of passion and desire,
The castles I no more rebuild,
May fitly feed my drift-wood fire,
And warm the hands that age has chilled.
Whatever perished with my ships,
I only know the best remains;
A song of praise is on my lips
For losses which are now my gains.
Heap high my hearth! No worth is lost;
No wisdom with the folly dies.
Burn on, poor shreds, your holocaust
Shall be my evening sacrifice!
Far more than all I dared to dream,
Unsought before my door I see;
On wings of fire and steeds of steam
The world’s great wonders come to me,
And holier signs, unmarked before,
Of Love to seek and Power to save,—
The righting of the wronged and poor,
The man evolving from the slave;
And life, no longer chance or fate,
Safe in the gracious Fatherhood.
I fold o’er-wearied hands and wait,
In full assurance of the good.
And well the waiting time must be,
Though brief or long its granted days,
If Faith and Hope and Charity
Sit by my evening hearth-fire’s blaze.
And with them, friends whom Heaven has spared,
Whose love my heart has comforted,
And, sharing all my joys, has shared
My tender memories of the dead,—
Dear souls who left us lonely here,
Bound on their last, long voyage, to whom
We, day by day, are drawing near,
Where every bark has sailing room.
I know the solemn monotone
Of waters calling unto me;
I know from whence the airs have blown
That whisper of the Eternal Sea.
As low my fires of drift-wood burn,
I hear that sea’s deep sounds increase,
And, fair in sunset light, discern
Its mirage-lifted Isles of Peace.