On the fourth Day of Christmas snow drifted ever so quietly down to earth, tenderly covering the landscape with a white veil. Every year I am afraid of winter. Every year I am, again, taken by surprise to watch the beauty of the first snow falling, to listen to my silent steps in the thin blanket of snow. The whole world is washed clean and hushed into a peaceful rest.
It is often just so in the spiritual world. We get afraid when, in our lives, the last colors of Fall vanish and our life is put on hold under an icy layer of cold. Yet still, we know, somewhere below those cold layers there is life waiting to burst into bloom again in spring.
Winter, and especially this time between Christmas and the New Year, reminds us that life is not without slowing down, turning inside, waiting for the new to unfold.
You may have noticed by now that our journey to the heart of the 12 Days of Christmas is indeed a journey to the heart, our heart, your heart. If what the wise women and men have taught us across ages is true, it is there, in the utmost inwardness of our own heart, that we are not alone. Within the emptiness, we are met with God's warm embrace. The solitude, with time, gives birth to the sacred. Spring arrives.
The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke has put it this way:
So on this cold winter day, the Fourth Day of Christmas I invite you to walk into this "inner solitude' about which the poet speaks. First you might want to look for the door which leads you inside yourself. Perhaps you can use the image above as an entryway. Or you might find your own place, or image, or meditation, or prayer. But it must lead to stillness, to openness, to solitude.
Lets' see if Meister Eckhart, the medieval mystic we read on the Second Day of Christmas, can help us to recognize this place.
Meister Eckhart speaks about "Abgeschiedenheit", often translated with "detachment," as the one thing which is really needed. Like Rilke he points to the place we find when we walk inside ourselves. The innermost place where peace and the Divine are one.
Why do we need a detached heart? Eckhart illustrates this with an image, which brings us back, again, to the virgin heart as a heart open to God:
If I want to write on a small wax tablet, everything I have written there before, however beautiful or wise it might be, must be cleaned off before I can write something new.
It is the same way with our heart. All must be cleaned out before so that God can write upon it.
This is "das abgeschiedene Herz", the detached heart, which has freed itself not only from the clutter, but even from what we love dearly, in order to be in union with God.
This idea of the human heart which comes to itself by detaching from the self, has been at the core of all wisdom teaching. It is probably the hardest task of our human journey. It is difficult, this letting go of things we love, as difficult as it is to let go of our burdens. You may meet fearful things, painful experiences, and worries as you journey inward. Greet them and leave them at the door for now. We will come back to them another day.
May you find solitude in the midst
of your heart's fearful striving,
may you find peace
within your worries,
may you not be afraid
to walk inside yourself,
and may the warm embrace
of Divine love