We used to do this with our children every year while they were young. I felt a deep joy every evening, seemingly disproportionate to the time and effort this simple ceremony took. I felt the Gurus’ blessing encouraging me, “Yes –Please do this.” So, in this spirit, I share it, so that others can also share in this spiritual family activity starting on January 1 each year.
Start on January 1 and do part of the arati ceremony each night at the family altar (or set up a picture of Master in the living room), and have a story from Master’s life that relates to that aspect of our nature which we are focusing on in the arati that night.
I hope to write up a little booklet for you with stories to use, but for now see what you can do with the ideas below. There are many suitable stories in Autobiography of a Yogi.
January 1 – TASTE- prasad.
Story idea: divine nectar? Also, any stories about his childhood or mission.
January 2 – SOUND- We will have an arati on the aspect of sound (kirtan is divine sound, as well as the bells and the conch shell). Story ideas: Lahiri Mahasaya saying to Master’s Mother that he will be an engine bringing many souls to God, or stories about Master hearing AUM, the power of mantra, etc.
January 3- SCENT- as above but substitute incense for the candle.
Story idea: Talk about when Master’s room in Boston smelled like a lotus after he saw the vision of Jesus and Krishna walking on a sea of gold. (The Path, page 437)
January 4 – TOUCH – Use holy water or vibuti for the arati.
Story ideas; any stories about Master healing people such as the one in A.Y. when he healed his sister.
January 5 – LIGHT- Opening prayer. Explain how the arati is to offer our senses to God so that we can experience Him more and more in everything we see and do. Then do the candle part of the arati ( Offer it at the altar first, around the pictures, then to each member of the family). Then tell a story about Master related to Divine Light or Sight (example: how he was healed as a child from a flash of light that emanated from Lahiri Mahasaya’a picture). You could then ask the children how they could try to see God everywhere, i.e. concentrating on seeing beauty rather than evil around us, etc.. Talk to them about the spiritual eye; children can sometimes see this light if they go to sleep loving God, such as after prayers and spiritual stories. Show them how to concentrate at the spiritual eye. Tell other stories about Master if you wish to do so.
January 6 – Epiphany- Move the three wise men closer to the Christ child in your family crèche, and tell the story of the three wise men. Perhaps give the children or the whole family some sort of spiritual gift, such as a special book or tape, etc. (This could also be done on Master’s Birthday).
You could read “I was Made for Thee” each evening at the end of each little arati satsang. It is good for children to hear the words of our Master, to become familiar with them. These things enter their consciousness at some level and may thus be of help to them in some time of need or confusion.
I Was Made for Thee,
I was made for Thee alone.
I was made for dropping flowers of devotion
at Thy feet on the altar of the morning.
My hands were made to serve Thee willingly;
to remain folded in adoration, waiting for Thy coming;
and when Thou comest, to bathe Thy feet with my tears.
My voice was made to sing Thy glory.
My eyes were made a chalice to hold Thy burning love
and the wisdom falling from Thy Nature’s hands.
My lips were made to breathe forth Thy praises
and Thy intoxicating inspirations.
My love was made to throw incandescent searchlight flames
to find Thee hidden in the forest of my desires.
My heart was made to respond to Thy call alone.
My soul was made to be the channel through which Thy love
might flow uninterruptedly into all thirsty souls.
For younger children you could use the song “My voice was made to sing Thy Glory”.
My voice was made to sing Thy Glory
My ears were made to hear Thy call
My eyes were made to see Thy beauty
Shining through us all
My hands I give into Thy service
My mind will learn Thy truths alone.
My soul I offer as a channel
To guide Thy children home.
Today, January 5, is the birthday of Paramhansa Yogananda. This day has always been significant to me because he has been my divine Guru since age 22. So, his birthday also marks a renewed spiritual birth in me, and in my family.
It is also very significant for me because January 5th falls well within the “Twelve Days of Christmas”. This is because the first day of Christmas is either counted from Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
Here is a quote from an interesting article on the twelfth day of Christmas:
The Oxford English Dictionary says it falls on 6 January – although it then goes on to say that ‘strictly’ it’s the evening of 5 January which was ‘formerly’ the twelfth and last day of Christmas.
As a child, our family put up very few Christmas decorations before December 24th. We would put up a wreath on the door, and a few other things perhaps, but on the 24th the home became a wonderful flurry of Christmas activity. The tree came in with the wonderful scent of balsam fir filling the home. My father and the four children decorated the tree mostly, while Mom made Christmas cookies in the kitchen. She had made a few batches before Christmas Eve – but we would only be allowed one or two, and they had then been saved for Christmas Day and beyond.
I have very positive memories of Christmas coming in with such a gust into our home. We had prepared inwardly, all through Advent, which is counted by the four Sundays preceding Christmas. Each Advent we would have the advent wreath on the dining room table, 4 candles surrounded by greens. The candles were lit each night (week one had one candle, week #2 had 2 candles, and so on. ) There were some stories, prayers and sometimes the song, O Come of Come Emanuel.
Each of us made a personal promise to Jesus, something we would do during the advent season to bring us closer to Christ. Some years I made the commitment to walk to daily Mass on my own every day during advent, even though I was only a school age child. Mass was at 6 AM and this was December in New Hampshire, but luckily the church was only a few blocks away and those were safer times, for the most part! Daily Mass is much more inward than Sunday Mass. It had the feeling of a morning Sadhana. People came dressed in their regular clothes for the day, and I knew they were there simply because they loved God. No “Sunday finest” required or expected. Some were dressed as mechanics or similar jobs, and I was dressed in my school clothes.
It was very peaceful and quiet, and in those moments I felt closer to God and Christ. When I found the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda as a young woman, and learned to meditate every morning and evening – I found that same quiet closeness to God that I had felt as a child at daily Mass.
That inward preparation for Christmas throughout Advent made the approach of Christ’s birth very real to my heart. I was very excited about the tree, Santa and presents, but I was even more deeply moved, in an inner way, to set up the family crèche. It had a place of honor in the living room, taking up a beautiful cherry table in the living room. I remember sitting up late at night on Christmas Eve, watching the glow of the logs in the fireplace and feeling the inner approach of Christmas…
The Three Wise Men
We kept the tree up all through Christmas – until January 5th – that evening we took down the tree, but left up the manger scene – and we moved the wise men closer to the Christ child. On January 6th – Epiphany, we were given one more gift, and we went to Mass. Even if it was a school day, these things happened. Then at night we finally took down the manger.
All of this increased in meaning for me when I realized that through all of my young life, during Epiphany, I had been unknowingly honoring my line of gurus. Swami Kriyananda wrote:
Less than a month after I met Yogananda and was accepted by him as a disciple, he invited me to join him at his desert retreat at Twenty-Nine Palms, California. There, he dictated a few lessons for his yoga correspondence course. One evening, to my amazement, he included the following information: ‘The three wise men who came to honor the Christ Child after his birth were the line of gurus who later sent me to the West: Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar.’
Nayaswami Kriyananda, in Chapter Eight of:
Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6th – the day after Paramhansa Yogananda’s birthday. I later learned that in some parts of Spain and other cultures, Epiphany is a very big holiday – complete with celebratory parades, etc. It is nice to know our line of gurus has been being honored all of these centuries, albeit a bit incognito!
It also touched my heart with deep meaning that Paramhansa Yogananda often referred to his mission as “The Second Coming of Christ.” This inspired me to continue these traditions with my own children, adding in the fresh inspiration of Paramhansa Yogananda.
‘The work he sent to the West through Master is helping people to commune inwardly with God,’ continued Bernard. ‘Jesus, too, through people’s practice of meditation, is becoming a living reality for them, a being with whom they can commune, rather than merely read about in the Bible. This was what Jesus meant when he said that he would come again. Master often speaks of this work as the Second Coming of Christ, for it teaches people how to fulfill the true promise of Jesus’ not to return again outwardly, but in the souls of those who loved him and communed with him.’
May these things inspire your devotional life with your own family, in your own way. I had wanted to write about this earlier in the season, as a form of preparation for Christmas, but unfortunately I was sick during much of December. God comes in mysterious ways…But, I decided to at least write it now in honor of the twelve days of Christmas, and Yogananda’s birthday and the Three Wise Men. These ideas are timeless – so they are now available for families in years to come. Perhaps you can use it today and tomorrow…
Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 2, Verses 1 and 2, and Verses 9-11:“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
“Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him….
“And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”
The wise men in the Biblical story are described as seeing the star in the East. They saw it there not only when they were in the East, but also after they had arrived in Palestine. “The star, which they saw in the East,” says the Bible, “went before them.” Yet they were traveling westward!
The Hebrew word for east, as we saw last week, is Kedem, “that which lies before.” In several places in the Bible, this word is used in reference to the forehead. The “star in the east,” then, was a star that the wise men saw in their foreheads…
Parallel Passages, with Commentary, from the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, by Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters)
This Light in the forehead is also known as the spiritual eye. May the Light of Christ be within you, and shine all around your family, now and always!