In a few minutes we’ll move into the portion of our Christmas Eve service where we celebrate the Festival of Light. And I think it would be worthwhile to reflect on the inner meaning of the Festival at this holy time of year.
The Festival describes the longing of our human hearts for a permanent and lasting fulfillment, and it celebrates the descent of the masters who’ve come to help us fulfill that longing.
There’s a passage in the Festival that I particularly love:
“From sun and moon and all the stars, from glistening seas, high mountains, desert solitudes, and vast fruitful plains, and from the hearts of mankind, and of creatures everywhere goes up in wordless yearning a prayer for redemption.”
I’ve recited the Festival hundreds of times, almost every week for nearly thirty years, and I particularly love that phrase, “wordless yearning.”
The Festival is telling us that everything in this material cosmos, including the plants, rocks, animals, and stars, was created to satisfy the wordless yearning of our hearts.
The soul’s yearning for its long-lost home in the Divine can never be adequately expressed in words. We can have an experience and give it a name, but the experience exists before we’ve named it, and it will exist whether we name it or not. And often we name it wrongly, or we call it something that doesn’t accurately describe it, or that barely scratches the surface of its meaning. And this is why the Festival speaks of a wordless yearning, which is to say, a yearning that cannot be described, but that is inseparable from the way we’re made. And even before we evolved into human beings, when we were rocks and trees, and when we were desert wastes and silent ocean deeps, that same yearning was an inseparable part of us.
A yearning is a feeling that permeates our being – it’s far more than a fleeting wish for something outside ourselves. “Yearning” conveys a sense of painful separation, and a feeling that nothing will ever be able to assuage the longing of our hearts but that for which we yearn.
The word “redemption” has acquired certain rigidly prescribed meanings for orthodox believers. But what does it really mean? Superficially, “redemption” means to be saved from something, or to be taken to a better place.
Redemption carries a feeling that we were lost and devoid of hope, and that we’ve been saved. And the wordless yearning of which the Festival speaks is a longing to be free of everything except God’s bliss.
The Festival tells the story of all creation. It describes how the entire cosmos and all things in it are engaged in a journey toward ever-increasing self-awareness. It describes how we pass “through dim corridors of waking consciousness, to emerge at last into infinite light – into perfect joy.” And this is the journey that we are engaged upon at this present moment. We are gradually discovering who we are, and learning to discern that which will satisfy our soul’s longing, and that which will merely postpone the fulfillment.
There are moments when we imagine that we’ve been saved. But then the world turns, and we find ourselves back where we started, with our yearning unfulfilled. Now, it would be a very sad story indeed, if there wasn’t another side to it, which is that we are never alone in our journey. Our yearning is heard. And it is answered with a sensitivity that is so deep and subtle and fragrant with compassion and love that we can scarcely imagine it.
Every wordless whisper of our hearts is heard. We live, so the saints tell us, amidst a host of angels – angelic beings that have advanced far beyond where we are presently standing. And because of their love and compassion for us, their greatest joy is to help us in our search.
We may catch glimpses of them, or feel their sudden presence as a flash of light, or as a sense of blessing that seems to come from everywhere and nowhere. Or we may feel their presence when a divine friend breaks through the barriers of our consciousness and gives us a touch of God’s bliss.
The more deeply we understand our relationship with those divine friends who have come to help us, the more deeply we know that nothing else will ever satisfy us.
The Festival tells us, “A prayer of love went up from earth, and God responded. A ray of Your light flashed out from the heart of Infinity, burst downward through night skies of consciousness, and was born on earth for the redemption of mankind in human form.”
Yogananda said, “I will come again and again, a trillion times if necessary, crossing crags on bleeding feet, so long as one stray brother is left behind.” And he comes in response to our soul’s yearning
When Christ came as the little baby in the manger, it was the pure divine light of God that descended in him. And make no mistake, he came for you. Jesus at this moment lives for you. Yogananda lives for you. Lahiri, Sri Yukteswar, and Babaji live for you. Babaji said, “I perceive potential saints in America and Europe, waiting to be awakened.” Babaji is sending unceasing rays of redeeming Light in response to the wordless call of our souls.
Master said that anyone who utters the name of Babaji with reverence will receive an instant blessing. And whether we are able to receive the blessing depends entirely on how fully we are willing to open ourselves to receive, and to let ourselves be changed.
We’ve spent so many lifetimes yearning for redemption, and being distracted again and again by our false self-definitions. “This is mine. This is who I am. This is what will fulfill me. How can I live without these things?”
Then, every so often, the beautiful edifice that we’ve built up of our self-definitions is vaporized. And then we convince ourselves that it can’t possibly happen again. It may happen to this one or that one, but surely not to us. And finally, when our petty dreams can no longer hold us, the angels take our hand and reassure us, “You will be redeemed.”
We have yearned for the redemption since the beginning of time. And when it comes we often don’t recognize what we’re being offered. We don’t recognize that in that little baby, Christ himself is being placed in our hands.
The baby is so small that you could hold it in one hand. He’s so delicate that you want to hold him to your heart. And we can take the baby in our arms at any time. But then we put it down and turn aside to reach for this or that lesser fulfillment.
In one of his Christmas messages to us, Swami said, “Everything around us is just a reflection of our own consciousness.”
I’ve given that statement a lot of thought. I’ve asked myself, what is it that causes us to want to move outward from ourselves? And I’ve concluded that it’s because we’re so terribly restless inside. I’ve spoken about this before, how we’re so inwardly restless, and how there are so many times in our lives when we’d rather be anywhere else but in our own consciousness.
When some terrible grief comes, where will I go? And when a great wordless yearning comes, where will I turn? Where can I go where the circumstances of my life won’t be like this? Where can I go where my consciousness won’t be this way?
And the answer is: “Nowhere.” Because there’s nowhere we can go that our consciousness will not come with us. And this is the realization that sooner or later drives us to God: the unbearable feeling of being trapped by our own egos, and being defined by our endless petty self-definitions, and then seeing all our little hopes and dreams dashed, again and again.
By “ego” I’m referring to Paramhansa Yogananda’s definition: the ego is the soul that has become identified with the little human form in which it is temporarily encased. The ego is the prison of self-identification by which we’ve defined ourselves, because of the false idea that we can draw our happiness from something other than the little baby that we can lift out of the manger and hold to our hearts. But if you can hold that little baby close to your heart, why would you want to be anywhere else?
When Swami Kriyananda was in his body, I spent many, many days and weeks and months in his company. And the defining characteristic of the experience of being with him was that I never wanted to be anywhere else. There was literally no part of me that ever thought, “I want to be doing this or that instead.” It was completely the opposite – I only wanted to be right there. And of course it was the influence of his magnetism. But it was particularly the power of his magnetism that was affecting me from inside, and causing me to feel liberated from the limitations of my consciousness.
Now, that is our destiny. That is the fulfillment of the wordless yearning to be free of all our limitations, even as Jesus won his freedom, and as every master has become free.
And thus the baby is born, and he very literally comes to dwell with us. And whether he comes as Jesus or Yogananda or Krishna or Swami Kriyananda or any of the great souls whose only desire is to help us on our way, when we find ourselves standing beside them, we will know that we have come into perfect grace and peace.
And once we know that that kind of peace is possible, we will know that it is possible anywhere. And the extent to which we are able to receive it will always depend on how completely we can follow our soul’s yearning, and discover that the angels hold all of the fulfillment for which we’re yearning.
Or we can withdraw, and close our consciousness and go back to our restless thoughts: “I have to have this … I have to have that …”
Let us hold the baby to our hearts and know, “I stand now in the center of the universe. There is no reality but my perfect oneness with God, in which the wordless yearning of my soul has been fulfilled forever.”
(From Asha’s talk during the Christmas Eve Service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014.)