By Sister Fern Dorresteyn
Winter is a wonderful time to have family practices which bring us together. When I was younger, I lived in a community that celebrated the darkness of winter as a time to kindle the inner light. In December, every Sunday evening we gathered in a dark room. A child would light a candle placed in a beautiful wreath and then we would listen to two stories. One was a magical fairy tale about a poor soul lost in the cold winter night, who found the flame of truth, love, and goodness. The other was a true story of how someone like Nelson Mandela found light in the midst of suffering and darkness. After this, we sang songs about the beauty of winter. While in my community this season is called Advent and is based in Christian tradition, the practice can nourish people of any faith. Here are some ideas for family practice in the winter: Create a beautiful centerpiece, like a wreath made from pine boughs. Use treasures from nature gathered with your children which cultivate feelings of warmth and joy. Everyone can have their own candle in the centerpiece.
Begin your evening with walking meditation. The clear, crisp night sky in the winter is wonderful and refreshing for the spirit. When you come back, each person can light a candle from the center one and say a special prayer:
Winter is here, the time of night we make our heart fire bright.
When we are kind and loving, we give warmth to the hearts of others.
Happiness is like the candle flame shining light into darkness.
Afterwards, share hot milk or tea by candlelight. Sing songs, tell stories, draw, read poetry, and express appreciation of each other. If you celebrate the Solstice, Christmas, or Chanukah, it might be a nice time to share the deeper meaning of these special times and talk about your own tradition. You may have a specific prayer each week to nourish the seed of loving kindness:
Week 1: Thinking of my family, I wish each one of them feels happy and loved by me.
Week 2: Thinking of the animals living outside, I hope they are warm and have found some food. May they be happy and safe through these winter days.
Week 3: Thinking of people who feel sad and lonely, may they be warmed by friendship and love.
Week 4: May all beings, people, animals, fish, birds, trees, and the whole earth be happy and peaceful.
You may like to take the prayers one step further by asking "What can we do? We often feel too busy for acts of generosity but doing them with our children gives us energy and helps us feel more connected with others. Bake a pie for a lonely neighbor. Invite some friends who need cheering to a tea party. Donate a blanket or food to a local shelter for people who are cold and hungry. Share with your children what happens to animals in the winter with picture books from the library, and then make a bird feeder or visit a local shelter. You can wish the whole world peace.
Sister Fern Dorresteyn, Ha Nghiem, pictured below with Bettina Schneider and Gaia Thurston-Shaine, lives at Plum Village. She was ordained as a novice nun in 1996.