The Season of Advent

I was raised Catholic. Actually, I usually say I was raised VERY Catholic. In my entire life from birth to 18, I can remember missing Mass twice (including Holy days.)

Once because we were snowed in. Once because the whole family was sick. Both times we celebrated the entire Mass at home, with my mom playing the role of priest.* *Rebellious, since Catholics still don’t allow women to be priests.

Anyway. Even as a youngster, I didn’t love Mass. From time to time there would be an interesting sermon. Occasionally, the Mass would be geared for kids. But the rest was just ritual … all the standing up, sitting down, recitation of prayers in a monotonous tone of voice, only men in the positions of power … it just wasn’t for me. Except. I always loved the season of Advent.

Halberg Family photo
Family Christmas photo circa 1977 (one sibling still unborn)

Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. My love of Advent was probably because anticipation is a big part of my essence frequency, possibly because the anticipation of Christmas to every American kid means much more than a simple celebration of the birth of Christ, most likely because this was the one time of year where a woman was a regular and integral part of the Biblical story, but also largely due to the sudden eruption of fun family festivities in my household.

To say that my family was into Advent is an understatement. There were six of us kids, 14 years apart from first to last. We gathered around the dinner table all year round, but during Advent, the Advent wreath became part of our dinner-time tradition. An Advent wreath is a wreath of evergreen foliage in which four candles are set, one more to be lit on each Sunday of Advent. In our family, we rotated through the designated prayer leader, the one who led us in prayer before dinner, and that person also got to light the candle(s) before dinner each night,  blow them out at the end of dinner, (or take bribes from siblings for the privilege) and choose and read the Bible story before we left the table.

Every morning, we began by attending to our Advent calendars. Most Advent calendars are standard two dimensional calendars containing small numbered flaps, one of which is opened on each day of Advent, typically to reveal a picture appropriate to the season. We had to have six advent calendars to rotate through, with a schedule kept by mom so that we wouldn’t fight over whose turn it was to open which one. Four of our Advent calendars were the typical calendar as described above. These were not very exciting especially since they were often recycled from years before, except that they marked down the days until Christmas, and sometimes the pictures inside were of presents or cute kittens and puppies, or angels and the like.

Swedish Christmas Tree
A Swedish Christmas Tree

Another was a three dimensional Swedish Christmas tree, made of dowels, and we got to choose an ornament and hang it on the tree. (Moderately exciting, see photo.)

But our favorite, and the one we would fight over for turns if my mom didn’t keep us all so organized, was a homemade embroidered tapestry with a Christmas tree and elves and 24 numbered rings that held tiny written scrolls with various assignments per my mom’s creativity. (See photo below.)

Creative Advent calendar
Mom’s Advent Calendar

Because this Advent calendar was the one that my mom imbued with her own creativity, each year was a little different. Some years you’d get a scavenger hunt clue to go find a small gift (usually a Bible story book which you would then get to read on your turn to be prayer leader at dinner.) Other years you’d pull a scroll that told you to help your sister with the dishes, or write a nice letter to an elderly friend or relative, or clean the bathroom for a sibling.

My mom still pulls out this advent calendar every year, and her grand kids are now the beneficiaries of her creativity. Fortunately for them, the only ones with large numbers of siblings live in California, and don’t get stuck with those awful “help your sibling” scribes.

The other fun things about the Advent season were that the Christmas records came out of storage, we all went hiking up in the woods to find and cut down the “best Christmas tree ever”, decorated the tree as a family, and the Christmas creche went on display. And then there were the school concerts, Santa pictures, Christmas shopping, and the whole season of anticipation for Christmas day.

I tell you the story of our family Advent traditions to set the stage for why the season of Advent is still important to me today, even though I don’t follow many of the other Catholic customs. For me, the season of Advent (although I do still celebrate reason for the season, even if my beliefs are more aligned with my personal spirituality than traditional Catholic or Christian dogma) is also a time to prepare for the rebirth of a whole New Year. No matter what has happened throughout the 12 months of the year we’re in, I love the ceremony in anticipation of a fresh slate, an opportunity to make my mark on a brand new year.

Furthermore, I believe that ceremony is an important part of spiritual growth, regardless of whether you consider yourself to be traditionally religious or simply secular.

In her latest book, The Book of Ceremony, Sandra Ingerman says that ceremony brings the sacred into ordinary life. In other words, it opens a phone line between you and the power of the Universe, whether you call that God, Goddess, Creator, Great Spirit, Yahweh, Holy Spirit, or The Universe. By bringing ceremony into our life, we reconnect with the sacred as well as to life and nature. Ceremonies can help us unburden ourselves from past hurts, traumas, and self-sabotaging beliefs, moving us into a place where we feel a deeper connection to ourselves, to others, to nature, to life, and to why we are here.

This year I am offering a 25 day Kindness Challenge during the season of Advent. My goal is to offer a secular practice in the spirit of Advent, one that prepares you for new growth in the coming year, and one that is aligned with the kind spirit of the holiday season.

Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I don’t know about you, but I prefer the second option, and kindness helps to create a field that supports miracles.

The holiday season can be stressful for many, and when we’re stressed, we quickly escalate into fight / flight / freeze / faint and by definition get too caught up in our own head as we try to navigate our personal holiday challenges. 

When we participate in ceremonies, we transform the negative thoughts and states of consciousness that are burdening us. Ceremony impacts us deeply on a subconscious level, creating positive change. Science shows that performing acts of kindness –to yourself or to others– reduces the effects of stress, improves your mood, boosts your immunity, spreads exponentially to at least three degrees, increases confidence, boosts energy, and is an excellent tool to overcome social anxiety. What better way to bring in the New Year?

Click this link to join my Kindness Challenge, and imagine that each daily message is in the form of a scroll on my mom’s Advent calendar, leading you to focus on and practice kindness: to yourself, to others, to Nature and the Divine.

And I promise I won’t make you clean the bathroom for a sibling,

I hope to see you on the other side.

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My Wild Year

For those who didn’t hear before, 2017 was an unusual year. My dad passed away very unexpectedly on January 6th, 2017. My partner’s dad died –also a bit unexpectedly, although he had been sick– a few weeks prior to that, and my favorite cousin’s mom (my aunt) passed away a few weeks before that. After my dad’s funeral service, as a bit of a break from our ordinary lives, and to help my cousin remodel her mom’s home to use as a rental, Justin and I spent the better part of three months in California in early 2017. A few months after we returned, we held the service for his dad, and just a few weeks after that his grandmother passed away.

In late summer, just as we were settling back in to our routine, we found out –a bit dramatically, but that’s a story for another time– that we had to move out of the home we’d been living in for five years. We weighed our options, and decided to move into what had been his grandmother’s home, this log cabin (see photo below) originally built in 1893.

Bottom line, 2017 was very transitional and hard to predict …  very much like a walk-about pilgrimage. (A walk-about pilgrimage is a journey we go on simply by virtue of the –often sudden– unpredictability of our lives.)

At the beginning of 2018, my internal GPS (what I call my Wise Self) kept telling me to slow down, breathe deep, take a nap, relax, listen, connect to my self, my place, my new home … and allow myself the luxury to take a break from the need to chase down clients, or plan workshops & retreats. My underlying counter-voice kept saying, “you already took a year off! If you don’t get out there and DO stuff (market) you won’t get clients. And if you don’t get clients you won’t get paid!”

I chose to listen to my Wise Self. Although sometimes –I’ll admit– I wasn’t sure it was her, and I did host a workshop and attend a couple of local marketing events.

Finally, towards the end of April, when I pulled a card from my Oracle deck that once again said, “Take a Nap” when I asked about marketing my business, I decided to call my year a sabbatical.

A sabbatical is most common in academic vocations, but the concept of sabbatical originated in farming. It means to allow the land to remain fallow, to let it go wild for a year.

My Wild Year so far

In the process of “going wild”, I’ve been rooting into my self and my place and without even knowing it at the time, working on the practices of belonging, and awakening to the ancient Earth consciousness inside me.

The first task of moving in was to clear a space for us. We had to be completely out of our old place by Thanksgiving, and before we could move in here there were a few things that had to be done. We painted the press board ceilings white, gave away or sold the furnishings we weren’t going to use, built some beautiful rustic book cases, and sorted through, cleared, or stored decades of Grandma Beverly’s personal belongings. My partner kept saying, “get rid of everything” and my sister-in-law kept saying, “don’t get rid of anything without talking to me first.” Somehow we managed to make room for ourselves and keep the peace.

Come spring, my # 1 priority has been to cultivate my garden spaces. Justin’s grandma loved to garden, so the base of the garden was already in place. But it was overgrown with grass and weeds because her health (at 93) kept her from doing as much as she used to do. I mulched it heavily last winter with cardboard and leaves from our Norwegian Maple, but that wasn’t enough to kill all the grass.

I hate to weed, so I decided that I would tap into my strengths rather than my weaknesses this year. Rather than feeling the pressure to reclaim the entire garden, I decided that I would work on it a section at a time. My overall plan for the garden is to make it a wildlife sanctuary and Kristin-variety cottage garden … lots of indigenous wild flowers mixed in with roses, my favorite vegetables, herbs and Grandma Beverly’s perennials, plus a few of my own favorites.

One of my strengths is a love of learning, so to tap into that love, I decided to learn which plants have a symbiotic relationship with one another (like tomatoes, basil, carrots, & garlic for example.) I decided to learn the names of the bugs I discover in the soil and understand which ones are beneficial and which aren’t. And I decided to learn how to garden completely organically, with my own compost, beneficial nematodes, and by attracting wild life “critters” that help keep the bad bugs away.[Did you know that snakes, lizards and beetles eat slugs?!]

In the midst of all that yard work, June, and my Greece retreat snuck up on me. I signed up for the Greece Goddess Pilgrimage retreat in November, right in the middle of our move. The description said, “come journey with us to the Greek Island of Tinos, for an empowering and creative nine-day sacred Yoga and Art retreat.” I said, “I’m in.”

I communed with the land, the Aegean Sea, and Greek goddesses, did lots of art and a little bit of yoga, and made connections with like-hearted women from all over the US, Greece, the UK and Australia.

My intention for the trip was to make an even deeper connection with myself and my work … while also connecting more deeply with Mother Earth and her infinite wisdom. While there, I read the book Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, by Toko-Pa Turner, a Canadian writer, teacher and dreamworker, who lives on a small island in the Salish Sea. (My neighbor!!) From her I integrated the knowledge that belonging is a practice … and one that I was already intuitively immersed in!

My take-aways from this pilgrimage journey / art retreat / goddess retreat were:

  1. I am an artist. Or rather, an artist and creative activist. I knew this before, of course, but the process of indulging in art for fourteen days helped me feel it.
  2. I am also a writer. And part of my calling as a creative activist is to write. This is not new knowledge either, but as of now I am officially writing my first book, tentatively called “A Field Guide to Practical Magic: 21 Days to Connect with Your Wise Self”  …. or something like that!
  3. I’m being called to call women back to their wild roots, to apprentice themselves to Nature and their own shadow, and to reconnect to and express beauty and their own Wild and Wise Soul.

Going forward, my work will more deeply reflect these three things. (To learn more about my work, you can follow my page on Facebook or visit my website.)

Serendipitous Treasures

Since I’m on the topic of serendipity, I became reacquainted with my partner through yet another funeral, back in 2007. The funeral was for the older brother universe soul matesof classmates of ours, and there were many people there that we knew.  At the time I arrived, he was heading out the back door with an elderly woman.  He smiled and waved, and although I knew he was someone I used to know in school, I couldn’t place him.  I sent his face through my mental facial recognition software and came up blank, but I have to admit that I was never was able to fully forget him either.

Finally, months later, he sent me a Facebook friend request, saying that he thought he’d seen me at that funeral. Oh! Of course! It clicked into place for me.  The elderly woman he was solicitously escorting out the door and into a silver Mercedes was his grandmother. When he contacted me, he was living in Mexico, caring for his mother’s property, and was with someone else so I put him out of my mind except when Facebook did its thing.

Several years later, he reached out to say he was back in town, and would I like to meet for a beer? And the rest, as they say, is history. This is what he looked like when I graduated from high school, and again when I met up with him in 2011.

Justin then and now
Is it any wonder I didn’t recognize him right away?

How has synchronicity shown up in your life? Do you have a favorite story of unexpected treasure popping up when you were least looking for it? Please feel free to share in the comments.  It’s fun to hear other’s stories!

Serendipitous Presence

I haven’t written a thing since last October! This is, in part, because I wanted every blog post to be “meaningful” and “perfect.” Of course it never will be, but before I let go of that expectation, it was difficult to start.

To be fair, beyond that self-imposed restriction, it has been an unusually unusual year. Along with Joy and Goodwill and New Year’s intentions, the holiday season folded in three important deaths: first my aunt, next my partner’s Dad, and then my Dad.

I know that the way each of us will grieve and process these three deaths is still unfolding … but the initial impact reframed my chosen theme for 2017 from abundance to serendipity.
Serendipity with dogs in daisies

 

 

You might think that death is an unusual place to find serendipity. But both my father’s death and my partner’s father’s death brought with them reconciliations that were both unexpected and valuable. And my aunt’s death brought both adventure and an opportunity to spend lengthy time with my California relatives. Now of course, I’d trade all of that to have our loved ones back; but since that isn’t how life works, I’m happy to have experienced the serendipitous moments.

Looking forward to sharing more of those with you in the days to come.

Much love,

Kristin