Advent Week Four: The Blessings of the Human Kingdom

This is the last week of the Four Kingdoms of Advent, and we celebrate the Kingdom of Humans. I have written about the Mineral Kingdom, the Plant Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom individually, and we as humans carry the blessings of each of these Kingdoms in our bodies: in our bones and bodies we have the strength, structure and physical condition of the Mineral Kingdom. Our life force and sense of vitality is a gift from the Plant Kingdom, who also share with us the gift of adaptation, nourishment and beauty. We share skills of social interactions, behaviour, instincts and feelings with the Animal Kingdom – all of these blessings combine and have allowed us to develop something that makes us different.

The Human Kingdom contains the power of creative knowledge and the ability to transform ourselves and our world around us. As Amber Greene described it, “we are CALLED to use this gift!” It is the eternal wrestle of mankind to be something more than we are, and those with hearts that are called to beauty, truth and goodness in the world will find out how best to use their creative intelligence.

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The Advent tells the story of the birth of the Christ Child, who was recognised as one who would grow to be a great teacher and leader – a king among men who had access to divine wisdom that he would share with the world. Putting ‘religion’ aside, I still see this story as one that is important and very accessible to us all. Whether or not you believe in Heaven or God or Jesus, in the Advent Story that has been unfolding over these last few weeks we have everything in place for us to birth ourselves anew, and with consciousness. To me this is a story that perfectly describes the potential within each of us to be great and to use our creative potential in the world in wonderful ways, no matter how ‘humble’ we feel our talents are.

Mother Blessed Book

Mary, in her pregnancy, carries the idea and the potential for something wonderful, and looks for the blessings in life even when life was not be making it easy for her.  She represents the power of birth and creative transformation – a divine gift given to her by the Holy Spirit. Joseph is an old man who has lived a long, hard-working life. He realises this child Mary bears comes from something ‘beyond’ him. I know that feeling – of not really being my children’s mother. I look at my children in utter wonder at where these spirits came from, and feel humble and proud that they chose me to be one of their parents. In this relationship Mary has connection with Heaven, wonder, beauty, spirit, positivity, gratitude, creative power, while Joseph has connection with the Earth, goodness, values, wisdom, work, perseverance and loyalty and together with their love they share their gifts with another human being – this Christ Child who stands with one foot on the Earth and the other in Heaven.IMG_0058

I think the Advent Story tells us that WE are the Christ Child. We have the potential to grow into something beyond ourselves because at the moment of our births we are given the gifts of Mary and Joseph, and the blessings of the Mineral, Plant and Animal Kingdoms. We are human, and we have faults but through divine gifts we have the potential – ALWAYS – to look for something better, brighter and more beautiful in ourselves.

Madoona and Child Figure WM

THE BLESSINGS OF THE KINGDOM OF HUMANS

Written by Jennifer McCormack

Old man Joseph, Mary and Donkey have travelled far together,

Through all kinds of landscapes and through all kinds of weather.

And yet no matter how rough their ride, they went with gratitude,

For they knew that journeys are easier with a positive attitude.

They were closer now than ever before, to their destination,

And when they reached Bethlehem there would be a celebration.

For Mary carried the Holy Child who soon would be birthed,

and this Babe was destined to be a great Teacher on this Earth.

They’d been travelling through villages, lots of little towns.

It was lovely to see some other people about and all around.

When they finally arrived, their lengthy journey at an end,

They were surprised to see how busy was the town of Bethlehem!

Travellers like them had taken rooms at all the available places.

People turned them away from their doors with the saddest faces,

“I’m sorry we have no room for you, but you could try next door,

Perhaps they’d have a place for you to sleep upon the floor?”

A child had been watching poor Joseph and Mary growing in distress,

They were weary, hungry, so very tired and having no success.

He said “I know a little place, it really isn’t the best.

But it’s warm and dry and it would be a place for you to rest.”

He took them to his father’s inn and asked if they were able

to rest a while with their donkey in a corner of the stable.

The innkeeper looked at them with kindness on his face

and said, “Of course, my rooms are full, and it is the only place.

It’s clean and dry and very warm, you’ll rest well with my cows.”

He brought them blankets, food and water and left them with a bow.

And that night Mary birthed her Babe, in that quiet shed

With Joseph at her feet and the Donkey by her head.

They were all spellbound by the beauty of this tiny Holy Child

Mary slept a healing sleep and when she woke she smiled.

“This Babe was born upon the ground, and a great teacher he will be,

I shall teach him all I can, and then he shall teach me.

I am grateful for friends and families and for places filled love,

and for this special little Babe I thank the Holy Spirit above.

I give thanks to the kindness of others, when they see a need

who can see that inside another lies potential, like a seed.

We all have the ability to grow and learn, to open up our hearts,

and try to be and do the best we can, its the greatest way to start.

For every parent anywhere knows the awesome power of birth

That love and trust and honest work will transform this Earth.”

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Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: Resources for Celebrations

linden garland 3I believe that our celebrations should be given thought – there should be an understanding of what we are celebrating – and why – and then we should consider how to celebrate it according to where we live. It has always felt strange to me to celebrate winter festivities at Christmas time when it is summer in Australia … and Australia is a country with great variety in landscapes so each celebration for each family would be strengthened with an inclusion of local foods, plants, animals, landscapes and people.

The following posts are my journey into understanding Christmas and Advent, and making it real for us according to where we live. I hope you enjoy them, and I would love to hear your ideas too.

ADVENT POSTS

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: Advent

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Four Kingdoms

Advent Week One: The Mineral Kingdom

Advent Week Two: The Plant Kingdom

Advent Week Two: The Plant Kingdom Story

Advent Week Three: The Animal Kingdom

Advent Week Three: The Animal Kingdom Story

Advent Week Four: The Human Kingdom

The Twelfth Day of Christmas: Epiphany

CHRISTMAS IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE POSTS

Finding Meaning In the Festive Season

What to Do About Santa Claus?

The Christmas Tree

The Jesse Tree

The Summer Solstice

CHRISTMAS RECIPES

Raw Gingerbread

Christmas Spice Muesli

Raw Chocolate Cherry Christmas Stars

CHRISTMAS CRAFT

Handmade Fabric Christmas Garlandslinden garland 3

OTHER CHRISTMAS ARTICLES AND RESOURCES

Christmas in the Middle Ages Part 1

Advent Week 3: The Animal Kingdom

This series of Advent posts has presented a different way of appreciating and celebrating Advent – as not only a gift from Heaven and the promise of good things to come, but also as a gift from the Earth and delight in the good things we have right now. I am really loving this full and balanced celebration of our diversity and our possibilities. As we’ve been going along in the weeks and following the journey of Mary and Joseph I’ve been journeying with my family too. Mostly just really appreciating the time we have together at the moment, and the blessings we have that allow us to enjoy our health, our happiness and our home.

Rosella and Donkey2WM

This week coming is Week 3 of Advent, and it is a celebration of the Animal Kingdom. Animals have physical bodies and form, with thanks to the Mineral Kingdom, and thanks to the Plant Kingdom they have life force, diversity, beauty, colour and the ability to adapt, change and reproduce. Animals also have instinct and feelings, they interact socially with one another in a way that plants do not. Animals have evolved their consciousness so that they can interact with each other and their environment in order to meet their complex needs as individuals, and as members of a social group. Animals also have unique skills they have developed to keep their species alive, but also to aid other animals.

When we celebrate the Animal Kingdom we honour the ability to connect with others, we honour the realm of Feeling, and the joy of our senses. We celebrate community and family and friendship. Animals are loyal and brave and funny and interesting. Our relationship with animals has always been closely linked in love and friendship and service, and even nutrition, although this last one is a very personal choice.

cinnamonchickenWM

ACTIVITIES

This week we are all on holidays … so we have the opportunity to go out and about again. I’d like to:

– visit the Currumbin Community Farm, or if we can’t make it there, our local cafe (The River Mill Cafe) has some very happy farm animals you can visit, and turtles too (although I am not sure I agree that feeding the turtles is a great idea. Please don’t feed them bread!) There is also Harmony Hooves, which is worth a visit because they love animals and love children and love helping … and the three go together so well.

– go to the beach with our binoculars and write down how many different types of wildlife we can see in and out of the water and the sand – go ponding: with a net, a white bucket, a magnifying glass and note-book … see how many tiny creatures live in the waters of our creeks.

– we have a pass to Seaworld this year – that is always a great opportunity to wonder at the animals who live in our oceans. On the Gold Coast Currumbin Sanctuary, David Fleay Wildlife Park and Paradise Country are all great places to see local wildlife if you haven’t been lucky enough to spot any on a bushwalk.

– take some extra care with our own chickens who provide us with eggs every morning: its time to really give their coop a great clean!

– bird watching in the bush. We’ve got a bird guide that we always forget to take with us, and binoculars we always leave at home, and yet we always see birds we want to identify.

– go to the museum! There you will not be able to marvel at live animals, but can certainly appreciated the diversity of species all over the world for the last few million years! Our planet is just amazing. My favourite bit is always to look at the insects, but of course my kids prefer the dinosaurs 🙂

tawny frogmouths WM

CAROLS

Little Donkey – a really lovely carol about the hard work of Donkey as he carried Mary to Bethlehem

The Friendly Beasts – About the gifts each animals gave the Holy Family. Love the illustrations here by Tomie dePaola

Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer – just for fun 🙂

STORY

The Week Three Advent story tells how Mary and Joseph recognise and receive the blessings of the Animal Kingdom on their journey to Bethlehem. You can read it here

Rosella and DOnkeyWM

Advent Week 3: Story

This is the third part of the Nativity story, as told with the Four Kingdoms. The first two stories tell the blessings of the Mineral Kingdom and the Plant Kingdom. This week Mary and Joseph discover the blessings of the living creatures around them. There is one more story after this one – the completion of the Advent journey.

Rosella and DOnkeyWM

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM STORY: ADVENT WEEK 3

Written by Jennifer McCormack

Mary and Joseph have travelled far on their way to Bethlehem

With the gifts of God and Mother Earth forever blessing them.

The landscape softened to help them pass, crystals lit hope at night,

They found nourishment on roadsides and flowers blooming bright.

They collected healing herbs, gathered roots and offered up their thanks.

And still they journeyed, with their Donkey, along tracks and river banks.

Donkey carried Mary and the Holy Infant, still yet unborn,

He walked all day, steady and strong, and rose early every morn.

It was his joy to serve with love, to carry our tired Mary,

To keep them safe and take their load ’till the end of their journey.

Each morning as the sun arose the birds gave their gift of song

And each day to keep them company the birds flew right along.

They showed Joseph and Mary where to find the best ripe food

And sang so sweetly to the travellers about all that is good.

The bees danced on the flowers, so busy and funny

They showed the way back to their hive where they shared sweet honey.

They were getting closer to Bethlehem, and on their way down,

They began pass through some friendly villages and towns.

The children came to greet them, and their dogs guided them through,

And showed them all the houses and all they could do.

They swapped supplies for fresh eggs and nourishing, creamy milk,

And visited the markets to marvel at the silk.

That night as they lay wrapped in their blankets of warm wool,

They lay in comfort, feeling rested, blessed and grateful.

“We give gratitude to the living things with whom we share this land

Who each have their own gifts, whether humble or grand.

We thank the birds and animals for their company,

For their work and their devotion, and for their loyalty.

For gifts of milk, wool and silk, the bees for their honey,

For caring for the world around, and caring for me.”

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Jesse Tree

This post is not so much about Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, but flows from my last post about the Christmas Tree – a subject I found quite fascinating. There is so much I can write about the symbology of trees! In my search for stories about the Christmas Tree I came across something I had never heard of before: the Jesse Tree. What caught my eye was all the beautiful illustrations of this tree from centuries ago: the frescos, reliefs and stained-glass windows were stunning and if the masters were recreating this tree it must be something special.

The Jesse Tree is not a Christmas icon, although it seems to have become associated with Christmas and has become incorporated into the Advent tradition because of the tree image, and because it celebrates the birth of Jesus. It is a pictorial family tree tracing the ancestral line of Jesus back to Jesse, the father of King David. It seems to have been very big in medieval times, with most of the stunning art associated with the tree having been created in this period of history. In a more modern version each of the fathers (and Mary) is represented by a different icon that tells us something about their life, associated with a scripture reference.

Looking at the Jesse Tree reminded me of a symbolic representation I created to honour my own family line – not just the fathers, the mothers too. A couple of years ago, inspired and directed by my High Priestess mentor, who first created this symbol for herself, I made a wall-hanging that illustrates this concept – not so much a family tree but more of a family web with myself in the middle, and a web of parents spreading out to the edges. There I am, a little dot with my parents either side, and their parents surrounding us, and their parents surrounding them … and so on. It could go forever and it still doesn’t even factor in siblings and cousins and step-families! Not all the dots representing parents can be seen well here in this picture, but I love gazing at it and wondering which little bits of my DNA can be attributed to which parent. I find it a very comforting image – that I always carry with me a little wisdom and experience of my family, and that my family is with me and embracing me at all times.Keep the blessings going ... To me, the Jesse Tree is intriguing because of the pictures that are now used in association with each of the ancestors of Jesus: an ark for Noah, a ram for Isaac, a ladder for Jacob… I love the idea that these little icons tell a story about each of the people on the tree, because we all have our own story. I wonder what picture would be chosen to represent my life, or in my family web, which pictures would represent my generations of parents and grandparents? In my web the outer ring alone has 64 parents … what are their stories?

I think it is perfect, at Christmas time, to spend a moment considering the awesomeness of our existence, the gifts of our parents and the branches of our lives – family, friends and community – all gathered together under the light of the shining star that is our collective wisdom, experience, spirituality and love.

angelWM

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Christmas Tree

Advent Tree WMI am so enjoying this process of meaning-making at Christmas time. I’ve never given it much thought in previous years … just sat each year with the unsettling question of “Why do we do this?” and it feels so good to finally address this. As a result all our usual icons at Christmas are now revealing their stories to me and I’m gaining a greater appreciation for tradition, a greater understanding of humanity and using it all to create my own meaning at Christmas time, and making some new family traditions too.

Why a Tree?

I haven’t really found out where the idea of the Christmas Tree came from. I have read some very interesting stories though! Like Santa, the Christmas Tree has evolved over the centuries, and I was right about it being an enduring pre-Christian, pagan symbol of Nature. I read one story about the fir tree becoming the symbol of Christmas because a monk used its triangular shape to describe the relationship of the Holy Trinity. I am sure it is probable that explanation happened at some point but the tree as a symbol of Christmas is more likely to be because fir trees are evergreen and were a symbol of strength, continuity and hope through the winter. The reverence of evergreen trees has been a Germanic tradition for thousands of years before Christianity and I was horrified to read the story of Donar’s Oak, an ancient tree that was miraculously felled by St Boniface (with a bit of Divine assistance, apparently) who then built a Catholic church upon the site to celebrate the town’s ‘conversion’ to Christianity. Can you imagine?

There are many stories associated with the tree at this time of year: the Yule log, the Solstice Tree, the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. Go and look them up, they are really interesting! It seems to me most festivals are in some way associated with birth and re-birth, with life and death and the mystery surrounding it that holds us all fascinated with how the world works. For me it comes back to the quality of the life I am living, the birthing of my own self as I move through this life journey on this Earth. We can make our own meanings in symbols, we can start new traditions, and I think it is important that we do.

The Tree Inside

Ever since I read the story “The Little Fir Tree” by Hans Christian Andersen I’ve been wondering about the reason we have trees inside our home at Christmas time. I often find Hans Christian Andersen’s stories more than a little melancholic … and this one is as sad as “The Little Match Girl” to me. This little tree was curious about the world, and had his wish for experience granted. He thought he would rejoice when it was his turn to go inside the houses in the winter like his fellow trees do each year. Instead he felt the pain and stinging cut of the axe, enjoyed a few brief moments of Christmas cheer and was then hacked to pieces for burning after Christmas. Hans! Must you?! I could never bear to use a real live tree branch after that – the whole story would shroud the tree in sadness rather than bright and cheery Christmas joy! The good news is, I have since re-written that story for myself and have also found another one about a fir tree, written so exquisitely, and called The Story of the Tree That Dreamt a Flower by Isabel Wyatt in “The Seven Year Old Wonder Book”, which also tells the story of how it came to be that we place stars on top of the tree. This book also has some really lovely stories about St Nicholas in it too. I recommend it as part of your Christmas reading to your children. We’ll be starting it tonight.

So one story heals the experience of another and, thanks to Isabel Wyatt, I’m recovered from yet another scarring Hans Christian Andersen experience (I am sure not all his fairy tales were intended for children). It still doesn’t sit right with me that we celebrate Nature in our living rooms each year by cutting trees down, and bringing them inside the house to die. I must still be missing something here. Christmas tree farms are big business now and they do provide habitat for animals year-round even though the trees are cut down or repotted to be used for one month of the year. The other side of this is that an artificial tree will last for a few years in your home but when you throw it away it will endure for centuries in a landfill. What to do? I’m not sure Christmas would be the same without the tree.

I grew up with a plastic tree. Part of our ritual each year was to take it out of its box from the garage, set it up in the garden and then spray it with the garden hose to wash off a year’s worth of dust. This was just as much fun as decorating it, I think. Christmas in summer in Queensland is hot and sweaty and any opportunity to play with water in the backyard is a delightful one. I also loved the sparkling water drops on the branches, like it was decorated already, and the contrast it made: a perfectly shaped plastic tree ‘growing’ out of the middle of our lawn.

Since having my own family we’ve swayed between real trees and plastic trees. We’ve gave our plastic tree away 2 years ago and have since been using potted trees,  however we’ve never had much luck with real trees in pots at Christmas, even native pines. I might as well have cut the tree down in the first place because my good intentions to replant it usually end up with it instead dying a longer, more drawn-out death in the pot, because nurturing pot plants is not one of my skills, and besides since leaving home I have always lived in rentals so planting a potentially enormous pine tree in someone else’s backyard isn’t really an option either. This year I thought we would buy a fruit tree instead. I think I am more likely to plant a fruit tree in our garden, and our landlords are more likely to appreciate this gift, and I am also more likely to want to take care of it. I also thought that planting the tree in a prepared hole might be part of the ritual of taking the tree down after Christmas. Our son can dig the hole, our daughter can sing the ceremony story, our toddler can get dirty, the tree will have a home, our garden will be blessed and we’ll all be happy.

Adorning the Treechristmas tree

I had no idea, before writing this, that I have more control issues surrounding the Christmas Tree than I did about Santa! Lucky I know how to laugh at myself and am getting better at letting things go! I love the idea of decorating a tree, and it is the part of Christmas I really gain a lot of enjoyment from – provided I can do the whole thing by myself with no input from ANYONE else!! Only I know where those ornaments have to be hung! Woe betide anyone who differs in opinion or who mucks around with my arrangement – that goes for toddlers too! In the past few years our Christmas Tree has been up on a shelf or a little table so little hands don’t disrupt it. I like to make it just so, and I think I don’t breathe properly around the tree until it is all packed away.

Well, we all have our little vices. I’ve tried letting go of it all and last year I think I did rather well, letting the children decorate it (and the house) and resisting the urge to make things symmetrical/evenly spaced/balanced in colour, form and shape. One thing I do hate with a passion (and which my husband loves) is tinsel. Can’t explain why … it makes me wonder what we are celebrating by covering a tree – a symbol of Nature in our homes – with a completely synthetic product that doesn’t even try to mimic anything in nature, and that also sheds little bits of tinsel that stick to my feet and blow all over the house. Man’s dominance over the natural forces? Perhaps I’m taking it a bit too far here! I won’t go on about it. Let’s just agree to maximise household happiness by minimising tinsel in my home. This year I would like to make our own garlands from my expansive scrap fabric stash, and I have some lovely gold fabric to use that may satisfy the family’s urge for shiny, sparkly things.

I may not love tinsel but I do love sparkly things. In all this reflection and thinking about Christmas, the most joyful memory from my childhood is that of lying underneath the Christmas Tree at night, with all other lights in the house turned off, everyone else in bed … just me and the tree and the colourful twinkling lights. I find lights on a tree so mesmering and I was always drawn to the tree lights at night time, totally lost in the peace and beauty of the whole thing. I would lie with my head next to the wrapped up gifts and wonder about their contents. I’d look up through the branches and see the tree from underneath – a whole new perspective of layers and colour and shadows. I even still remember the smell of the dust.

Today is the first day of December and for many families it is tree-putting-up day. I think I grew up with the tradition of putting the tree up two weeks before Christmas and taking it down two weeks after. Other families have their tree up in November. This year I have to say I am rather excited about putting up a tree and making decorations for it, but I don’t think we’ll do it until we can give it proper attention, which for us means waiting until school is over for the year, a whole morning with nothing else to do, carols, holidays. Embracing the light and joy of ceremony, tradition, expression and creativity!

Advent Week Two: The Plant Kingdom

Can you believe this magical place is in my backyard?

The first week of Advent (the Mineral Kingdom) is approaching, beginning this Sunday. I am preparing for a small community celebration with my playgroup… which involves learning how to sing one of the most complicated carols/hymns: Ave Maria. Yep! I’m going to give it a go, even if we fall in a heap laughing half way through! I’m also going to add another activity to my Week One Advent list – go and visit Mount Warning. What a great opportunity to appreciate the sheer force of power and strength of the Mineral Kingdom by visiting the site of an ancient volcano. Incredibly – I’ve never been there before.

This post is about the second week of Advent. I’m posting it early so you can begin to think about what you might do. Perhaps you’ll find some ideas here. If you’d like to plan some Advent activities or gain a deeper understanding of the experience I invite you to have a read of these posts of mine: Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: Advent, Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Four Kingdoms, Advent Week One: The Mineral Kingdom,

And these posts of Amber Greene’s: The Four Kingdoms of Advent, Felted Advent wreath , Mineral Kingdom –  and here’s Amber’s post on the Plant Kingdom too.

The Plant Kingdom

The second week of Advent celebrates the Plant Kingdom. When we celebrate the Plant Kingdom we celebrate the gift of life and longevity, of beauty and diversity. Plants contain the life force that tells them what they need to DO, and they cannot help but ACT and GROW. In doing so they share their life force through their beauty, their healing properties, their nutrients, their colour, and their interconnectedness with all other life forces.

Minerals can only move when they are acted upon by outer forces. Plants contain an inner force that begins from within the smallest seed and moves upwards and outwards until growth is complete or until environmental conditions make it impossible for the life force to work. The life force of a plant may be strong and determined, but it does need feeding in order to thrive. As does our own life force. What conditions make you thrive? How can you create better conditions for your life force to help you grow upwards and outwards until you feel complete?

Immersing ourselves in the plant world is pure joy! Wow! What a week we will have while celebrating the Plant Kingdom! The Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia is where I live, and it is rich with a variety of landscapes. I live in the hinterland, we also have the coastal area. In between there are some swampy places that haven’t been developed yet (not many!), and we have our rainforests and freshwater creeks too. I’m looking forward to some tramping about, not to mention just enjoying the grass our house is surrounded by, and our own little garden at home.

MEDITATING WITH THE PLANTS

Have you ever just SAT with a plant? I had this experience during spring last year at MoonTree’s Spring Seasonal Gathering. I sat with Grevillea for about 20 minutes. Observing her in wonder and admiration, feeling joy and a profound respect for her presence. I began to receive messages from her about her story and her purpose. I felt her life force as distinct from my own, and I felt her presence and purpose as important as my own. I was so excited about this experience … I then sat with Grass and Clover and had a very different experience. No plant is too humble for you to give your loving and unconditional attention to. I would like to share this experience with my children during the second week of Advent. Of course we’ll be doing it by sharing stories as we sit with the plants or work/walk in the garden together: What it would be like to be that plant? What would we like about where we live? Who do we share our space with? What do we like about ourselves? Developing an empathic relationship with our environment is an important part of environmental education, and therefore protection.

Could be interesting! I think my five-year old daughter will really love the storytelling. I think my eight-year old son would enjoy some technical plant drawing, and I think my two-year old daughter will enjoy picking tomatoes and eating them.

WEEK TWO ACTIVITY SUGGESTIONS

I think it is important for the activities to directly involve the plants themselves. There are HEAPS of craft ideas you could do around a plant theme, but I think we’ll appreciate more about plants if we touch them and live with them than if we represent them in felt or paper. But I’ll be doing those things too 🙂 Here’s some simple ideas you can think about doing with your family. We won’t be doing all them, just a few. I’m looking forward to doing some herbal brewing with the kids!

1. Bushwalking

2. Plant Meditation/Observation – in drawing or storytelling

3. Gardening

4. Making herbal teas and tinctures

5. Make a Christmas wreath and stars from vines and sticks.

6. Weaving with grass

7. Cooking delicious raw food! Including creating a new salad

8. Investigating local bush tucker

9. Finding plants that provide homes for native animals

10. Visit the local Aboriginal information centre to learn more about people’s relationship with plants.

11. Look at the patterns plants contain with them: spirals, mandalas, symmetry, combinations of colours …. oh joy … I see lots of drawing coming up!

WEEK TWO CAROLS

Oh this was an easier one. Lots of carols involve plants – although mostly northern hemisphere ones. Let’s write some Aussie ones! I did find a curious carol about Mary and the Cherry Tree … I thought it was a bit surreal when baby Jesus spoke to Joseph from within her belly, but I totally understood Joseph’s really human reaction when Mary broke the news about her pregnancy to him!

The Holly and The Ivy

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

O, Christmas Tree

The Cherry Tree

WEEK TWO STORY

You can read the story for the second week of Advent here: https://lavendilly.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/advent-week-two-the-plant-kingdom-story/

Advent Week One: The Mineral Kingdom

The first week of our Advent honours the Mineral Kingdom: the earth, rocks, stones, variety of landscapes, the essential minerals and elements that make up our land and our bodies. It honours the hard journeys we experience in our lives, which can be made softer and easier by cultivating reverence, forgiveness, joy and gratitude. the following ideas are ones we will use in our family, for other ideas you can go to MamaMoontime and have a read: http://www.mamamoontime.com/2009/11/week-one-of-advent-mineral-kingdom.html

Week One Activities

As the days of the first week of Advent roll by we will spend some time in nature exploring our environment, particularly the minerals. I’m going to be realistic and say that with three little children home full-time on holidays just before Christmas I won’t have much time for lots of crafts, so our activities will be nature-based – and kitchen-based. We will do a little clay craft for our community celebration though.

1) We will make rock towers down by the creek,

2) Scrape rocks with water to make paint, then paint our faces and bodies with it

3) Decorate some special rocks to represent the things that make us joyful and place them in our garden,

4) We’ll collect beautiful shells from the beach

5) We’ll play at our local creek, shifting rocks to channel the water

6) Spend time making forms in our landscape: tracing figures in the dust, making mud castles

7) Create a specially arranged collection of crystals and shells for our Seasonal Table.

I think the important thing is to get outside and enjoy the gifts of our local community. We may take photos and transform it into a little book to read each first week of Advent, along with some of the things we are grateful for given to us by the mineral kingdom.

Week One Carols

I love singing Christmas carols – but I am also so tired of all the usual carols that are sung this time of year. A month of “Jingle Bells” is too much for me! I love the wistfulness and romance of the wintery, snowy carols but they don’t speak to our experience here in Australia. I don’t think that’s a reason not to sing them … just not to immerse myself in them. Christmas to me largely involves a good dose of Bing Crosby and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I had a good look around and finding carols relating to the Mineral Kingdom was a challenge! So I’ve put together a list of carols that tell the story of shelter, home, belonging, and that celebrate Mary and her beautiful baby. Ave Maria is sooooooo beautiful. It is quite a complicated song though, however I’m determined to learn it this year. Here are some carols you can enjoy together in the first week:

O, Little Town of Bethlehem – this is Sarah McLachlan

Ave Maria – this is Sarah Brightman’s performance

Gabriel’s Message – this is an interesting percussion and marimba arrangement! Or you might prefer Sting’s version, where the lyrics are a bit clearer.

Silver Bells – this song is a bit wintery and not very Southern Hemisphere but it does echo the sense of anticipation and joy, and the homeliness and warm community feeling that we like to feel when we begin inviting Christmas into our homes – and it is sung by the Master of Christmas Carols himself, Bing Crosby

Week One Story

In previous years I have read the children stories from Collette Leenman’s “Advent Sunday Stories”, which tell the Nativity tale through the Four Kingdoms each week of Advent. This year I wanted to write my own stories.  We’ll begin the week’s celebrations with this story, and each night of the first week we’ll light our first Advent Candle. This little story I wrote for my family, and to share with my community because it incorporates the beginning of the Nativity (to be continued as the weeks to Christmas pass) and it also honours my personal path of earth-based spirituality, while also being respectful to the Christian roots of the original Nativity story.

I haven’t yet prepared props for this story. I usually go very simple and use nature items for my storytelling, rather than making puppets. I love children to use their imaginations and  bring a natural object to life in their own minds. Perhaps some simple images could be painted on the rocks to represent the main characters and honour the mineral kingdom both at once. This time, however, I would LOVE to tell this story at twilight with a sequence of transparencies made with cardboard and tissue paper, lit with a candle behind. Each one a different scene from the story. We’ll see how I go! For my Seasonal Table, the scene will be simple: set with green, brown and blue cloths fashioned into a landscape. We will place rocks , shells and crystals that we have found in our nearby area along the path that Mary, Joseph and their donkey are on. There will also be the Archangel Gabriel there in the sky.

Week One Advent Story: The Mineral Kingdom

Written by Jennifer McCormack

An Angel came from Heaven and told Mary she’d be a mummy

That a very special baby was now growing in her tummy.

The Angel said that very soon people all around the Earth,

Would smile with joy and lift with hope, and celebrate this birth.

Mary, Joseph and their special secret set off on a long track,

All the way to Bethlehem, Mary on their donkey’s back.

The way was long and difficult, back to Joseph’s home,

Donkey carried pregnant Mary over the sharp stones.

They walked up mountains, into valleys, through rivers, over streams,

And though the land looked rough the way was easier than it seemed,

For Mother Earth knew Mary’s baby was a very special child,

And she made the journey gentle, though the landscape was wild.

Joseph, Mary and their donkey each night lay down to rest,

Sheltered by a warm cave, knowing they were blessed.

To Father Sky and Mother Earth the travellers said a prayer,

Grateful for the gifts of earth, water, fire and of air.

“Thank you for the mountains, the valleys and the plains.

For the rivers, lakes and oceans who give their water up for rain.

Thank you to the rocks and stones, for the ground beneath our feet,

for deep inside this wondrous Earth a warm heart will always beat.”

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Four Kingdoms

The Four Kingdoms of Nature is a different way of interpreting Advent. It appeals to me as something to celebrate at Advent time because my spiritual base is now influenced by more Earth-based philosophies rather than solely informed by Christian beliefs, which means that I can incorporate Advent better into our own local seasonal impulse.

Ok – there’s lots of reading here. Read this when you have time to absorb it: make a cup of tea, go to the loo and get comfortable. Get ready for some interesting stuff to think about, and bear in mind this is for you to understand the background of this idea. I’m going to put a disclaimer in here and say that all of this is my interpretation. It is how I have made meaning for myself, based on my life experiences, beliefs and education. It may be a bit trippy but I think it might be important to explain the background to the Four Kingdoms before talking about how we can celebrate it with children. The Four Kingdoms is not my idea, in Anthroposophical circles it will not be unknown. For those unfamiliar with Anthroposophy, I am sorry, I cannot explain it here! Another time, perhaps … lets say for now that it is a lens through which I can choose to understand my world, my self and my relationship to my world. I offer my interpretation of the Four Kingdoms to you as something to think about. You can choose not to consider it all, if you like.

Here’s another disclaimer: the following discussion isn’t something we talk about with children, because they don’t question the relevance of the Four Kingdoms – I believe a child’s job is to revel in and reflect the wonder of their experiences as they experience it, not to dissect them. They may choose to dissect their experiences in their own time, and when that time comes we should be there to help them gently understand the roots of their wonder in an age-appropriate way. In the meantime I believe our job is to make good choices for our families, to mindfully help our young children to have these wonder-full experiences while they are still young. A good bank of wonder can be drawn upon in adulthood and transformed into great ideas and new ways of seeing the world. The posts following this one will offer ideas to celebrate the Four Kingdoms with children, but for the moment this is stuff for adults to chew on and think about.

So, here we go!

The Four Kingdoms tell the story of our relationship with our natural environment and explain our evolving consciousness as human beings, well at least that is how I choose to understand it. In this instance, for the purposes of Advent, we are describing them as The Mineral Kingdom, The Plant Kingdom, The Animal Kingdom and The Human Kingdom. It can be interpreted a little bit deeper this way:

THE MINERAL KINGDOM – refers to the basic elements that make up this earth and everything on it that has a structure or form. Without the mineral kingdom we would not have physical forms, everything from our bones to our skin, blood and hair is made of and nourished by minerals. The mineral kingdom is solid but has no consciousness: rocks, sand, minerals, crystals may contain energy but they do not contain a life force that helps them to reproduce themselves, or to grow and adapt consciously.

When we celebrate The Mineral Kingdom we honour the earth beneath us, our shelter, the diversity of landscapes, the mountains that inspire us and offer us security and hope, the stones that make our foundations and the soil that contains minerals which nourishes all life. When we celebrate the Mineral Kingdom we celebrate the paths that lead us on to new adventures, the crystals hidden in the depths of darkness that light our way and heal us when we are lost and hurt.

THE PLANT KINGDOM – Plants have form and structure, thanks to the mineral kingdom, but they also have etheric life forces, which allow them to grow, transform and reproduce themselves.  There are many different elements and minerals but anyone who has done high school science will know about the periodic table of elements – all the known elements on earth are listed there. There is no way to list all the known forms of plants because they keep growing and changing. I think plants are well aware of their contribution to this earth: they produce flowers and fruits for animal-life to eat so that their seeds can be spread, activated and germinated.

When we celebrate the Plant Kingdom we celebrate the gift of life and longevity, of beauty and diversity. Plants know the fragile line between thriving and dying but even in death they gift their physical bodies and life forces to mingle with the Mineral Kingdom and nourish future life. When we celebrate the Plant Kingdom we recognise that all things in life form a circle, that sometimes the harvest is plentiful and at other times sparse but life will always find a way to continue. Consider the re-growth that occurs after a great bush fire. The spark of life is a miracle, and it is what makes our planet unique and full of beauty and wonder.

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM – Animals have physical bodies and form, with thanks to the Mineral Kingdom, and thanks to the Plant Kingdom they have life force, diversity, beauty, colour and the ability to adapt, change and reproduce. Animals also have instinct and feelings, they interact socially with one another in a way that plants do not. Animals have evolved their consciousness so that they can interact with each other and their environment in order to meet their complex needs as individuals, and as members of a social group.

When we celebrate the Animal Kingdom we honour the ability to connect with others, we honour the realm of Feeling, and the joy of our senses. We celebrate community and family and friendship. Animals are loyal and brave and funny and interesting. Our relationship with animals has always been closely linked in love and friendship and service, and even nutrition.

THE HUMAN KINGDOM – We are animals and yet we have developed our consciousness to a level where we can think of ourselves as individuals. With conscious speech, writing and the ability to philosophise we have separated ourselves from the animals by making ourselves distinctly individual.

When we celebrate the Human Kingdom we celebrate the power of choice, wisdom and the ability to project our minds beyond our bodies with thought and complex communication. We contain within us the qualities of the mineral, plant and animal kingdom and we have choice. Our individuality is both a blessing and a hindrance – and has had massive consequences, both good and bad, for our planet and all other life forms on it. So with individuality and choice comes wisdom and responsibility.

How do the Four Kingdoms relate to Advent?

I wrote previously of the Nativity story of Advent and the birth of Christ – and what it means to me. You can read about that HERE. I love the story of the birth of Christ not for religious reasons but because contained with each newly born child  – any child – is the all the goodness of the world: the best of the Four Kingdoms rolled up inside the body and spirit of a perfect little child. Every parent has lost minutes, even hours, gazing into their child’s eyes marvelling at the wonder they see reflected there, the miracle of their becoming and the individuality that even this brand new person contains within them. Every child who is born enters our world knowing they are good, and that the world is a good place. As we grow up our experiences of the world develop our knowledge and frame the choices we make. Gradually as we grow older and begin interacting with others we learn other human aspects such as fear, shame, humility, anger, confusion … and how much we take this into our life depends upon the continuity of love and support we receive from our family and community, combined with our individual spirit we brought with us at birth. I wrote more about this in my poem “The Wise One”.

Jesus Christ was born a miracle baby (as all babies are!) He grew up into a man who experienced the best and worst that life has to offer (as we all do in our own way) but he was infused with the Holy Spirit (love) and was able to use that to transcend the negativity on earth. Jesus Christ understood that good and bad are twins who define each other. Goodness is good because of the bad, but what helps us to overcome one or the other is our human ability to weigh up knowledge, experience, faith and to our ability to CHOOSE. Jesus Christ is an archetype of all that humanity can aspire to: he experienced all that life has to offer and still chose truth, beauty and goodness above all else and in making this choice he gave his life force, the way the plants do, to nourish the earth and all life upon it.

That’s the long story! The short story is, by celebrating the gifts of the Four Kingdoms throughout Advent, we are honouring our Earth, the living beings we share our Earth with, all the blessings and gifts they offer us to help us become who we need to be. For children, the message is simply to experience gratitude, to express joy and delight and love and wonder. Us adults can chew over all the other stuff in our own minds 🙂

Using the Four Kingdoms to celebrate Advent allows us to honour our own seasonal impulse and the environment in which we live, by celebrating the gifts of our local landscape, plants, animals and community. Which means making Christmas real for us.

Before each Advent Sunday I will post some suggestions about how to celebrate The Four Kingdoms of Advent with your families: activities, stories, carols and food 🙂 Merry Christmas!

All I want for Christmas (Part 2!)

I posted recently about wanting a simple and beautiful Christmas without the stress of having to arrange a present for everyone. After writing and posting those thoughts I declared immediately to our adult household “I am not giving anyone anything for Christmas this year!” I was met with amused smiles and shrugs, but I felt greatly released all the same. I would like to clarify now that my kids were always going to receive a gift – but only one! Arranging presents for everyone every year is a task that always seems to have fallen to me but it was not until I declared that I wouldn’t do it this year that I realized it was a task I always took on for myself, which is ironic because I just don’t believe that gifts should be given out of a sense of responsibility.

Just because we traditionally exchange presents at Christmas, it doesn’t mean we have to! Friends in my community have been looking at other options for gift giving and it has been wonderful to see the sharing of ways that heartfelt gift-giving can be encouraged without resorting to sacrificing oneself at the altar of Christmas Spirit by searching for the perfect gifts in shopping centres or by staying up to ridiculous hours at night trying to finish hand-making presents for every family member.

So having freed myself of the task of making or finding presents for people this year I have in fact given myself the best present of all:

TIME!!

I’ve got time to enjoy the lead-up to Christmas with my family. I love waking up with the thoughts of what I could do today, rather than what I have to do today. My children are home on holidays and I am looking forward to playing and creating and getting filled with Christmas Spirit from a place of wonder and excitement rather than from a place of obligation, responsibility and planning. I am so OVER planning!!

And of course now the funny thing is that since I have made the decision not to give gifts I find myself thinking of things I would like to make for people. I have created a void and voids must be filled!! But it is ok: now I free myself of Christmas Day as a deadline. After I finish the gifts for the kids we will see what I have time to do.

My priority this year is to PLAY!