In this family systems work I am doing every time I make a new discovery it leads me down a whole new trail of inquiry. Every question leads to a dozen more. Each thread I follow leads to a whole new landscape for exploration. It is exciting work and speaks to me of the complexity of who we are as human beings. Layer upon layer reveals an inexhaustible depth to our stories if we consider them rooted in the spiral of stories I spoke of the other day.
My father was born in Riga, Latvia, the city of his father’s ancestors. When he was 12 years old the Russians occupied and he fled with his sister and mother on a train. They traveled for three days to Vienna, the city of his mother’s ancestors. I know the impact of living in Europe during the second World War was traumatic for him but he never spoke of it. He rarely spoke of his Latvian heritage either, claiming only to be Austrian. I had been to Vienna many times as a child and on this visit, my first back in 20 years, I fell in love with the city all over again and felt connected to my father’s affection for this beautiful place.
But we also visited Riga, a place I had never been before. I was fortunate to still have some remote family connections there and so was able to see the city and the beach community of Jurmala some 20 minutes drive away where my father and his sister spent carefree childhood summers playing. I have photos of them standing in the white sand by the Baltic sea and then I was able to stand there myself, breathing in the same sea air, and for a few moments participating in my father’s young delight.
My husband and I only spent three days in Latvia, on our first visit we weren’t sure what to expect. What we discovered is a beautiful place, a city set apart for its legacy of Art Deco architecture and nearby a lush forest nestling up against the sea (my favorite kind of landscape). Latvia also has a rich cultural history and were steeped in pagan culture and traditions far longer than most other European countries. Around 1400, Father Peter of Dunsberg wrote that Latvians “worship all of creation… moon, stars, thunder, birds… they have their sacred forests, fields and waters in which they dare not cut wood, nor work, nor fish.” Those practices still thrive today and their central celebration is Midsummer or the Summer Solstice. In a land so far north, the Solstice spreads light wide across the sky. Because of Christianization of the country, this festival was moved two days later to coincide with the feast of John the Baptist on June 24th, beginning the evening before in a whole night of celebration, wearing garlands and oak leaves, and dancing around a bonfire. On a mythical level part of what seized my imagination was that the central celebration of my ancestors begins on my birthday (June 23) and ends on my husband’s (June 24 — we were born one day apart). As long as I can remember I have felt a strong affinity to nature-centered practices and the honoring of the seasons and cycles of the earth. This sacred story of a culture rich in folk songs, dances, and festivals is a part of my sacred story as well. Opening this door reveals another new landscape for me to explore to understand myself.
During my travels I saw many beautiful doors (and took many photos of them too!) — this one above is one of my favorite, in part because of the ornate design, but mostly because of the way it is open just a crack. I am intrigued by doors and what they represent, both open and closed, since I believe both are necessary. There are some things I will never know for certain in this quest for insight and understanding. Some doors will forever remain closed to me and I can only imagine the answers that remain behind.
What are the layers of your story? What are the threads you could follow that would open up whole new worlds of discovery for your own sacred story? Which doors beckon you to walk through them?
(Photo of Town Hall door taken in Melk, Austria)
(c) Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts