Reflections from the Swamp
My bride put another stick in the fire while outside at the firepit; those jumbo-sized snowflakes began to fall from a windless gray sky. One giant snowflake lands on my sleeve, reminding me that, though we are many, we are all uniquely created. Earlier that Sunday morning, we ventured across the frozen pond on thin ice so clear that you could see weeds rhythmically slow dancing below the glass mirror. This miracle of nature only happens once in a while when the cold comes unaccompanied with snow. A loud crack breaks the silence and reminds us that life is fragile. Life is a thin veneer, a gift precariously situated on the surface of a planet so alone in the universe no one but the Creator knows we’re here.
Mythology speaks to truths using stories. The Christmas story cloaks itself in the truths of myth. Similarly, this swamp is a place of miracles and wonders. Our natural world and its inner significance must come together for there to be any oneness. We are all part of the story. The result is deep joy and a sense of beauty and belonging.
Every person has a light, a gift, or a service to offer. Together we are a starry night shining brightly. In the darkness, there was a great light.
The swamp (or the hotdog forest as our children affectionately called it) is a sea of cattails with a river of ice filling the creek bed flowing through it. This ice pathway forms a meandering gateway to a distant forest. This frozen stream is the river in Joni Mitchell’s song.
It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
We wander on a river of ice to the forest and its young balsam trees to find this year’s Christmas tree. We’re not sure yet which one it will be, but, like some distant relative we are meeting at the airport, we know we will recognize the tree when we see it, or she’ll recognize us. My bride prefers a natural tree with sparser branches, not a manicured tree wearing makeup. The trees are naturally beautiful in themselves. We’ve invited Small Spruce to join us, and she has graciously agreed. She is so beautiful.
We have often made this trek with children and dogs bounding along. This year, we will come home and be the only ones to see the tree adorned and positioned by the living room window. Our children are old enough to spend Christmas with their own families. We will see them after Christmas.
My bride and I are looking forward to a quiet Christmas. We’ll play our favourite Christmas records, drink some spiced apple cider and go for a long walk in the woods. We are each other’s gifts.
In summer, the swamp acts as a no-man’s-land between our place and the woods beyond. We can only get to the forest in winter. As we walked on the ice, I thought of that surreal Christmas story from WW1 in 1915, where soldiers from both sides left the safety of their trenches and ventured into no man’s- land. Such a brave and trusting action amid a raging war. They were all so far away from their loved ones. They all felt alone, cold, and desperate. They sang songs of joy and peace while exchanging gifts of chocolates and cigarettes with their enemy. “Love your enemies.” Unconditional love is the only remedy for the dysfunction of war. Gratitude gives us a break from despair. They were momentarily a picture of the incarnation, the unity of body and spirit, as beautiful as a babe born in a manger or a starry night.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
My thoughts flow to Ukraine, where millions await Christmas with candlelight in their cold unheated homes. We desperately need people brave enough to stand up to the warmongers and risk peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. ”
The unique Christmas storyline has always been incarnation. The story is about how the Spirit and the material nature are one. That the Christ child was both physical and spiritual in a unique way is true. The same is true for all of us.
Those who love and experience nature know that matter is and has always been, the hiding place for Spirit, forever offering itself to be discovered anew. There are incarnations in the everyday experiences of life.
Christmas can be difficult for those who will spend Christmas alone. For those who have wounds in our families, this may be the time to be brave, come out of the trenches, sing, and forgive our enemies. Unconditional love is the only cure. For those who know of people who will be alone, this would be the time to reach out as best we can. Christmas always brings out the cracks in our imperfect realities. It also brings the light we so badly need.
“There is a crack, a crack, in everything. That’s how the light gets in”. (Leonard Cohen)
Hopefully, the most valuable gifts are love, life, hope, generosity, and patience unwrapped from under our Tannenbaums.
Richard van Duyvendyk