Friday, January 14, 2011

Life Under the Mistletoe

First, let me say that I understand why you will think this should have been a Christmas post when you see that I'm writing about mistletoe.  However, this time, my thoughts about mistletoe actually have little to do with Christmas, and maybe when you've read it, you'll think of mistletoe at times other than Christmas too.  Let's see . . .

I had never seen mistletoe growing until I moved to California when I was 18.

I had only ever seen the stiff plastic Christmas decoration kind, or the overpriced, wilted, bedraggled bits of it tied with a crumpled red ribbon that they'd sell alongside live Christmas trees.  All I knew was that I found it both a little thrilling and a little terrifying to be at social events where there was a sprig of mistletoe hung somewhere strategic, plastic or otherwise. Well, nothing magical ever happened to me under the mistletoe, but I always liked the idea of the tradition anyway.

As I said, never having seen how mistletoe grew, I was so surprised when a friend in Bible college first told me that those funny clumps of growth in the winter-bare Oak trees that dot the hills of Northern California were actually mistletoe.  I soon learned that this world-renowned plant burrows its roots right into the tree its seed has landed in, tapping into the water and nutrients coursing through the tree's system.  It is a parasite--so strange!

Many years later, in December of 2009 in fact, I chanced upon an episode of the Christian radio program Family Life Today (you can read the transcript of that show here).  That day they had as a guest, author, Ace Collins, and he was there to relate some of the highlights from his book 25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever.  The part of that show that has stayed with me was his story about how early Christian missionaries in Scandinavia used the mistletoe which was alive in a "dead" tree, to help explain the message of Christ, His death on a tree and His resurrection from death to life.

There is one more little snippet of mistletoe's history that comes to my mind every time I look out across the hills and see those telltale clumps clinging to the Oak branches that host them.  Long ago Viking warriors were not permitted to fight their enemies under trees where mistletoe grew. Some accounts say they were actually required to embrace and work out their differences, at least for the rest of the day.  A moment of mortal combat, heavy with risk of death for one or both was transformed into a moment of life and promise for the warriors and the people they represented.

I wonder how many disputes were averted entirely because of this custom?

I have even read that this idea was used to work out troubles between arguing spouses.  This idea of mistletoe being a plant of peace and life, where disputes were resolved with an embrace or a kiss is at least in part the origin of our "kissing under the mistletoe" traditions of today.

I have had cause recently to think much on the subject of peace-making and working out differences.  The challenges I wrote about in those earlier posts are ongoing, and at the moment they feel as if they've gotten worse to the point that it's hard to see whether there will be an authentic way forward.

On a larger scale, our nation has been in heated discourse over the nature of our disagreements, political, religious and ideological, and how we talk to and about each other in the discussion.  Many are pointing fingers, even blaming some and their choice of words for the violence perpetrated in Tucson by a very disturbed individual.  The conversations out there are shrill and abrasive and like in my own situation, there is the potential for things to get worse if the shouting match continues.

I have no idea what the people on the other side of our personal dispute are going to do, nor can I foresee what people in our nation's leadership will do, but I am hoping that in all of these conversations there might be an under-the-mistletoe coming together for real peace and resolution for the hurts that have been suffered.

I have to admit that I am nervous about an upcoming meeting and am struggling a bit to put some mistletoe into my attitude, but I am praying for God to burrow the roots of His mistletoe peace into my heart at just the right moment.

To me this clump of mistletoe resembles a heart shape and it is this picture I want to carry in my mind's eye
 to keep the love of Christ ruling in my heart at all times.  Maybe it will speak to you too.
If Viking warriors could cease to strive with their mortal enemies in battle because they stood under a symbol of life and peace, how much more should spouses, neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ be able to come together under His loving headship and come to a place of reconciliation and genuine fellowship?  "Should" and "will" are two different things, but my prayer is that Jesus will be the mistletoe above our heads and that the Holy Spirit will enable us to find unity in the days ahead.

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone."

Have you ever had a conflict where Jesus was the mistletoe above your head?
Tell me your stories of reconciliation!

Joining Emily Wierenga for Imperfect Prose


Bonnie Gray at her Faith Barista Jam



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