The majestic Cyprus, the aromatic juniper, and the towering pine described in this scripture reading are all evergreen trees. Christians have decorated their sanctuaries with the boughs of evergreens as a promise of the new life in Christ and as a sign of everlasting life. Evergreens remind us of God’s everlasting love for us.
The white pine is one of Nancy’s & my favourite Christmas trees. It protects the homes of so many animals. Its needles offer a protective winter blanket for the insects and seedlings. The squirrels and the chipmunks—yes, and even the mice—feast on the delicacy of the pine nuts. This little mouse tucked into the soft, white pine needles reminds us of the white pine’s gift of life. (Loraine placed a mouse in the white pine branches)
Indigenous healers have long known about the white pine’s medicinal powers. Its sap can draw out poisons, splinters and infections. Simply walking through a pine forest can give you energy and clarity. We know today that coniferous trees emit aerosols that have been found to strengthen the immune system and lower stress and blood pressure.
The white pine has also played a powerful role in peacemaking. The Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk Nations were in deep conflict with one another. A messenger of peace was sent from the Great Spirit to unite these five warring nations. They all agreed to a peace pact but still carried their weapons. The peacemaker was troubled by this display of mistrust and sat in meditation under the branches of a towering white pine. Finally, he gathered together the five nations and addressed them,
“The white pine is our teacher. The jack pine and the red pine each have two needles per bundle but the white pine has 5. It is teaching us that 5 separate needles are stronger when they are bundled together. We are all siblings across our five nations. I ask us to unite as one people, retaining our distinct identities as five nations, but committed to live together in peace. I have dug a deep hole underneath the roots of this white pine and invite each of you to bury your weapons in this hole. We will honour the teachings of this white pine by calling it the Tree of Peace, whose majestic branches will offer refuge for all of us to come together in lasting peace.”
Just then, a bald eagle flew overhead and landed in the Tree of Peace, blessing the Great Law of Peace that united the five nations into the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
The white pine offers us several teachings. Just as the white pine spreads its branches over us, we are invited to offer refuge of heart, if not of actual place, to those in need. As its sap draws out poison and infection, we are invited to draw out of our hearts the old pains and festering wounds, lingering regrets and resentments that prevent peace from flowing through us. Its bundles of five needles invite us to consider how we can commit ourselves to partnerships across differences that might promote lasting peace. The white pine calls us to promote peace between multiple nations, to make peace with the land and to find peace deep within each one of us. May this majestic Tree of Peace remind us of the Christian tree of life and keep ever before us the Christ child’s message of peace.