The Christmas Heart
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you..."
December 22, 2016 - Haiti
Dear friends and family,
For those of us who are fortunate, Christmas is celebrated again this year with a well lit and festive Christmas tree, symbol of the tree of life dominating the garden of Eden.
In their midst, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, yielding her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.(Rev 22:2)
A different kind of tree marks Christmas in Haiti this year – the broken tree, the bent tree, the barren tree, the fallen tree. The tree of the garden of destruction.
A few days after Hurricane Matthew ravaged vast landscapes of Haiti, we made our way to Jeremie Province to check on our colleagues and friends, and to talk with the people on how best we could help. Much of our journey was at night, since we still had a lot of work to do in Port au Prince, and could not spare the daylight hours.
Stuck in rivers and mud, blocked by fallen trees we had to cut with machetes, in the darkness where color cannot exist, the trees around us reached toward heaven, like dark, begging skeletons in a gloomy night.
When the sun mercifully rose us on us that morning, instead of the usual array of vibrant color that the sun restores by its light, we saw the sullen grey clouds shrouding the sun, and the colors of life had fallen from the trees and the gardens and were covered with grayish mud. Life was like a graveyard.
The people started to emerge from their roofless homes to meet the new day with courage.
They came out to their destroyed gardens and drowned livestock.
When I saw a very wobbly old woman trying to negotiate the mud with her one good eye and her cane, made of a crooked tree branch, I asked her how she was.
"Nou poko mouri net, mon blan. Nou la toujou!" "We are not fully dead yet, my friend. We're still here!"
Her many years of being acquainted with grief, and the love of life that she gleaned from those years, embody the ancient words of Habakkuk:
17 Though the fig tree blossoms not, and there be no fruit on the vine,Though the yield of the olive fails, and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, and exult in my saving God. (Hab 3:17-18)
All along the road, children begged. Their hands outstretched upwards, they looked just like the ghost trees around them.
Except that they had warm and piercing eyes.
"Souple blan, bam youn ti bagay." "Please, stranger, give me something, anything at all."
There will be two kinds of children in the world on Christmas day:
The lucky children who will wake up on Christmas morning to a hearty breakfast, and to presents under the tree, and many other children who will be out on the highways and byways, hungry, begging for anything at all that might come their way.
Subsequent trips to bring help to Jeremie Province, were made by the ease of helicopters, but thirty days later we returned there again by land, and not air.
It was beautiful to see how kind the sun had been to the long miles of countryside during those thirty days. The frequent and full sunshine restored vegetation and its lush color, which in this early phase of regrowth was cropped low on the ground, with small of buds on the trees.
A few birds were finding a few branches to sit on, and sing from.
The work of cutting fallen trees into planks, setting the toppled bananas straight, leading mules through the thick mud to the abricot market, had begun.
Since we raise bees, with eagerness we started to hear from an older man in St. Victor about the eight remaining hives of his farm of 167 hives. We went with him to see the home made hives. You can imagine how neither these boxes nor a bee's small wings can offer no resistance to 150 mile per hour winds. His remaining dazed bees, for the moment, have no place to forage.
Jean Marie told us he used to produce 75 gallons of honey each year.
This was good for his family, good for his customers, good for the market, and especially good for mother nature.
Here is the cycle: The sun brings forth the flowers, the bees spread the fertile pollen, and from the nectar they make the golden honey, which was one of the two words used to describe the land promised to Moses. (Honey, with its vitamins and minerals, and antiseptic, antifungal and antimicrobial properties, is one of the ways the "leaves of tree of life are healing of the nations.")
The slow return of life seen in the beautiful regeneration of nature over these past thirty days, is an good image of the thirty day journey that leads to Christmas, that we call Advent.
Advent is like this:
The weary world, calling out to God from its grayness and brokenness, from its wars and famines, with the arms of humanity raised toward heaven, hears the promise of the great Prophets that the Messiah will come.
Both heaven and the people of earth begin to prepare, begin to repent, begin to show the signs of new life.
A Savior will be born into our world. The Savior will teach us the way of right living, and pathway of peace.
He guarantees victory over death for all those who are courageous enough to follow his way.
Then, after this long preparations, at Christmas we celebrate the real birth of the Savior into our history and human family, and we proclaim that yes, we are courageous, and we do want to follow this way.
As the earth in transformed by the generous, golden sunlight, and the bees take the fruit of the flowers and turn into a golden and healing sweetness, we, too, by the stirrings of the Savior within us, are transformed by the desire for peace on earth, for good will toward all people, for the triumph of mercy, and by the strong desire to share the blessings of all that we have received. Our hearts are reworked and become golden. We, too, become the way that "the leaves of the tree of life are healing to the nations."
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)
As 2016 draws to a close, we thank you for the marvelous love you have for the people of Haiti. We thank you for your heart of flesh, sensitive to the sufferings of those in distress and responsive in generosity.
We thank you for your Christmas heart.
Please know that this Christmas will be brighter for thousands of families in Haiti who continue to receive, thanks to your good will, mountains of food, acres of seeds for their gardens, new fields of bananas and coconuts, a return of their herds to the stalls, a simple roof above their heads, and most of all, the warm feeling of knowing that someone cares.
Merry Christmas to you- this, our wish, is joined to our thanks!
And many blessings in the new year!
Fr. Rick Frechette, CP
Chaplin and President NPH Haiti