At Paul Lake the first real snow of winter has fallen. In the frail light of early morning when I write, the world is pulled together by shadow’s reign, relenting gradually to a hushed purple easing upward into gray. It’s a Christmas card kind of world. Gazing out the window that overlooks the lake, the long sweep of land that undulates in humps and ridges toward Kamloops, it’s easy to conjure the notion of timelessness; easy to allow this grandeur to overcome the sensibilities of a hectic schedule, deadlines, commitments, stresses.
My people say that these are the storytelling moons. When the deep cold of winter descended upon the land, fires were lit and the people gathered for food, shelter, security and belonging. Then, the storyteller would begin to speak and everyone began to listen.
There’s a particular magic around a voice in the darkness. Something elemental occurs with the flicker of a fire and the timbre of one voice talking. It’s a transcendent thing. There’s a part in all of us that responds to that ancient way and we’re drawn to it despite ourselves.
My people say that no matter our cultural background, we all share the memory of a fire in the night. We were all once bands of wanderers taking shelter together around the warmth of a blaze and we were all drawn to the power of a good story told to bring us together. It’s one of those things that make us human; the need to gather and form community. I’ve been told by elders that spirituality finds its greatest expression in community. So does love. So does hope. So does faith.
As Christmas approaches I find myself considering the power of story in this time of year. My Christian friends share a wonderful one. But there’s a great need for secular stories too. This fire in our home literally begs me to share something of the story of my time here, this home, this community, this planet.
I think that story is perhaps the most vital thing we can give each other come Christmas. Like Dickens’ three spirits who return Scrooge to the root of his sentiments and heart, we need to share stories of Christmas past, present and future. We need to share the stories of our lives.
Imagine a family table where the feast begins with a story about Christmas in a childhood generations removed from this one. Or, a tale about simple beginnings and discovering that life is not about the cost of things but their value. Imagine how much better that meal would taste marinated in the power of story.
We all have recollections surrounding this time of year. We have within us the fabric of our families, communities, nations and if we don’t share them they atrophy and lose their power to bring us together.
So this year I’m telling stories at Christmas. Sure, I could spend a lot of money and wander the malls in search of the perfect gift but I’ve discovered that the best ones are inside of me. When I offer them, the listener and I open them together and the gift is shared.
Am I being cheap? Am I Grinch-ing the joy right out of it? I don’t think so. Rather, I’ll be returning to a tradition that spawned this one; the idea that we give best when we give of ourselves. Stories. They bring us together, they enfold us in light. They are our greatest gift.