“On the seventh day of Christmas
my true love gave to me:
7 Swans a Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree”
Do you remember Simon and Garfunkel singing the famous song, Bridge Over Troubled Waters? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrcwRt6J32o We warbled, “If you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind!” Jesus, the partridge in the pear tree, is the ultimate gift to us but we also live in community, swimming around in the seas of life. What helps keep us a float?
The symbolism of the swans varies slightly in the sources I read. Gifts of the Holy Spirit from Romans 12:6-8 are listed as “prophesy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership & mercy.” The Catholics draw from Isaiah 11:2,3: “Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear (or, Respect) of the Lord.” They also list the seven means of grace, Sacraments, administered by the Catholic Church: “Baptism, Communion, Confession, Confirmation, Marriage, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Orders.” As the song is old, written in a time when Catholicism was the main expression of Christian faith, sacraments or gifts that help faith function seem a likely explanation. Both lists are outward expressions of an inward experience of grace – God’s (True Love’s) riches at Christ’s (the Partridge’s) expense. We swim more gracefully like a swan when we work in unison, regularly caring for our soul. God’s grace experienced in sacraments and gifts for the church is “the bridge over troubled waters”.
Swans are a wonderful image because swans mate for life from an early age, sometimes before maturity. True Love is not a fickled giver only extending help when we behave, as he wants. The sun rises daily and grace comes to us daily in many unappreciated forms. We need grace for 2021 as the waters of life look like huge waves for some of us. We need people and rituals that remind us of God’s presence and power with us as we swim in our part of the ocean.
Interestingly swans, male and female, build their nest together, each helping the other, take turns sitting on the eggs, and are known to be highly protective of their young. Grace is not some mist floating in the air that we breath in but often is seen in our partnership with others – the bridge that helps us pass. Community counts. As a friend forgives, extends the hand of friendship, remembers days when I might be struggling, passes the communion cup and so many ways, acts out the grace True Love desires for us to have, we swim a bit more gracefully, our hearts bow in gratitude. Today we will have an opportunity to extend grace to another. Let us pray our eyes stay open to give and to receive true love. Blessings.