A River

“[Jesus said,] so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” – John 17:26

I imagined I saw Jesus. He was kneeling by a river.
I walked up close behind him. He didn’t say a word.
“Oh, Jesus, have you heard of all the children who lie slain?”
He never turned his head; he said, “I’ve heard.”

“Why are you kneeling by the river?” I demanded of his back.
“There are children who need saving, there is evil beneath the sun.
In churches and in grocery stores the blood must surely shout.
He never turned his head; he said, “It shouts.”

“What will you do then, Jesus? Will the churches,
temples, stores, and schools be stained with blood?
Will we sup full of horrors every day of life?”
He never turned his head; he said, “You shouldn’t.”

I fell down there beside him, and I found the river’s source
as a torrent ran from Jesus’ streaming eyes.
“How can you bear this suffering?” I begged him with my tears.
He turned his head, and softly asked me, “How can you?”

A poem/prayer based on John 17:20-26, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Seventh Sunday of Easter.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Surrounded by Air

May 22, 2022

Acts 16:9-15
John 5:1-9

by Eric Anderson

The young noio was confused.

The world was, let’s face it, a fairly confusing place, especially there on the ocean-fronted cliffs of Kamokuna. There’s a lot of wind down there, and that plays with your mind. There’s a lot of noise from the waves breaking against the cliffs, and that’s just distracting. And in addition to the things he felt most of the time – the warmth of his parents’ feathers, the ruffling of his own feathers in the wind, the warm sun of day and the coolness of night – there was the occasional spatter of wind-driven spray.

All that would confuse anyone.

His nest gave him a great view of his world. Perched on a rocky shelf, he could see far off into he distance where the ocean stretched away. He could see the other noio skimming the water’s surface and dipping their beaks in and sometimes diving in briefly before taking off again. As day began the other birds of the colony would take off and begin their fishing above the ocean. As day closed they’d fly back, landing at their nests and bringing food to their young – like him.

What confused him was… flying.

It didn’t frighten him, the way it did some other birds in some other stories I’ve told before. It confused him. He didn’t understand how it could work. He could clearly see that it did, but as far as he was concerned it simply shouldn’t work. How could gravity be so much a force here at the nest and stop being one when a noio had left it? How could his wings flap against nothing and accomplish something? What invisible thing were the other noio grasping – and wings can’t actually grab hold of anything – to change direction like that?

It was terribly confusing.

I don’t really know why he didn’t ask anyone about it. His parents were kind and caring, his grandparents wise and intelligent, all good qualities for someone looking for a good person to answer questions. But he didn’t. He didn’t ask his friends in neighboring nests, and he didn’t ask their parents, either. Maybe he was just trying to work it out himself. I don’t know.

So when the day came to take his first flight, with his parents and grandparents and friends and their families all watching in anxious pride, he was anxious, too. Could he do something he didn’t understand? Was that the magic to flight? But he stretched out his wings, did a hop or two, and the next thing he knew he was off the ledge and moving.

Somehow there was a substance to the nothing he couldn’t see beneath his wings. He could use his wings to shape it and push off from it, and there would be more when his wings came forward again. A subtle adjustment meant a turn. A greater adjustment made a tighter turn.

And since noio are members of the tern family of birds, turn about is fair play.

He flew back to the home ledge and successfully landed with a bit of a flurry of wings and feathers for that first attempt.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“You don’t understand what?” asked his father.

“I don’t understand how it works. I can see rock. I can see water. But I can’t see what I’ve been flying on.”

“It’s air,” said his mother, “the same air you breathe, the same air in the wind. No, you can’t see it, but it’s there, always there, and it will carry you anywhere you want to go.”

Watch the Recorded Story

This story is not told from the manuscript above, but from a memory of its composition.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

One in a Million of Grief

This song mourns and honors the one million who have died of COVID-19 in the United States of America since 2020, as well as the 15 million more who have died elsewhere around the world. Let us not forget them.

May 18, 2022

[Verse 1]

We knew the day would come
though some denied, and some were mute.
We knew the day would come
Because the sorrow flowed so wide.
We knew the day would come
When the tears would overflow
for all the ones who had died.

[Chorus 1]

Each one one in a million,
the nurses, the meatpackers.
One in a million
The grandmas, the fathers
One in a million
The loving, the foolish.
One in a million of grief.

[Verse 2]

We knew the day would come
for the aged, and for the ill.
We knew the day would come
Because it was so hard to treat.
We knew the day would come
When the tears would overflow
for all the loved ones who died.

[Chorus 2]

Each one one in a million,
the grocery clerks, the drivers.
One in a million
the grandpas, the mothers.
One in a million
the old and the young
One in a million of grief.

[Verse 3]

We knew the day would come
When some refused the vaccines.
We knew the day would come
As each wave spread more quickly.
We knew the day would come
When the tears would overflow
for all the ones who had died.

[Chorus 3]

Each one one in a million,
Firefighters and teachers.
One in a million
Children and teens.
One in a million
16 million across the world.
One in a million of grief.

[Chorus 4]

Each one one in a million
So special to someone.
One in a million
With a smile to light the day.
One in a million
So our tears overflow.
One in a million of grief.

© 2022 by Eric Anderson

A Woman from Thyatira

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia…” – Acts 16:9

“A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira…” – Acts 16:14

I’ve got to hand it to you, Paul.
Some of us struggle with visions.
It’s hard to believe God’s directions sometimes.
“Go here! No, not there. I mean here, over here!”
It would be clearer if God didn’t
use pronouns alone.

But you saw a man from Macedonia.
(I’ve always wondered: how did you know?
Was there a look in the eyes? Or a pattern
of jewelry? Or an only-in-Macedonia,
for-a-limited-time-only, get-it-now haircut!)
You saw him. You said: “Let’s go.”

So far, so good. If my sense of God’s spirit
were only so clear as to know which “there”
was “here.” But “Come to Macedonia!
Enjoy the sun! See the crowds!
Hang out by the river and help us!
Bring the word!” That even I understand.

Now here is where I really hand it
to you, Paul. For there by the river
in Philippi, leading city of the district,
you found no men of Macedonia,
but women. And their leader Lydia –
was from Thyatira, near where you’d just been.

God’s visions can blind us, you know,
when we read them as anything
other than metaphor. You met a woman
from Thyatira in Asia, not a man
from Macedonia, and you recognized
God’s promises fulfilled in her.

A poem/prayer based on Acts 16:9-15, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Sixth Sunday of Easter.

The image is Lydia of Thyatira by Harold Copping – https://www.meisterdrucke.de/künstler/Harold-Copping.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84021913.

Explain Yourself

May 15, 2022

Psalm 148
Acts 11:1-18

The mālolo is known in English as the flying fish. They don’t really fly, although I must admit that they fly better than, say, I do. They can get themselves moving through the water at near forty miles an hour, which is faster than you should be driving through the streets of Hilo. Then they spread their forward fins and glide above the water. They can stay in the air for about a quarter of a mile, which is about the distance across Liliuokalani Gardens.

I know I can’t stay in the air that far.

The mālolo didn’t always fly that far, or fly at all, however. They swam like fish do, and they swam in big groups, or schools, and they could swim really fast. That allowed them to get from one source of food to the next, and it also allowed them to swim away from fish that wanted to make them into food.

But there was a day when swimming fast just didn’t seem like it would be enough. Some great big ‘ahi had found a school of mālolo, and they were very hungry great big ‘ahi. Soon the school was scattered as the big fish charged through it.

One mālolo found himself pursued by an ‘ahi who was not only big and hungry but also very fast. The mālolo churned his tail and paddled his fore fins and he could feel the ‘ahi’s teeth getting closer and closer. A panicked curve of his fins brought him closer to the surface. The next thing he knew, he’d actually come right out of the water into the air and splashed down again. It confused the ‘ahi for a moment, so the mālolo put on as much speed as he could and spread his forward fins to curve him toward the surface.

This time when he emerged above the water he started to glide along with air streaming beneath those great fins. He held them stiff and kept on above the ocean surface, hoping the ‘ahi wasn’t following right beneath him. He stayed there as long as he could before he slowed and slid into the water once more.

The ‘ahi had turned aside. Perhaps it hadn’t seen him above the surface. Perhaps it had just thought he made a sharp turn in its confusion. It didn’t matter. It went elsewhere.

The mālolo went looking for his friends and family. The school was re-gathering. Some of them weren’t happy.

“What did you do?” they demanded. “Did you go above the water?”

“Well, yes,” he said. “I didn’t mean to.”

“We don’t go above the water,” some of them said. “We’ll die.”

“With the ‘ahi right behind me, I’d have died if I stayed in the water,” said the mālolo.

“How do you explain yourself?” the asked in the cold tones of judgement.

“I really can’t explain it,” said the mālolo, “except to say that it worked.”

I can’t say that the other mālolo took up gliding right away. They didn’t. Some of that generation never did. Others tried it but didn’t do it very well, and they ended up back in the water right in front of hungry predators. But each season more and more mālolo took up that glide through the air, for no other reason than… it worked.

Watch the Recorded Story

Photo of a mālolo by Mike Prince from Bangalore, India – Flying Fish, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63637092.

Hindering God

“[Peter said,] ‘If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?'” – Acts of the Apostles 11:17

Look at them, God. Look at them, Jesus.
Listen to their voices praising your names.
It does my heart good – well, mostly it does.
It’s also made my heart stop, you know?

For a time it all seemed so clear –
in retrospect, why should I have thought that? –
with the Holy Spirit giving me words
and gathering the people in.

We grew so fast! Not everyone
was ready for our size. Well, nobody
was ready for our size. Some thought
they’d hide their selfishness within the crowd.

Our sharing started to collapse. We tried
enlisting serving people then to serve.
Who knew that they, like we, would call
attention to themselves so fatally?

It seemed like such a good idea
to take this trip, to visit Lydda,
get the summons to relieve the grief
in Joppa over Tabitha.

But now… a nightmare in the house
of Simon. Scads of creatures I have pledged
I will not eat, and a voice declaring
these things clean three times, three times, three times.

I get it now. Whatever might be said
about a wider diet, it’s a wider church
that’s on the menu here in Caesarea,
with Latin tongues extolling God.

But… what a shambles this will be.
We’d barely started with our own,
and they have hardly come together yet.
We haven’t learned to truly love each other.

However deep Cornelius’ faith – I’m sure it’s deep –
how will he find acceptance in Jerusalem?
I find my heart is in my mouth right now
to share his table, eat the Gentile meal.

That’s bad enough, as I think most will come around.
This fellow Saul, the one who sees things differently,
I have a feeling he will be their advocate
as fiercely as he once denounced both them and us.

But…

These Greeks and Romans will reshape this church,
and sometimes that will be just fine, a shedding of
the weight imposed by ancient custom we
no longer need and should not bear.

If only he were just a simple tradesman, this Cornelius,
or worker of the soil, or fisher of the sea.
Instead he is an agent of the Empire,
oppressor’s instrument against us.

Yes, that will change this church, this Way.
The day will come, I’m sure, when some will see
us as oppressors, not oppressed, and ask
if this is what our Savior taught, and how we love?

What will we tell them in that day?
In welcoming the ones the Holy Spirit called,
we welcomed also all the power we had feared,
and holding it, rejoiced, as the Spirit drained away.

A poem/prayer based on Acts 11:1-18, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Fifth Sunday of Easter.

The image is Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius (1709) by Francesco Trevisani – http://www.istrianet.org/istria/illustri/trevisani/works.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1804538.

I Don’t Want to Try

May 8, 2022

Acts 9:36-43
John 10:22-30

by Eric Anderson

It was coming up to graduation day in the i’iwi school – why, yes, i’iwi go to school. They learn to fly from the nest, but there’s advanced flying techniques to learn, and flower identification, and how not to be where the i’o is hunting. These things are important.

One i’iwi was not looking forward to the final test. She was quite good in most subjects. She was a strong flyer. She knew the flowers of the ohi’a forest like the back of her… wing. She had learned to find sheltered places in the trees when hungry i’o were near. But… there was one thing she had not mastered.

She didn’t eat upside down.

That’s one of the things that i’iwi frequently do. They get to a flower, particularly those like the ‘opelu or ‘oha wai, flowers which sort of point downward from their stems, and they swing upside down so they can push their curved beak into the flower from below. They sip the nectar, swing back up again, and push off to the next flower. It’s a pretty basic way for i’iwi to eat.

For whatever reason, this young i’iwi found the whole idea incomprehensible. “I’ll get a headache,” she said. “I never have,” said her teacher. “I’ll miss the flower opening with my beak,” she said. “There’s always a second time to try,” said the teacher. “I’ll lose my grip,” she said. “That’s not likely,” said the teacher, “and besides, you can fly.”

“I’ll just sip ohi’a,” she said. “You can do that,” sighed her teacher, “but ‘oha wai is pretty tasty. And you won’t graduate from i’iwi school.”

She just set her wings and looked cross.

A little later, she watched her best friend sip from an ‘ohelu flower – upside down – and asked, “How can you do that?”

“It’s not hard,” said her friend. “How can you not?”

“I’ve tried enough new things,” she said. “I don’t want to try any new ones.”

“OK,” said her friend. “I guess you can live the rest of your life without trying anything new. I can’t imagine that will go well for you.”

She thought about it as her friend flitted from flower to flower, sipping the ‘ohelu nectar.

“All right,” she said. “I don’t want to try. I don’t really think I can do it or that it will be good. But I can’t live the rest of my life without trying new things. So I’ll try this one, too.”

She hopped onto a flowering stem, let herself swing upside down with a shudder, and poked her beak into the blossom. A moment later she’d hopped to another stem with another flower and did it all over again.

“Not so bad?” asked her friend.

“I guess I can try a few more new things,” she said. And she did.

Watch the Recorded Story

The photo is of an i’iwi sipping from a mamane flower. National Park Service photo. Public Domain.

What Is This I’m Wearing?

[Simon Peter] turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. – Acts of the Apostles 9:40b-41

Just a moment, now… what’s happening?

Someone is here – no one has been in here in quite some time.
I hear him breathing and… is that a murmured prayer?
I think I’ll let my eyes stay shut
and puzzle this thing out.

This doesn’t quite feel quite like my bed. That’s what
I last remember and – oh, my! – I felt so bad.
The aches, the failing strength, the fear.
I struggled so to breathe.

Who is this man beside my bed? It’s not
the doctor, sure. I know his sounds.
Why is there no one else?
What’s that I hear?

Beyond the door are quiet sobs, the kind
I’ve made when weeping had near run
its course, and the springs
of tears were running low.

That’s Martha’s weeping; that is Miriam’s.
Is Anna there? Joanna, too? The widows, then,
my friends. But why are they
not here, where this man is?

Could he be a physician, better than
the one I had? So it must be.
My breath is so much easier
than it had been. Oh, yes.

Oh, now. His murmuring, his prayer
has reached its end. Although my eyes
are shut I feel his gaze, and…
is that a smile I feel?

Then: “Tabitha, get up,” in soft
but roughened voice, as if
he was more used to shouts
above the roaring sea.

Just: “Tabitha, get up,” and so I might just choose
to let my eyelids rise – them first, you see –
and take a good long glance at this
more capable physician.

Yes: “Tabitha, get up,” but wait. Before I do,
with all my friends beyond the door,
one burning question to resolve:
What is this I’m wearing?

A poem/prayer based on Acts 9:36-43, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Fourth Sunday of Easter.

The image is San Pietro resuscita Tabitha, Saint Peter Raises Tabitha, by Fabrizio Santafede (1611). Digital capture by Deca16894 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106100094.

Luke’s account of those attending the body of Tabitha lacks any names; I’ve used women’s names found in the New Testament for Tabitha’s friends. The story clearly states that Simon Peter asked everyone to leave him alone with her body. For whatever reason, the artists’ depictions of the scene routinely ignore this.

The Time to Be Brave

May 1, 2022

Acts 9:1-20
John 21:1-19

by Eric Anderson

It was late April, and it was about to be May. The kolea didn’t know that. Pacific golden plovers, the English name for na kolea, don’t pay much attention to the calendars that people use. I’m not entirely sure what they pay attention to, but they do get a sense at about the same time, don’t they, that it’s time to fly from Alaska to Hawai’i or that it’s time to fly from Hawai’i to Alaska.

It was, in fact, about time to fly from Hawai’i to Alaska. One of the kolea was acutely aware of that, even though he was a fairly young bird. He’d only made the long flight once, from his Alaskan birthplace to the shores of Hawai’i Island. He’d really enjoyed the winter here, even if by our standards it was rather cold. The worms and bugs he ate had been more than plentiful, and the rains tended to drive the worms up from their flooded tunnels.

You and I might call that disgusting. The kolea called it lunch. Unless it was dinner. Or a mid-afternoon snack.

He knew it was time to fly to Alaska because his feathers had changed color. For most of the winter they’d been a dappled cream and brown, handsome enough but not dramatically so. Over the weeks of March and April (which he didn’t call March or April) he’d developed deep black feathers on his chest and face, set off by bands of white. His mother called him handsome. His friends called him handsome, though some of them teased him about it. There was another young kolea that he hoped found him handsome, but he was reluctant to ask her about it.

So he knew it was time to fly.

He just… didn’t want to.

His one trip to Hawai’i hadn’t been dramatically awful, but it hadn’t been great, either. It was just over two solid days in the air, beating his wings twice a second the entire time, with no place to land and rest and nothing to eat the entire way. His eyes had ached from holding them open so long and his wings hurt for days. Why would one ever want to do such a thing more than once?

Hawai’i Island, he thought, made a nice place to live. So he decided to stay.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” said his mother. “This isn’t where we have our families,” said his father. His friends just said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Only one young kolea asked him why. So he told her about the aches and the pains and why should one do that ever again?

“Because sometimes you have to be brave,” she told him.

That evening she joined a growing flock of kolea. They would leave together soon. When she turned her head, she saw a familiar bird. “Hello, handsome,” she said.

He might have blushed beneath his feathers, but who could tell?

“I decided that it’s time to be brave,” he said.

As the evening fell, the two of them were part of the flock that rose high in the air and began their long flight back to Alaska.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Three Days

For three days [Saul] was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. – Acts 9:9

Well, that was quite a shock.

One moment I was striding, filled with confidence
and rectitude, the next:
Flat on my back, blinded by a light,
deafened by a voice.

I suppose I needed such a shock.

Is there a greater barrier to learning something new
than certainty? I fear not.
I was so certain, knew beyond all doubt, that
this Jesus movement was a fraud.

Well. I learned.

And now I wait and wonder: what is next?
“You will be told.”
Oh, good. And yet not good, for what may I expect
of One whom I oppressed?

Or those who followed him?

How strange to find expansion of the soul
in clouded sight?
I had created my own spirit’s shroud, of course,
but now I see.

Metaphorically, that is.

Now to be truthful, God, to whom I pray
with greater clarity
since vision failed three days ago, I thank you
for this time of rest.

I am not ready for the tasks you might
require of me, or
the penitence I must perform for those
who do not trust me.

Why should they, after all?

I am not ready yet for much beyond
extended monologue
to you, here in this house along the
Straight Street of the city.

Here I will pray and breathe.

And when you find me ready, Lord,
with eyes still dim,
or eyes as comprehending as my soul,
I’ll take your road.

I’ll follow you.

Amidst the daily noises of the street,
what’s that? A knock.
What’s that? The voices by the door.
What’s that? A hand.

A voice that calls me: Brother Saul.

A poem/prayer based on Acts 9:1-20, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Third Sunday of Easter.

The image is The Conversion of St Paul by Caravaggio, found in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. Photo by Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44143233.

There is some suggestion in the writings of the Apostle Paul (he used that Greek version of the Hebrew Saul when writing his letters in Greek) that he did not fully regain his physical sight after this experience. In 2 Corinthians 12 he spoke of a “thorn in the flesh,” suggesting a disability without describing it. At the close of Galatians (6:11) he wrote, “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!” Though that might be due to unfamiliarity with using a pen, it might also be because of poor eyesight.