I see you waving, Jesus. I see that mischievous grin. I see those clenching teeth behind the dancing laughter.
“Come in!” you cry. “The water’s fine!”
I know that water’s cold.
A poem/prayer based on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, the Revised Common Lectionary Psalm reading for Year C, 1st Sunday after the Epiphany, the Baptism of Jesus.
The image is the beach at Pohoiki, on the island of Hawai’i. The beach formed from black sand created by the 2018 Puna eruption as hot lava entered the sea. Ocean currents deposited the material here. Photo by Eric Anderson.
Twinkle, twinkle… Where’s my star, O God? Where the heavenly beacon guiding me across my unmapped life to wonders and to glories? Where, in all Your heavenly wonder, is my star?
And perhaps God replies:
Look up, my child. Look within. You can perceive it. Seek and find. My star for you has led you to this place and time. It has led you over sea and mountain. Look, my child. Where your footsteps run, that is where I led you.
And I reply:
Twinkle, twinkle… Have I truly followed this ephemeral guiding star of Yours? Do not my footprints wander more than stride? And where, in all Your wonder, is the Christ to worship?
And perhaps God laughs:
You wandered? Does that mean you did not follow the guiding star? The magi, after all, first went to the wrong city. Yet truly you, as they, seek first awry. For you will find the Christ is always with you: always with you in your heart.
A poem/prayer based on Matthew 2:1-12, the Revised Common Lectionary Psalm reading for Year C, Epiphany.
The image is the Bethlehem Star that has adorned Church of the Holy Cross during the Advent and Christmas seasons for many years. Photo by Eric Anderson.
The Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette, one of the finest preachers and pastors I know, reminded us today of her New Year’s Eve prayer a year ago: that 2018 would be “boring.”
It was not.
It was not for me, for my family, or for many of my neighbors, either.
It began with some real high points. I began the year by welcoming the Rev. Dr. Chris Davies, a long-time friend, to the pulpit of Church of the Holy Cross. Quite aside from relishing her words of wisdom, I got to act out her reading of a favorite children’s book, and we celebrated communion together.
I was wrestling with my first struggle of the year, however. I’d developed a growth on my nose in December. It had been removed, tested, and found to be benign, but I still had to have a MOHS procedure to make sure it was all gone, lest it return. So I wore bandages on my nose for a few weeks, including during a visit east in January.
Brendan had begun working for Starbucks by then in Boston, and Rebekah was serving as an intern at the First Church of Simsbury, Connecticut. We got together with my father, recovering from his second broken leg in Massachusetts, and starting to get used to the new apartment he and Shirley had moved to.
Paul Bryant-Smith and I enjoyed playing two Boys in Hats concerts in 2018 – pretty impressive considering the distances involved. In January we played at the Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport, and in May we played at First Church in Simsbury. Rebekah and her co-interns sang one of my songs at the church in January with a proud poppa looking on.
Back in Hilo, I was able to photograph a lunar eclipse in February, and enjoyed hiking in Volcanoes National Park, Rotary social events, and taking pictures of flowers. I was summoned to provide music leadership again for the Hawai’i Conference Clergy Retreat in March (this Conference, and indeed this Association, has a *lot* of musical talent) with the instruction to “choose songs that everybody knows.”
Also in March, I found myself seated at the same table with US Senator Mazie Hirono as the Zone Club of Hilo honored her and Irene Nagao with the Rose Award. I just tried to look like I belonged with the dignitaries.
The end of March brought the solemn riches of Holy Week. The Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa joined us for Maundy Thursday worship, so we heard the Tenebrae readings in two languages. On Easter, a lovely sunrise opened the day’s celebrations. Somehow, I managed to complete the sermon without saying something like, “You thought Jesus was dead. April Fool!”
I finally got to see the Hokulea, the double-hulled canoe whose Malama Honua voyage circumnavigated the globe. She visited Connecticut’s shore not long after I moved to Hawai’i, and came to Hilo for the Merrie Monarch Festival.
My father celebrated his 80th birthday in April. I was late to the party – actually, they delayed it so I could be there. I flew to Florida first, to take part in the UCC Pension Boards’ offering of CREDO, an education program for clergy. I was delighted to discover some good friends were among the group, and even better pleased to find how important the program was. I got a better sense of myself as a person and as a pastor, and made some decisions about steps to take in my life and work in the months ahead.
But that would wait. I spent the next week back in New England, where the family had gathered to celebrate Dad’s birthday. We enjoyed our lunch, helped him blow out the candles, and told enough stories about him that he felt like we could save some for next year.
Even as we were doing this, lava had started flowing in Leilani Estates on Hawai’i Island. The Lower Puna Eruption of 2018 claimed 700 homes and displaced over 2,000 people. I returned home to join the faith community’s efforts to bring relief. We served meals, encouraged volunteering at the shelters, organized a laundry voucher program, and basically searched for the gaps in people’s lives. Our weekly meetings generated a lot of activity.
I also returned home to face the loss of a dear church member. I’d had breakfast on Easter morning with Millie and her family – she proudly told me that though she couldn’t get them all to church on a Sunday morning, she could get everyone to Easter sunrise service. Hers was the first funeral of 2018, but not the last. Millie, Joe, and Margaret were all people I’ve come to know and treasure in these years. I gave their lives to God with an aching heart.
My heart had more to ache about, because in June my father suffered an infection. We thought he’d overcome it, it turned out that his body had had enough. He died on July 1st as I spoke with him on the phone. Five days later, I was in New England with the family. Due to the kindness of the church leadership here, I was able to stay two weeks.
Dad’s service was painful wonderful. Memorial words from Elva Merry Pawle, Chuck Ericson, and Paul Bryant-Smith brought tears and laughter. Paul and I played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (the Israel Kamakawiwaole version) and “The Great Storm is Over.” My brother and I looked over old photos, and then had to stop.
Back in Hilo, the eruption continued. I kept up the work with the Faith Hui, worked with the Hawai’i Island Church and Ministry Committee, played every other Friday for our Community Sings, and planned a solo concert (my first in some years) for August. Our choir director Rachel Edwards and I discovered that we could do a pretty amazing duet of “Ain-a That Good News.” I wrote a sermon entitled, “This May Need a Song” – and so I also wrote a song.
The week of the concert, disaster struck – again. The lava flow in Puna had subsided (though nobody was at all sure whether it might resume), and now we received a Pacific hurricane. Lane passed a hundred miles south of Hawai’i Island, turned north, and slowed. Though it was far offshore, its cyclonic winds drew moisture-laden air from the east right over Hilo, where it fell. Over four days, we received over four feet of rain.
Despite the weather, which was still bad on August 25th, the concert raised over a thousand dollars for Puna eruption relief.
Brendan and Rebekah both shifted addresses in September. Brendan continued working for Starbucks, but moved out to West Newton. Rebekah began her studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
In September we held a special memorial service for the Rev. Susumu Yamane, Pastor Emeritus of Church of the Holy Cross. He had been well loved in the church and the community, and we were glad to honor him for his ministry and service. Shortly after we took on meal preparation for a village of Puna evacuees – for a week in October, then once a week through November and December. I went down a couple times with guitar and ukulele to offer some music along with the meal.
By October, however, I was exhausted. I have rarely taken time off in October, but this time I had to. I spent most of it in Kona, enjoying sunsets rather than sunrises. I came back to honor the beloved souls who had passed that year at our annual All Saints worship service, including my dad.
Also in October, I began walking each weekday, first thing in the morning. One result was a lot of dramatic sunrise photos. I don’t know that I’m any healthier, but I do enjoy it.
The holiday season came with a great project, and great joy. Our Board of Deacons decided to encourage members to bring non-perishable food items, one contributed each day, through Advent. One said that it was a pity that we probably couldn’t find a daily devotional on giving for the season, and I said, “I might be able to write one.” And I did. The result was “An Advent of Giving,” and probably over 400 pounds of food items brought to The Food Basket. We haven’t weighed the last week’s gifts yet.
And the great joy:
Brendan flew out on December 15th and spent two weeks here. We got to explore some parts of the island, but enough so that he’ll have to return to see more. Rebekah arrived on December 19th, and will stay until mid-January.
Well. That’s quite a year. I haven’t even touched on the year in the nation or the world, which had enough strangeness and chaos to fill a bookshelf. Nor have I mentioned several friends’ visits which gave me great joy.
I’m conscious of how much I’ve deferred my CREDO decisions. Natural disasters and family crises have that effect. I’m also conscious, however, that I am where I belong, and (mostly) doing what I should be doing. We’ll see how this coming year changes the “mostly.”
Hau’oli makahiki hou – have a joyful, healthy, and happy New Year!
O would I have the courage, Holy One,
arrested and confined by order of
a king whose patience I have tried again,
again, again; awaiting Babylon’s
revenge against this king I criticize;
now scorned by the religious leadership
who prate of Your assured deliverance
when I have thundered of your certain wrath —
O would I have the courage, Holy One,
to do as Jeremiah, change my tune,
and speak of righteous branches ripening
beyond my straining sight, to speak of hope
while watching the fulfillment of my words
in armies, soldiers, fire, blood, and death.
O would I have the courage, Holy One,
to testify to hope within the gloom?
A poem/prayer based on Jeremiah 33:14-16, the Revised Common Lectionary Hebrew Bible reading for Year C, Advent 1.