“…they were baptized by [John] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” – Matthew 3:6
Ah, baptist at the riverbank, I come to seek the power of the cleansing touch of water and of Spirit and of fire. Anneal my harrowed soul. Your words have burned their way into my heart and mind and I do not forget. Who warned me, John? Well, you. You with your party-breaking summons to the realization – hardly new but strong in its familiarity – that I have not kept steadily the prophet’s road, which is not straight, not even close, but winds through thickets and through thorns like serpent’s teeth.
I wanted, baptist, to step quietly into the muddy waters, duck my head in quick and studied piety, then stand and melt into my ordinary life once more as surely as the water dried upon my skin. The water I might thus ignore, but not your harshly calling voice. I shiver and I listen and I plan: to learn and follow, learn and follow, learn and follow Christ more faithfully today.
A poem/prayer based on Matthew 3:1-12, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Second Sunday of Advent.
As you know, one of the really important questions in the life of any animal – bird, fish, reptile, or mammal – is:
“When is breakfast?”
For most animals the next question is likely to be “where is breakfast?” Whether you’re a hunting animal that has to find something with meat on it, or whether you’re a plant-eating animal, the fact is that you probably haven’t gone to sleep where breakfast can be found. Even the nectar-eating birds of the ohi’a forest have to find a tree in blossom in the morning.
Still, the first question is: “When is breakfast?”
The kolea has to learn two answers to this question. As you know, kolea emerge from eggs laid in Alaska. So the first thing a kolea chick has to learn when it’s heading out on its own is when the worms come out.
In fact, kolea don’t ask the question, “When is breakfast?” because the answer is always, “When the worms come out.” So they skip to the next question, which is, as you’d guess, “When do the worms come out?”
“When do the worms come out?” a young kolea asked his mother.
She didn’t have a great answer, because she wasn’t a great thinker among the kolea. She knew a lot of things, but she didn’t put them into words. You could count on her to be right there when the worms poked their heads out of the ground, but she couldn’t tell you what she’d noticed to make her go there. If she’d been a human being she’d have been one of those amazing cooks who, if you ask, “how much butter did you put in that cake?” would reply, “About the right amount,” and not really know. And the cake would be delicious.
That’s why she said, “The worms come out when they do,” which wasn’t helpful, but she did the best she could.
He managed to find worms by following his mother around, and since she didn’t mind that worked pretty well. But then came the time to go to Hawai’i for the first time. He wouldn’t have her nearby there – or rather, here.
“When do the worms come out?” he asked.
“When they do,” she answered, and that was the best he got.
Here in Hawai’i, he settled into the new job of living on his own. Worms were hard to come by, but there were plenty of grubs and spiders and so on. He did fine. He missed worms, though.
“When do the worms come out?” he asked himself out loud.
“As dawn approaches,” said a voice from nearby.
It was a myna, which took him by surprise. Mynas usually talk to each other – or rather, they argue with each other a lot. “What was that?” he asked.
“The worms come out as dawn approaches,” said the myna, which then turned away from him to enter a furious argument with another myna about… well, something. Anything. Who knows?
The kolea thought about the things his mother had done. She’d begun moving about as the sky grew brighter in the east, and flown to grassy places that worms liked. She chose cool places with some heavy dew on them or a fine rainy morning. In the cool wetness, worms were plentiful. When the ground dried and the sun warmed everything, the worms disappeared underground again.
“As the dawn approaches,” murmured the kolea.
There are plenty of things that require more examination and thought to understand than when to find a worm. Most things have something that gives you a notion that things are changing, that something is coming. For many things in life, there’s some sort of sign: like the approaching dawn.
by Eric Anderson
Watch the Recorded Story
The story was told from memory of this prepared text. And… it’s not the same.
Last week’s story was about a kolea who came back from a summer in Alaska to find Pohoiki completely changed by lava. It was a hard thing to accept that this is how an island grows. He saw a landscape that had been green and growing transformed into one that was rocky and barren.
He might have taken more comfort if he’d talked with a tree – though I’m not sure whether even a kolea really knows how to listen to a tree.
The trees whisper on the wind. They let their soft voices swirl about on the breeze like a sigh. A lot of what they say is simply, “Do you remember?” and “Yes, we remember,” and the memories float through the forest.
Higher up Kilauea, surrounding the crater we call Kilauea Iki, there are a lot of trees and they have been watching that crater for a long time. “Do you remember?” they sigh, and yes: they remember. They remember when it sloped down into a notch. Trees and bushes sprouted along the sides and the bottom. They remember when lava fountained over a thousand feet into the air and poured down into valley. They remember watching the lava pooling and the lava pool rising. They remember that when the lava stopped fountaining and flowing, the valley floor was four hundred feet higher than it had been. They remember watching parts of the flat surface crack and tilt as the liquid rock cooled to solid.
“Do you remember?” they sigh. Yes, they remember.
They remember when it was just black rock, steaming in the rain, baking in the sun.
They remember when ohi’a seeds fell upon that hot rock and did nothing. They remember watching seeds landing on the rock in a small crack and doing their level best to sprout and grow, but even the pushing of their roots could only find a couple grains of sand. They remember when the first ohi’a landed in a spot where cracking and rain had created enough – just enough – small bits that a root could take hold and begin collecting rainwater. They remember when the first of the little ohi’a plants – so small, those plants – they remember when the first of them had enough soil and water and sunshine and strength to form flowers and set its own seeds to scatter.
“Do you remember?” they sigh. Yes, they remember, and that includes the small trees, some no more than inches high, that you’ll find one here, one there, on the floor of Kilauea Iki.
The kolea, I’m afraid, didn’t think to ask the trees, and he was in the wrong place to ask them down at Pohoiki if he’d thought of it, and he may not have understood what they said to him if he’d asked.
But the trees along the steep sides of Kilauea Iki remember, and they sigh their memories just the same way they scatter their seeds: cast out upon the blowing wind.
“Do you remember?” they ask, and they answer, “Yes, we remember.”
On the flat black surface of the Kilauea Iki crater, roots crack the rock into soil, shoots stand ever higher above the stony surface, ohi’a blossoms flutter crimson in the wind, and they share their seeds and their memories upon the blowing wind.
by Eric Anderson
Watch the Recorded Story
The story above was told from memory of this prepared manuscript. In my opinion, I told it better than I wrote it this time.
Photo of an ohi’a blossom in the Kilauea Iki crater by Eric Anderson, 2016. The Kilauea Iki eruption took place in 1959.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.'” – Luke 21:5-6
The flagstones and terraces, walls and pillars, the walkways and courtyards, collonades and shrines. Oh, look where the peak of the roof glows at sunset! Oh, look how the glory of God has been housed.
The stones seem so durable, set and enduring, but Jesus in sadness announces their fall. Eternity’s structures are not built with masonry. Instead, they are built on the soul.
It has been many days since I stood by the ocean and watched while this island expanded its shores. Incarnadine tendrils, dulling to sable, forming a delta of newly poured stone.
And that delta has vanished. It broke and it crumbled. The rocks of the ages could be counted in days. Since then new eruptions have fashioned the coastline anew and anew and anew.
Stone poured upon stone, broken to sand. Stone stacked upon stone – by human hands. They come and they go, they bloom and they fade – But oh, what glory that these things should be.
Fragile stones, enduring for centuries, collapsing in days, wrecked by malice, swept away by the sea. Fragile stones that stand for a moment: But oh, what glory that these things should be.
A poem/prayer based on Luke 21:5-19, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Proper 28 (33).
Photo of the 2016 ocean entry in Kamokuna by Eric Anderson.
This story took place a few years ago here on Hawai’i Island. I suppose it could have happened at various times here on Hawai’i Island – I would guess something similar has happened a good number of times here on Hawai’i Island.
A kolea flew back to Hawai’i after spending the summer in Alaska. This wasn’t the first time he’d done it. Like most kolea, he had a destination in mind. For four seasons he’d come to the same beachfront in Puna. For four seasons he’d had a good spot to hunt for crabs in tide pools and then for bugs and worms just inshore. There were people who came and went, but you may have noticed that people come and go in a lot of places and he came to ignore them. So when he spotted the mountains of this island he made his way toward Puna.
When he reached it, he hardly recognized it. As I said, this was a few years ago, and in the time that he’d been in Alaska the 2018 eruption had sent lava flowing across lower Puna from Leilani to Kapoho. The edge of the flow stopped at Pohoiki. Mounds of a’a had turned his favorite section of the beach from a gentle slope to a seven or eight foot high wall at the water’s edge. It was still cooling underneath; he could feel the heat when he came near to try landing.
The lava flow had left some things just the same. There were still human parking lots and structures, there were trees. There were broad stretches of flat ground that he knew he could still find food in. But there was also a brand new stretch of beach made of black sand and rocks that clattered and hissed when the waves drew back to the sea.
He landed and watched the water for a while, where it crashed against the new rock and where it piled up more sand gradually on the beach.
“What happened?” he said to himself.
He may not have meant anyone else to hear, but a saffron finch replied. “Lava came,” she said.
“It’s not the same,” he said.
“No, not much,” she agreed. “It’s even changing each day. That black beach keeps getting bigger.”
“Everything’s dead and gone,” he moaned, “buried under that warm rock or getting covered with that black sand.”
The saffron finch looked at him, puzzled. “What are you talking about? There’s still grass. There’s still trees. There’s still bugs and worms to eat. Life goes on.”
“How can it, when it’s so different?”
The saffron finch thought. “Do you remember hatching?” she asked.
“Not really,” he said.
“Well, are you the same as you were then?”
“Definitely not,” he said. “I had to grow a lot and get these feathers before I could ever fly here.”
“So you grew,” said the saffron finch, “and in some ways you still grow.”
“Of course,” said the kolea.
“This island also grows,” said the saffron finch. “I don’t suppose it’s quite alive the way you and I are alive, but it grows. Where it grows, it creates space for plants to grow, and bugs to grow, and eventually for you and I to grow.”
“But it’s different and I liked the old way better,” said the kolea.
“You and I grow and others may not like it,” said the saffron finch, “but we grow in our own way. You might as well let this island grow in its own way, too.
“Because it will grow in its own way no matter what you say.”
by Eric Anderson
Watch the Recorded Story
The recorded story above was told live during worship from memory of this text. Between memory and improvisation, they are not identical.
Photo of lava rock and black beach sand at Pohoiki (2018) by Eric Anderson.
[The Sadducees asked,] “Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” – Luke 20:29-33
Tell us another story, Jesus.
Tell us a story in which a woman is valued for what she brings and makes, and not because she bears a child to be the heir to one whom death has claimed.
Tell us a story in which a woman is treasured and housed and clothed and nourished because she is a child of God, and not because she is a womb for children.
Tell us a story in which a woman determines her home, her work, her speech, her course, and does not submit her careful conclusions to the random will of a man.
Tell us a story in which those thrust to the margins in casual cruelty rise strong in themselves, and claim their due place as wealth and privilege wane.
Tell us a story of resurrection, of life beyond these oppressing tears, of dancing angels, of children of God, of all who live and love in God’s sight.
Tell us another story, Jesus.
A poem/prayer based on Luke 20:27-38, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Proper 27 (32).
I don’t know how they became friends, or even how they met one another. When kolea make their journey to Hawai’i Island, they tend to find some space for themselves fairly close to the coastline. They like to look for worms and bugs and such in the grassy lawns that human beings maintain. They’re ground birds, rarely found on roofs or trees.
In contrast, the ‘apapane likes to be in trees, and in trees that grow further up the mountain. As I say, I’m not sure how a kolea and an ‘apapane ever met, let alone how they became friends. But year after year this kolea would make his way back to the Kohala peninsula and, after a good rest and a meal, take a shorter flight up the slopes of Kohala looking for a flash of red in the forest. Then the two of them would talk story until they’d caught up with the last several months.
This year the kolea found the ‘apapane looking… dreamy. After sharing the stories about nests and eggs and chicks, the ‘apapane sat and looked out over the mountain slope down to the sea and beyond. “I envy you,” she said. “You know what’s beyond the horizon.”
The kolea had told that story many times, so he just nodded. “That’s true,” he said. “Out in that direction is a very big ocean, and then there’s Alaska.”
“Do you ever wonder what’s beyond the horizon in other directions?” asked the ‘apapane.
“Not much,” said the kolea. “Except for those two big flights each year, I don’t stray far from the places I’ll find grubs to eat.”
“Well,” said the ‘apapane, turning to the northwest, “what do you suppose is over there?”
The two of them looked at a pile of clouds with a bit of bluish black in the middle. “I don’t know,” he said.
“I wonder,” sighed the ‘apapane.
“Shall I find out?” said the kolea. “I can take a flight to see what’s in the clouds.”
The ‘apapane accepted the offer, and the kolea headed off to the northwest, and was quickly lost to sight. It took nearly four hours before he was back again. He grabbed a snack at the base of the ‘apapane’s tree before joining her on the branch again.
“So what’s over there?” asked the ‘apapane.
“Maui,” said the kolea.
“What’s Maui?” asked the ‘apapane.
“It’s another island, smaller than this one, with a wide valley and a great big mountain on it. That’s the bluish black outline you can see. It’s not nearly as far as Alaska.”
The two birds were quiet for a while, and then the ‘apapane said, “It must be nice to always know what’s over the horizon.”
“But I don’t always know what’s over the horizon,” said the kolea. “I also don’t know what the next day will bring. I hope it will have a tasty worm or two, just the way you hope it will have ohi’a blossoms.”
“We both move into something mysterious, then,” said the ‘apapane, “which we hope will be a little familiar.”
“We both fly into tomorrow,” said the kolea, “with hope.”
by Eric Anderson
Watch the Recorded Story
The story was told from memory of this manuscript in the video recording above. And, well, embellished.
It’s a funny thing. The koa’e kea – the white-tailed tropicbird – and the noio – the black noddy – eat basically the same foods. They like small fish, they like squid. But they catch their food in very different ways. One koa’e kea had noticed this.
“That,” he said to another koa’e kea, “is disgusting.”
“What is?” she asked. The two were flying out to their fishing grounds from the ledges of Kilauea.
“Them,” said the first, “those noio. Watch them crowd together. Why can’t they hunt alone? There’s a horde of them fishing there. Then the noise. Every last one of them is screeching and calling. They’re flying low, and any bird should know that you can’t spot fish if you’re not high over the water. And most of all“ – he shuddered even as he was flying – “they don’t even know how to do a proper dive.”
“Really?” asked his friend. “What do they do?”
“Watch,” said the first, and they watched as noio after noio skimmed low over the water. The surface of the ocean rippled with the movement of the small fish beneath it. The noio dipped their beaks into the water, seized a fish without landing, and flew on as they swallowed.
“They don’t even pause on the surface to properly appreciate their meal,” he moaned.
“Aren’t there big fish down there, too?” asked his friend, who had noticed larger forms deeper in the water.
“Ahu,” said the koa’e kea, “skipjack tuna. They’re chasing the same fish as the noio. I don’t know why they’re not all crashing into one another, and why none of those noio have become lunch for an ahu.”
They watched the chaotic scene for a while, and then the second koa’e kea said, “You know, it seems to work.”
“What?” he said.
“With those ahu around, the small fish are closer to the surface,” she said, “and with so many birds in the air you wouldn’t want to pause on the surface. From all I can tell from here, none of them look like they’ll go hungry.”
“Do you want to fish like a noio?” he demanded.
“No, I’d rather dive from a good height,” she said, “and I’d rather not have a lot of other birds about because I’d crash into one when I’m diving. I’m not eager to run into an ahu under water, and one of my dives might get down to where they are. I can’t call the noio disgusting, though,” she continued. “They’re living, and thriving, and happy, and fed. That’s a pretty good life for a seabird, don’t you think?”
I don’t know for certain whether she’d convinced him, because he didn’t say anything more as they flew out to their own fishing grounds farther from shore. I’ll call her wise, though, to recognize that there’s more than one way to live a good life as a seabird, and to appreciate a seabird who does things differently.
by Eric Anderson
Watch the Recorded Story
The story is told from memory of this manuscript. That is enough to cause some differences. Today, there was another presentation before the story, and, well, you’ll just have to see it to believe it.
Photo of a noio in flight (though not actually skimming the surface) by Eric Anderson.