Radiant

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. – Isaiah 60:5

Teach me to recognize radiance, O God.
Teach me to revel in brightness of spirit.
Teach me to raise up my voice in rejoicing
for radiance seen with the soul, not the eyes.

Teach me to recognize radiance, O God.
Teach me to gain it in greatness of heart.
Teach me to glorify generous spirit,
the radiance seen with the soul, not the eyes.

Teach me to recognize radiance, O God.
Teach me to mirror a magus of old.
Teach me to make free of marrow and mind, and
the radiance seen with the soul, not the eyes.

A poem/prayer based on Isaiah 60:1-6, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Epiphany.

The image is Awake My Soul by Mike Moyers, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57138 [retrieved January 5, 2023]. Original source: Mike Moyers, https://www.mikemoyersfineart.com/.

2022: The Songs

As mentioned in my summary of 2022, I had a Lenten success this past year, writing six songs during the six weeks of that season. It took longer to compose the other six songs I wrote during the 2022. Some were based on Biblical stories, some inspired by the writing of friends, and others by things going on in the world. You’ll find performances of all of them below, many from the weekly Song from Church of the Holy Cross series.

Wisdom Feed Us

First performed at the Community Concert of March 11, 2022

The simple truth is that I am deeply concerned about the lack of wisdom displayed by human beings. As far as I can tell, folly rules the world.

Dream of Peace

First performed at the Community Concert of March 25, 2022.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. I went looking in my repertoire for a song I’d written about peace, and didn’t find one. I’ve sung “Dream of Peace” several times and it became my contribution to the Interfaith Communities in Action Thanksgiving Celebration video for 2022.

Come On, Guitar

First performed on March 23, 2022.

Although “Come On, Guitar” was performed earlier, it was written a few days after “Dream of Peace.” It is a tribute (or an invocation) to my new Martin D-10E. I had decided that I would write a song on and for the instrument when it arrived, and this song is the result.

Creature of this World

First performed on April 6, 2022.

“Creature of this World” was inspired by “Offering,” a poem by Rachel Hackenberg. It’s become one of my favorites, and is one of the songs providing background music for my video 2022: A Year.

As We Bring Him Down

First performed during Scripture & Poetry for Good Friday, released April 15, 2022.

Written for Good Friday, this song is set in the “Deposition of Christ,” when the body of Jesus was removed from the cross and brought to its tomb. It is, shall we say, somber.

Walk, Mary, Walk

First performed for What I’m Thinking #259, April 18, 2022.

I’ve written a song for Easter for a few years now, and frequently play them during the first episode of What I’m Thinking after Easter Sunday. When I listen to this, I hear echoes of “As We Bring Him Down.” I wrote them seven days apart. This piece completed the Lenten song cycle.

One in a Million of Grief

First performed on May 18, 2022.

In mid May, the one millionth American died of COVID-19. Despite robust public health systems in the United States, the disease infected a greater proportion of the population, and killed a greater proportion of them, than was true in other developed nations. The US has, in fact, suffered more deaths per 100,000 population than any other nation in the world except Peru. This song also marked the first public performance on my Kala 6-string ukulele.

Some Days are Just Too Much

First performed on June 29, 2022.

I had a number of friends in mind when I wrote this song – and myself as well.

Hey, Moses

First performed on July 13, 2022.

I wrote this for Church of the Holy Cross’ Vacation Bible School – and then fell ill that day and didn’t sing it for them. It’s about Moses – and God – at the burning bush. I should probably sing this in a higher key…

To the Banks of the River Jordan

First performed on July 27, 2022.

I wrote this song for my friend Drew, who died just a few hours after this performance. Some may recognize the echoes of Ecclesiastes’ wisdom about time and seasons.

Take the Labyrinth Road

I wasn’t on the planning team for the Pastoral Leaders’ Retreat of the Hawai’i Conference, but I was asked to bring a song. Of course I couldn’t think of one, so this is what I wrote. This is the other song in the music track for 2022: A Year.

Morning Has Come

First performed during worship on Christmas Day, December 25, 2022.

I suspect there are other songs with the title “Morning Has Come.” This one is a Christmas morning song, set in the bright light of morning.

And there they are: twelve new songs in 2022. I wonder how many there will be in 2023?

2022… Well. And Not so Well.

At the end of 2021, I commented on the lost promise of that year. Despite the warnings of epidemiologists and other medical professionals, I like others hoped that the advent of vaccines would end the pandemic, or at least reduce its risks. As 2022 began, however, we were in the midst of the highest level of COVID-19 transmission we’d seen. Church of the Holy Cross UCC continued to worship online-only until the Sunday after Easter – a disappointment for certain.

Still, we did welcome a congregation into the sanctuary in April and were able to observe Pentecost, All Saints, and Christmas with gathered worshipers. We maintained precautions even then. The congregation did not sing hymns until December, so that the first songs they sang were Christmas carols. Our choir director, Doug Albertson, assembled a thirty-five plus voice choir plus string orchestra for a magnificent performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia of Christmas Carols. It was great fun to take part in that ensemble.

A glance at my photos will make someone wonder why I didn’t seem to get around as much as in previous years. There are a lot of flowers but not a lot of varied scenery. COVID remained a factor – I wanted to minimize my exposure so that it would minimize the risk I presented to others – but so was my transportation. Though the Chrysler 300 I’d bought on moving to Hilo continued to run just fine, some of its parts were definitely showing its sixteen years, and I began to avoid long drives. In November I replaced it with a new Kia, leading to the inevitable joke that this pastor finally has a Soul.

I did travel during the year. I attended my first in-person off-island conference since 2020 in May. I went to O’ahu for a disaster response event and spoke about the interfaith response to the Kilauea eruption of 2018. At the end of August I flew east to visit family and friends. I even managed to attend the Wyman family reunion (my paternal grandmother was a Wyman) and The Blandford Fair on Labor Day weekend. I enjoyed seeing everyone, and entirely forgot to get selfies with a good many of them. The trip home afforded the opportunity to get photos of a sunset over the Pacific.

For the most part the family is doing well. My kids continued to share an apartment this past year, but both are looking to moves in 2023. I have hopes that Rebekah’s ordination will come this next year, and Brendan is working toward beginning a Ph.D. program in English literature. Bekah has been working for The Julian Way, an organization focused on education and empowerment with, for, and by, persons of diverse embodiments. They work with congregations and other faith institutions to foster fully inclusive environments.

In October I attended the Pastoral Leaders’ Retreat on O’ahu, the first time we’ve had a full gathering for that event since 2019. Though I wasn’t on the leadership team, I was asked to find a musical selection for the occasion – and as is typical of me, I couldn’t think of one. The result was the song that leads the 2022: A Year video above: “Take the Labyrinth Road.”

It was a busy year musically. During Lent, I set a goal of writing one song for each of the six weeks of Lent. I did it (see: A Lenten Success). By year’s end, I’d written twelve new songs, equaling those produced in 2021. I sang one of my original songs each Wednesday and presented hour-long concerts via live stream twice a month. You can see them all (oh, my) on my YouTube channel in the Music playlist.

Music gave me a couple ways to deal with the stress of the year – and 2022 was certainly stressful. It was a creative outlet, of course, both in composition and in performance, though it could also be exhausting. It also became one of my chosen methods of “retail therapy” this year. During the pandemic I found that I would feel calmer while I waited for a package to arrive. In 2022, three of those packages contained new instruments: a Martin D-10E guitar in sapele wood in March, a Kala KA-ATP6-CTG 6-string ukulele in May, and a Kala KA-EBY-TE in striped ebony in July.

2022 brought some terribly painful times. I officiated at a series of funerals in the spring for people I had known and treasured, and there were more as the year went on. In June my friend and former colleague Drew Page stepped down from his work with the Southern New England Conference UCC. He had been suffering from cancer for two years and the disease had reached a stage where he wanted to give his time to family and friends. In July we talked via video chat. I wrote “To the Banks of the River Jordan,” and about four hours after I sang it live, he died.

I told a few other friends not to make me write such a song for them any time soon.

As the year ended, one of my cousins from my father’s generation, Don Pease, died. Once more my heart wept.

2022 has not been an easy year for grief. In May the United States suffered its one millionth death from COVID-19. At year’s end, many whose lies had contributed to the death toll via social media had recovered access to some of the platforms they’d abused. If I’d doubted that COVID was still around, I’d have been disabused of the notion by catching it in November. It laid me out exhausted for days. I did not fully recover my stamina until late December, just in time for the Christmas services (whew).

I was reelected Chair of the Hawai’i Conference Council in June and will serve until June 2024. My term as President of Interfaith Communities in Action will end in February of 2023, though I expect to continue working with the Steering Committee and Working Group on Family Homelessness. I was asked to rejoin the Hawai’i Island Association’s Committee on Ministry as we have a shortage of ordained ministers on the island who can serve. I have also continued on the Board of Directors of the Ku’ikahi Mediation Center.

May 2023 bring blessings to us all!

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2022 – A Year

Story: Don’t Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before

December 25, 2022

Isaiah 62:6-12
Luke 2:1-20

So… Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Once upon a time there was a woman named Mary, and she was expecting a baby. It was a special baby, which you’d think would mean that she’d be as comfortable as she could be when the baby was born – a nice room, plenty of helpers, that sort of thing – but instead she found herself far from home, amidst strangers except for Joseph, and putting her newborn baby in an animal’s feeding trough to sleep because there wasn’t any room in the inn.

You’ve heard this one before, haven’t you? I can tell.

Don’t stop me, though.

There were animals around when she wrapped the baby up and set him down to sleep. I mean, he was lying in their eating spot. I’m sure they were curious. A couple might have been a bit annoyed because where were they going to eat? If it had been you, would you be OK if somebody put a newborn lamb on your plate at your place at the dinner table?

A couple of those animals might have felt that way, too.

There’s some old stories – not as old as the story of the baby, but old – that say that the animals in that stable gained the ability to speak that night. It faded away in a short time, but that story says that they regain that power of speech each Christmas Eve – last night – but people never hear them because we’re all asleep.

And so the honu surfaces on the star-lit ocean and whispers to the ‘ulili on the shore, “Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world. Peace on earth, good will to all!”

The ‘ulili trots on its stilt legs until it finds a dozing saffron finch. “Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world. Peace on earth, good will to all!”

The saffron finch spreads its small wings and finds the sleeping nene. “Wake up! Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world. Peace on earth, good will to all!”

The nene takes to the sky and honks out to all who can hear, “Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world! Peace on earth, good will to all!”

On the mountain slopes, the ‘apapane awakes, and though I’m afraid that he’s cross, he flutters about and sings, “Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world! Peace on earth, good will to all!”

High above, the ‘io leaves off hunting for a moment, and soars over the bay, calling once more, “Spread the word! God’s savior is in the world! Peace on earth, good will to all!”

Now, you and I, we slept through all that. And with midnight gone, the creatures of Hawai’i have gone back to their regular voices, their everyday songs. So we have to take up the message, don’t we?

Spread the word. God’s savior is in the world. Let us bring peace on earth, and share our good will with all.

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

I told this story from memory of the text above – which means that between memory and improvisation, there are differences.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Christmas Eve 2022

This poem closed the Christmas Eve meditation at Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo, Hawai’i, on Christmas Eve 2022.

May the infant born two thousand years ago,
emerge again into our restless lives,
to overturn the pretense of our egos,
to comfort where we feel the stings of strife.

Awake the wonder of the Christ child,
sleeping in that manger of our memory,
as angels’ songs were echoed by the shepherds,
to summon us from our complacency.

May hope rekindle in our weary hearts
and faith revive within our flagging souls
for Christ is born, and God’s salvation comes
to make the world and all its people whole.

The image is The Nativity and the Annunciation to the Shepherds by Bicci di Lorenzo (ca. 1440) – Harvard Art Museums, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106008860.

Mary’s Treasury

The Birth of Jesus – Luke 2:1-20

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. – Luke 2:19

Treasuries, they say, are filled with gold.
The mansions of the powerful protect the rooms
whose contents build the edifices which enclose them.

A treasury, they tell me, is the due of you, dear child,
a message from the heavens (though it strangely smells of sheep),
and so I lay your well-wrapped form in straw.

An angel spoke to me, he did, and told me not to fear.
I thought his greeting odd, but much odder was his word,
to tell me that I would become the mother of a King.

A mother I’ve become, but what royal babe is so
conceived to summon those suspicious eyes?
They’ve followed me for months, though not to Bethlehem.

A mother I’ve become, as witnessed by my groans and pains,
by midwife, by my worried Joseph, by the ox
whose manger I’ve now stolen for my infant’s bed.

The bloodied rags have vanished, whisked away
by midwife’s hands. I tell you, it is hard to hold
to memories of angels as a child crowns.

They came, then, those poor wanderers of the fields,
abandoning their flocks by night to see a child
in a manger. A child. A Savior. A Messiah King.

They spoke of angels singing in the skies,
they spoke of glory shining all around them, and
they spoke of peace, God’s peace, for all.

In honesty, I’d like to know the reason that
the angels sang to shepherds, not to me, this night,
since Gabriel’s words have faded in this place.

I’d like to hear the angel once again assure me that
the treasury of royalty will be my son’s someday,
that he will grow and thrive and save and rule.

For now I must content myself with angels’ echoes
in the voices of the poor. For now I must content
myself with pondering their words within my heart.

An inn without a room. A stable and a manger.
Angels’ voices echoed. Son, your treasury tonight
contains no gold. Instead, it is your mother’s heart.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 20:1-20, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, the Nativity of the Lord (Proper I).

The image is The Birth of Jesus with Shepherds. JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48387 [retrieved December 22, 2022]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact).

Mary Silent

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 1:18

What should I, could I say?
His mind had closed. His ears had stopped.
No words I’d say would sway him.
What could I, should I say?

I tried; you know I tried.
I knew the difficulty of belief,
e’en with the confirmation of by body –
What could I, should I say?

He stomped away. I knew
that, unbelieved, I’d be
abandoned – quietly but sure.
What could I, should I say?

The very morrow he returned
much chastened by a dream.
It’s nice to be believed, I said.
What could I, should I say?

But Joseph, damn your faith
in dreams of angels, but refusal
to believe the one who loves you.
What could I, should I say?

And Matthew, you whose pen
could not record a single word
of mine, I wish you’d learned from Luke.
What could I, should I say?

So silenced, I rely upon the child
I bore to speak the words
I spoke to him, and which he magnified.
What could I, should I say?

He spoke of liberation and
he spoke of resurrection and
he spoke of God’s triumphant day.
So can I, must I say.

Author’s note: Matthew did not quote Joseph in his Gospel, either – but Joseph takes all the initiative and makes all the decisions which carry the Holy Family from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth.

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 1:18-25, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Fourth Sunday of Advent.

Illustration of Joseph dreaming and Mary reading, woodcut attributed to the Second Master of Delft (ca. 1480-1503). Digital image by Rijksmuseum – http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.35552, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84341678.

Story: Fulfilling

December 11, 2022

Luke 1:46b-55
Matthew 11:2-11

His feathers were fully grown and laid upon his wings and back in shades of greyish brown, with bright white and black on his chest and wings. His wings stretched nearly three feet across, elegantly shaped and tapering to each pointed wingtip. He was kind of awkward on the ground and it took some work to get airborne, but once he caught the air beneath his wings he could stay airborne for hours. He was an ‘ua’u, or Hawaiian petrel, and he would spend three quarters of the year over the sea.

He was, in short, all grown up.

That left him, I must say, just a little cross. Flying over the ocean at night, wings beating and eyes tracking the water below for the little glow of fish or squid near the surface, he wondered what more there was to things. It was all very well to be a strong flier and a good looking bird and an effective fisher – flying fish, beware! – but now that everything was done, what was there to do that was new?

One day he found himself flying nearly wingtip to wingtip with his grandmother. It was pure chance – ‘ua’u fly solo or in pairs during their nine or so months at sea – and the two fished in silence for a while. After catching a particularly tasty flying fish, however, the grandson turned to the grandmother and asked, “What do I do now that I’ve done everything?”

“What makes you think you’ve done everything?” said Tutu, rather surprised.

“Well, look at me,” he said, and turned a circle that showed off his feathers and flying skills. “I’m an expert at catching fish,” he said, “and I know all the calls and sounds of an ‘ua’u. What more is there?”

Tutu knew that there was something more, but the ‘ua’u don’t start having chicks until they’re some years older, so she didn’t mention that. She was puzzled, though, that her grandson thought he’d done everything there was for an ‘ua’u to do even before having a family.

“Look down,” she said. “What do you see there?”

He looked down and there was a ruffling beneath the sea surface. It was a school of squid – but strangely, he’d only seen such a thing once or twice and had never fished them.

“Follow me,” said Tutu, and she gave a strange twist of her wings and swooped down over the ocean surface. He had to follow more gently, because he’d never seen that flight move before. The two swept over the school of squid and in a moment they were both feeding.

“Was that different?” asked Tutu, and he had to admit it was. “And why didn’t you follow me down the way I flew?” she asked, and he had to tell her he’d never seen what she’d done before.

“I guess you haven’t done it all yet, have you?” asked Tutu.

“But once I’ve eaten everything in the ocean,” he said, “and learned everything there is to know about flying, what is there then?”

“It’s not likely that you’ll taste everything that swims,” she said, “and there is always something more to learn about flying – but even when you get close to that, there will be other ‘ua’u around who will want to learn what you know. Sharing those things makes them new again.”

“Your life is never fulfilled,” she told them. “It may seem much the same from day to day, but even then there are new things, new challenges, because tomorrow is not just like today. Each day you are fulfilling your life, and each tomorrow you are fulfilling it a little more.”

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

In the video, I’m telling the story from memory of this text. And making things up as I go along as well.

Photo of an ‘u’au in flight by ALAN SCHMIERER from southeast AZ, USA – HAWAIIAN PETREL (5-3-2018) kalahaku overlook, haleakala nat park, maui co, hawaii -01, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74776449.

What We’re Waiting For

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” – Matthew 11:2-3

The clarity that comes with voices in
the clouds soon fades. The vibrant colors of
the golden sun, the azure river, and
the argent billows in the air transmute
to foggy grey as time saps confidence.
So ask the question, John, as well you may:
“Are you the One? Or must we wait to see
One you proclaim as I once proclaimed you?”

With you I bend my ear to the reply:
Look well, stern messenger of God. The ones
who could not see now see. The ones who could
not hear now hear. The ones who, ill, had lost
community and home have been restored.
The poor are cheered to hear good news proclaimed.

And so we see, and so we hear, dear John
the Baptist (caught in Herod’s snares), that one
has come to claim anointing by the One,
and not to seize a throne, or start a war,
or set himself apart from us. He’s come
to heal. He’s come to preach. He’s come to bring
us freedom from the cradle to beyond
the grave – a life for you, dear John, and me.

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 11:2-11, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Third Sunday of Advent.

The image is John the Baptist Thrown into Prison from Le Mont Ste. Odile, Alsace, by © Jörgens.mi/wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31709349.

Story: Easier?

December 4, 2022

Isaiah 11:1-10
Matthew 3:1-12

That year the goslings had a choice between two flight instructors here on Hawai’i Island.

I know I’ve talked about nene school before. It basically covers two topics: how to fly and how to find good things to eat. As I said, there were two flying teachers that year, and the goslings were able to choose which class to attend. One teacher was an older male nene, and he had charisma. He strutted around and hooted and honked, and you just knew that if you didn’t do just what he told you, he’d be honking right there in your beak.

The other teacher was smaller and quieter. She was well known as one of the best fliers of all the flocks on the island, but she never made much of it. You could hear her fellow teacher’s voice for miles. You hardly ever heard her say anything.

One young nene was, to be honest, pretty intimidated by both these teachers. He was pretty intimidated by flying in general. He didn’t really want to be judged by a nene considered one of the best fliers of the island, but he also didn’t want to be yelled at a lot by a big, noisy teacher. Most of his classmates, though, were impressed by all the honking and the strutting and the bravado – and maybe they were afraid that if they didn’t go to his class, they’d look like they were afraid.

When the day came to choose teachers, most of the goslings went with the big noisy male teacher, and a smaller group chose the smaller female teacher, including the young nene who was scared of them both.

It didn’t take long before he wondered if he’d made the right choice. His teacher never raised her voice, but she never missed anything, either. She could spot a single feather out of position and she always made her student fix it. Her classes started early and they ran late. Across the slopes her students could hear the agitated honks of the male teacher for a while, but then his voice would fade. They’d hear the voices of those other students, now released from their class, playing and foraging for snacks, while they were making tightly controlled – and closely inspected – circles in the sky.

“I need this to be easier,” said the young nene one morning, and instead of going to his class he made his way to the other class. Nobody minded. He joined the small crowd and watched the teacher honk at the students until they all stretched out their wings and took off. With his agitated honking behind them, they tried to form a flying V, but none of them had really mastered keeping a straight, level, and steady course. They veered from side to side, everybody except the young nene who’d just joined their class that day. He knew how to fly straight and level. He wouldn’t fly faster than the goose ahead. But he found himself dodging gosling after gosling as they zoomed back and forth across the formation.

The teacher’s honks were plenty loud, but he was saying things like, “Don’t do that! No! The other way! The other way!” Since none of the flyers knew what “that” was, or who was doing “that,” and which way might be this way and what way might be the other way, well. It didn’t help.

The teacher honked himself to hoarseness and dismissed the class early, flying off to find some ‘ohelo. The young nene watched him go, and flew over to where the smaller class was still meeting, with the sharp-eyed female teacher.

“You’re back?” was all she said.

“I’m back,” he said. “I’ve found it’s easier to learn to fly by working hard.”

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

The story was told from memory of this manuscript – by someone with an imperfect memory.

Photo by Eric Anderson.