Story: Growing Memories

November 13, 2022

Isaiah 65:17-25
Luke 21:5-19

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.

Story: Growing

November 6, 2022

Job 19:23-27a
Luke 20:27-38

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.

Toward Pohoiki.

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.

Meta-Reflection

I was putting the final touches to the sermon on Sunday morning in my study at Church of the Holy Cross. My brain was slowly turning to think about the children’s message – though I consider ideas through the week, the final story takes its final shape on Sunday morning.

It may not be the least anxiety-provoking method in the world, but that’s how it goes.

The usual calm of the morning suddenly vanished. Above my head, I heard the voices of the mynas suddenly rising in volume and intensity. The metal roof began to pound and thump as they beat their wings at one another, resonating like a great drum at me as I sat wondering below.

I’ve heard myna arguments before, but never anything quite this shrill, quite this loud, and frankly, quite this amplified.

Whatever the conflict was about, it seemed to involve several birds, each of them screeching with might and main. The pounding doubled and redoubled. The voices multiplied. Nobody was willing to give in, it seemed. It went on and on.

Suddenly, the source of the sound began to move. Slowly at first, and then accelerating, the screeches and pounding moved from my left to my right, sliding down the slippery slope of the aluminum roof toward the edge. I looked left in time to see the birds drop from the gutter to the sidewalk, still screaming at one another, but with the wingbeats now slowing their unplanned descent to the ground.

For a few seconds more the argument continued unabated, then abruptly ceased. Silence fell. Then the birds, as one and without a sound, took to their wings and flew off.

I promptly threw out all the ideas I’d had for a children’s message to talk about the mynas whose argument ended like this:

“Well, that’s not where I thought this argument was gonna go.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you remember what this argument was about?”

“No.”

“Maybe we should take this up later?”

“Yeah.”

“Somewhere where it isn’t quite so slippery.”

“Yeah.”

They all knew what the future was supposed to be: a winner to the argument. Instead, the future turned out to be an embarrassed group of dusty mynas.

The future, I told the children, is not always what you expect.

In reflecting on the reflection, however, I realized that the future wasn’t what I expected, either. The image of a group of fighting mynas sliding down the roof had never occurred to me until I heard them doing it.

In the midst of our work and efforts, in the midst of our dedication to service and our commitment to creativity, in the midst of our solemn self-reliance that is so common and yet so foreign to nearly every faith tradition I’ve ever learned about, the subtle (or screeching) movements of the world around us may yet become the inspiration, or the direction, or the guide for our continued journeys. For if the mynas were surprised to find themselves dumped off the roof onto the parking lot, so was I. And if the mynas were surprised to find that a change in circumstance had wiped away their argument, so was I.

The future doesn’t always hold what we think it does. Our lives of faith don’t always look like what it think it will, either. The world may, from time to time, teach us where to go. The Divine may, from time to time, give us the ingredients for our imagination.

The photo of a common myna is by Ilan Costica – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80664291