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.

A Song Worth Living

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1

They tell me it’s a song, Jesus,
but we’ve lost the tune.

They tell me it’s a song, Jesus,
but we’ve sucked the blood from the words.

They tell me it’s a song, Jesus,
but we’ve forced it into four-four time,
when it was supposed to soar
and warble and hover and dance.

They tell me it’s a song, Jesus.
Hum me the tune.
I want to sing along.

A poem/prayer based on 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the Revised Common Lectionary Second Reading for Year C, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. 

The image is Saint Paul Writing His Epistles by Valentin de Boulogne – Blaffer Foundation Collection, Houston, TX, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=596565.

I’m including my own version of the 1 Corinthians 13 text in a song, “Hymn to Love.”

In Those Days

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. – Luke 1:39-40

In those days, Luke? Say rather:
“After her imagined life had been upset
by visitation of an angel,
Mary saw the pretenses of life too well,
her friends and loved ones, neighbors, too,
persisting in a sad semblance of ‘normal’
when the love of God was breaking in.

“She fled because her efforts to
acquaint the villagers of Nazareth
with blessing, with deliverance,
were greeted with polite discount,
with blank incomprehension,
silent disbelief, and smirks that smack
of shame and slander.

“She fled because she had no outlet for
the wonder bottled up inside,
no person who would recognize the glory.
Who but one already bearer of
a miracle would comprehend
a miracle before her?

“So in those days she fled. When Mary stood
upon the threshold of Elizabeth, received
a wave of welcome, knew they shared in wonder,
all the pain of others’ disbelief gave way,
and in a flood of tears she praised
magnificent reversal, pride dispersed,
power humbled, humble lifted,
hungry satisfied and wealthy leaving empty.

“For in the shared experience of grace,
they built on love’s foundation,
Mary and Elizabeth, to raise up faith
and hope and joy that others would not see.”

Write that, Luke. It’s what you meant by,
“In those days.”

A poem/prayer based on Luke 1:39-55, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Fourth Sunday of Advent.

The image is Visit of Mary to Elizabeth by Fr. George Saget, a portion of a larger mural behind the altar of Keur Moussa Abbey in Senegal. Downloaded from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56517 [retrieved December 15, 2021]. Digital source photo by Jonas Roux – Flickr [1], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4870110.

Nobody Asked

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?'” – Mark 12:28

You thought it was a worthy question, Jesus,
so worthy that you did what you so often
did not do: you answered it. With quotes.
“Deuteronomy six, verses four and five,” you said.
“The second is much like it, but you’ll have to turn
the pages to Leviticus nineteen, the eighteenth verse.”

Well, no, you didn’t tell him that,
and force him to refresh his memory for numbers
rather than the force of God’s commands:
“The first is ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD is one,
so love the LORD with heart and soul and mind and strength.
The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

An honest earnest question and an honest earnest answer,
so you and he agreed. “Yes Teacher, you have truly said
that God is One, there is no other, to love the LORD
so well, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is better
than the offerings and sacrifices of this Temple.
And so you told him he was near the Realm of God.

“After that no one dared to ask him any question…” but
I wish they had. For if to know that loving God and
loving neighbor is to stand upon the verge
of God’s expanding realm, the question still remains:
How do we cross the border from its edge
and find ourselves as citizens of God?

I see that steady, steely gaze, of course.
You have no need to answer what you’ve answered
time and time and time again. To know
we are to love our God, to know we are to love
our neighbor, these bring us to the gate.
To make the crossing, we must bring the love.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 12:28-34, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 26 (31).

The image is Caritas by William Wilson, 1905-1972. From Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57837 [retrieved October 27, 2021]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/8539356086/.

Complicated

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” – 1 John 4:7-8

The Bible is complicated – Love one another.
Faith requires discernment – Love one another.
Righteousness needs consideration – Love one another.
Perfection results from preparation – Love one another.

In the meantime, I’ll carry on with what I’ve been doing.

Love one another.

A poem/prayer based on 1 John 4:7-21, the Revised Common Lectionary Second Reading for Year B, Fifth Sunday of Easter.

The image is The Head of Christ Carrying the Cross, a wood sculpture by Heinrich Douvermann (ca. 1520-1530) – Photograph from Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur: object 20603132 – photograph number RBA 608 899 – image file mi10859f02a.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37895066

I Pray for a Miracle

O, God,

I pray for a miracle.

I pray for weary bodies to find strength
and in resilience live beyond a virus.

I pray for souls who lack compassion
to find empathy for suffering.

I pray for those augmenting their own power
to embrace compassion and its sharing.

I pray for those obsessed with their self-image
to be filled with overflowing love.

I pray for those in pain of injury
to be comforted in justice.

I pray for those dismissive of their neighbors
to be startled at the gifts their neighbors share.

I pray, O God, for miracles
to erupt within the human soul.

Holy Week 2019: Thursday

Mosaic of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice

I’m sorry, guys, I’m not in the mood.
For a solemn celebration
I’ve got solemn down, for sure.
Celebration: not so much.

The liberation gained in ancient days
is wonderful. The trials, though,
of my own present day,
have just begun.

You can call me “Debbie Downer”
if you like. It’s fine.
If you knew what I know, well:
how about I share?

But when I share, you don’t believe,
as “It is I?” transforms to “Never me!”
As if it took a prophet’s insight
to unveil your fears.

Can we do this, just this, tonight?
Can I confess my love for you
and you, for once, accept it?
Can you confess your love for me?

Perhaps you can’t. At least
with cleaner feet you’ll sleep
while I am praying:
on cleaner feet you’ll run.

The image is a mosaic in Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice, by Unknown – Web Gallery of Art, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15611336

In the Silence

DSC_0198

“After that no one dared to ask him any question.”
— Mark 12:34

What had you to say that was so special, Jesus?
Not much. Just: “Love your God,” and “Love your neighbor.”
Hardly original. Hardly profound. Hardly unheard,
or unthought, or unsaid, or unique.
Not much. Just: “Love your God,” and, “Love your neighbor.”
That. That is all.

And after that no one dared to ask you any question.

Ha! I’ve got questions, Jesus, yes, I’ve got questions.
Like: “What does it mean to love God?” After all,
this Blessed Creator needs nothing of me.
What have I to offer the Author of
Everything? “Love.” Love? Seriously, love?
That. That is all.

And after that no one dared to ask you any question.

Ha! I’ve got questions, Jesus, yes, I’ve got questions.
Like: “Who is my neighbor?” (Oh, wait, you answered
that one, so…) “What does it mean to love
my neighbor?” Got you there, now didn’t I?
Except, of course, I know when I’ve been loved…
That. That is all.

And after that no one dared to ask you any question.

Neither, then, my Savior, will I dare.
Why? I know the answers. All you did
was call me to the roots, the ground, the soil
of my faith, the seed which bears within it
the flower and the fruits of… love.
That. That is all.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 12:28-34, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for Year B, Proper 26. The commandment to love God is found in Deuteronomy 6, and the commandment to love the neighbor is found in Leviticus 19.

Photo of a seaside naupaka in blossom by Eric Anderson.

Hardness of Heart

Heart_of_stone_Israel“Because of your hardness of heart
he wrote this commandment for you.”

Where is my heart hard, O God?
I know, to my shame, of my hardness
of heart to one who I loved. Love ends
in pain: pain I inflicted on myself.

“Because of your hardness of heart
he wrote this commandment for you.”

Where is my heart hard, O God?
Am I so conditioned to suffering
and sighs that I turn away? A hard heart
would break at the wails of caged children.

“Because of your hardness of heart
he wrote this commandment for you.”

Where is my heart hard, O God?
Must I shout “Not me!” when they cry,
“Me, too!” No fingers point my way…
Unless they point toward a frozen heart.

“Because of your hardness of heart
he wrote this commandment for you.”

Let the little children come to me, you said.
Let the women come to me, you said.
Let the suffering and the sick come to me, you said.
Let the broken, the poor, the unprivileged.

Now I come, my Savior, to offer my hard heart.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 10:2-16, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for Year B, Proper 22.

The photo is of a beach sculpture in Israel. Photo by Peter van der Sluijs. Used by permission under Creative Commons license.

The Puzzled Nene

20170729 NeneThere was a young nene — that’s the Hawaiian goose, by the way, and did you know that it’s Hawai’i’s state bird? Good!

There was a young nene who lived on the slopes of Kilauea. Sometimes he’d be high up on the mountain, flying in search of ripe ‘ohelo or grass seeds or naupaka berries. Sometimes he’d fly makai, down to the rocky shoreline, where the other naupaka might be ripe.

It was on one of those days — when he was happily swallowing down the white ripe naupaka berries with some friends — when something unexpected appeared. A tall creature, standing easily five or six times his own height, came around a rock and stopped abruptly, standing on two legs. Three or four others appeared as well, stepping up onto rocks and coming into view.

The nene gave a small honk of greeting, but the creatures made no such understandable sound back. They did seem to be calling to each other.

They didn’t approach; in fact, they drew back some after the initial encounter. The nene found that puzzling. He was surprised that they didn’t come near.

Even more puzzling, they each produced flat rectangular objects that they held between themselves and the little group of nene. That made no sense at all to young bird, or to any of his friends. Did these creatures not want to look at them?

Most puzzling of all, after a time of box-holding, non-sensical noise-making, and back-drawing, the creatures turned on their two heels and walked away. Without eating a single naupaka berry.

To a hungry nene, that was the most puzzling thing of all.

If the nene ever learned what it was all about, I never heard about it. There were many things he didn’t know. He didn’t know that he and his friends were rather rare, and that humans had come to care about them. He didn’t know that humans aren’t supposed to approach nene, and if they do, they’re supposed to step away without troubling them. He didn’t know that humans are supposed to leave their food alone, so that the nene have enough to eat. He didn’t know any of that.

He didn’t know that there were people watching over him and his cousins, to see that they had every chance to live a good and healthy nene life.

Unlike the nene, we do know that God watches over us. We may not know precise how God is caring for us at any given moment, but we do know that God care at every single moment.

We know that God is always there.

Photo by Eric Anderson, taken with a flat rectangular object that shielded his face from the nene.