In the Silence

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“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.

The Hungry Kohola

humpback calfShe was born in the waters that lie between Maui and the Kohala Peninsula of Hawai’i Island. At birth, she was already about twenty feet long.

Were any of you twenty feet long when you were born? No? Hm. I guess none of us are twenty feet long now, either.

She was, in fact, a whale. A humpback whale, a kohola. As she grew, she’d swim with her mother in the warm Pacific Ocean. She learned to eat the food that her mother and father and myriad cousins ate: She dive into the deeps, and open her mouth wide. As the water swirled in, it carried fish and shrimp and squid (it helps if you think of it as calamari) and tiny animals and floating plants. Then she’d close her mouth, push the water out, and sweeps everything else from her baleen plates with her tongue, and swallow.

Ah, now that’s a meal! If you’re a kohola, anyway.

But then her mother said it was time to leave Hawai’i and swim north to the Bering Sea. Away they went.

As they swam, the water got colder. The young kohola started to worry. The cool water felt fine to her, but what about the other creatures of the sea? More to the point, what about the ones she liked to eat? What if they didn’t like cold water? Would they still be there when she dove and opened her mouth wide?

What if there wasn’t any food in cold water?

But she’d follow her mother and the rest of the pod as they dove, and every time they did, they found fish and shrimp and squid (sorry, calamari) and everything else she liked to eat. They never had trouble keeping her growing belly full.

She rose to the surface to breathe, and sang, “They’re everywhere!”

Well, she was young. Fish and shrimp and squid (calamari) aren’t everywhere in the ocean, though it may seem so. What is everywhere, though, is the love of God. It always surrounds us, always feeds us, always sustains us, even when we don’t know.

The love of God is everywhere. You’ve nothing to worry about there.

The image of a kohola mother and calf was taken in the waters off Maui, and comes from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration collection. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79963

Ahi Afloat

Yellowfin_tuna_nurpAs far as this one newly hatched ahi was concerned, it all happened very quickly. One moment he was floating, newly hatched, in a sea filled with eggs. The next moment he was surrounded by newly hatched ahi, a cloud of silvery motion.

As ahi do, he grew quickly, and with the others he swam with the school of larger adults. They taught him what fishes were good to eat, and they taught him what fishes were good to swim away from, and they taught him how to swim very very fast when other fishes thought he might be good to eat. He learned a lot.

After all, he was in school.

(Moans from the congregation)

Now, really. You knew I was telling a story about a schooling fish and thought I wouldn’t make that pun?

(Rueful laughter. The children, by the way, were not impressed with the pun.)

There was one other thing they taught him. They told him not to swim too deep. They probably didn’t have to, because when he looked down, he saw the water get darker and darker, and it seemed pretty threatening to him. He had no interest in falling into the depths.

But he did start wondering how he would keep from doing so.

You see, that was something of a mystery to him. He saw other things descending from above, and sinking down into the murky depths.

No, not rocks. There aren’t a lot of rocks coming down from the surface in the middle of the ocean. Just take it from me there’s stuff that goes down.

He didn’t want to go down with it. And he couldn’t figure out why he didn’t.

Because he could swim? Well, yes. That was part of it. But mostly, it was because he was surrounded by water. He didn’t even think about it, it was so much a part of his life. You and I, we move pretty easily through the air and don’t think much about it. He was pushing against the water all the time with his tail to get himself moving, and with his flippers to change direction, and never thought about the water being there to push against at all.

It was the very water whose depths frightened him that held him up.

Now, the love is God is not like the water. But just as the water surrounded him so much that he stopped being aware of it, God’s love is around us all the time, so that we might not be aware of it. It’s around us, and even inside us.

And because it’s there all the time, it’s easy to forget God’s love is there. Yet there it is.

Oh, yes: there it is.

Hidden Things

Pacific_Golden_Plover_hawaii_RWDAs I invited the young people to come forward, I gathered my notes and brought them down front with me. 

I don’t usually bring notes with me for these stories, but I’ve managed to get the name of this bird wrong five times this morning, and I want to get it right. Because this story is about a kolea.

There are a lot of kolea about this island these days. In English, they’re called the [look at notes] the Pacific Golden Plover (the Hawaiian name is easier, isn’t it?). They’re all born in Alaska, which is a long way from here, and they have the good sense to fly here to Hawai’i to spend the winter. That’s where they are now, but they’re all getting ready to go back to Alaska. There they’ll look to find mates, and build nests, and lay eggs, and hatch chicks, and raise the young birds.

And then they’ll fly three or four days, flying without landing, to come back to this island again.

Well, this one young kolea had only made one of those long flights: the time she flew here after her birth in Alaska. That had been a grueling four days, but she made it, and she had enjoyed her stay here on Hawai’i. The time is coming for her to make the trip to Alaska for the first time.

Which means that she eats pretty much anything she can find, so she’ll have the strength. But she’s also wondering what will happen back in Alaska.

Will she find someone to build a nest with, and raise a family with? Will she find love? And how will she know?

The older birds have been telling her not to worry. Male kolea fly and dive about to show their territory. There are calls and hops and ways to hold their wings.

One older female took her to a grassy place, maybe a little bit like our lanai, and said, “Look there. Is there anything to eat in that grassy place?”

The kolea looked, and quickly counted eight bugs and two slugs.

Yes, kolea like slugs. I’m glad something does. I’m really glad that something isn’t me!

“Yes,” she said, “I count eight bugs and two slugs.”

Why are you making that face? Oh. You don’t like thinking about eating slugs. Well, I don’t either. We’ll think about something else, then.

The older kolea said, “Look again. Now tell me, how many of those do you actually see?’

“Well,” said the younger one. “Just two, actually.”

“How do you know the other ones are there?”

“I can see that they must be there. It’s how the grass moves, or doesn’t move when the wind is blowing.”

“That’s right,” said the older bird. “We learn about what is hidden by how it changes what we see.

“So don’t worry. There will be a bird who loves you. And he’ll show it. You’ll know how he feels by how he acts toward you. You’ll see more than enough signs to know.”

I’m sure she will.

And it’s true of us, too. We learn about what is hidden by the way it influences what we can see. So we can see that others love us by how they act toward us, how they care for us, how they listen to us and talk to us.

So that when somebody loves and care about you, you will know.

Photo is by Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18649090. Used by permission.

Of Love and Kites

two-kitesToday’s story features the same little girl from last week’s story. You remember her, right?

You don’t?

Well, she was the one who wanted to fly a kite and wanted to know how she’d know when she was loved. Does that sound familiar? No?

Well, it’s on the Internet. You can look it up.

Anyway, this same little girl got up one morning and, once again, she had two things that she wanted to do with her day.

The first one was that she wanted to spend time playing with her neighbor, a boy just a little younger than she was, and a good friend.

The second thing was that she wanted to know how she’d know when she was being loving to someone else. You really have to admit that she liked to ask the Big Questions.

Since she knew it was a Big Question, too, she decided to start with the easier one, so off she went to her friend’s house and knocked on the door. He was perfectly willing to play with her that day, which meant she’d already accomplished one of her goals.

In fact, he wanted to fly his brand new kite, which was even better, because now she knew how to get a kite in the air, since she had been in last week’s story.

And it was nice and windy that day.

So they carried the package with his new kite to a nice open space, and she set out to get it unpacked. She’d done this in the last story, so she knew how it went. She laid out all the pieces, and got the spars together, and got the fabric tight over everything. She attached the tail, and fastened the string to the kite with a good strong knot. Everything was ready to go.

She handed him the assembled kite and told him to stand off a few feet, and when she started running, to toss the kite into the air. Sure enough, when she took off, the kite leaped into the air like it was meant to fly (which, of course, it was) and danced higher and higher into the sky.

He came over and reached for the string, but she said, “No, no, let me show you how to do it,” and that’s when he burst into tears and ran home.

Leaving her all alone in the open field with his kite in the air.

Well, she brought it down to the ground, and wound up the string, and walked it back to his house. She could still hear the crying from outside, so she left the kite on the porch, and went to find her Grandfather.

She cried a few tears of her own as she told him the story.

“Just to make sure I understand,” said Grandfather when she was through, “Did he ask you to put his kite together?”

Well, no, he hadn’t.

“Did he ask you to show him how to fly it?”

No, he hadn’t done that either.

“Did you ask him at all what he needed from you, or what he wanted you to do?”

Well, no.

“When you do the things that people really want or really need,” Grandfather told her gently, “that’s how they know you’re being really loving. So the only way for you to know whether you’re being truly loving is to ask.”

Oh.

She went back to her friend’s house, and this time she knocked on the door. When he came to see her (it must be said that his mother had to tell him to do it), she apologized for doing everything he wanted to do with his kite, and humbly asked, “What do you want to do?”

“I’d like to fly the kite with my own hand on the string,” he said, somewhat cautiously, because he wasn’t sure what she’d say.

“Then let’s do that. I’ll hold the kite while you run and get it into the air,” she said, and that’s just what they did.

The next day, there was wind again, so they both brought their kites, and soon there were two of them aloft. As they watched the two kites dance in the sky, both of them knew this:

They’d been loving to each other.