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.

Love Like the Wind

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Kite in flight

A little girl set out one day with two things on her mind; two things she was determined to do.

The first looked pretty simple: she wanted to fly a kite.

The second looked more difficult: she wanted to know how she’d know when somebody loved her. She was pretty sure that this was the more awkward question.

That meant that the kite came first.

She got it out of its package, and she put the sticks in their places. She stretched the fabric over it, and attached a streamer tail to the end. She got out the kite string, and attached it to the kite with a good knot. She was all set to fly.

Unfortunately, she’d chosen to go out on a day which lacked one critical ingredient: wind.

Wind is usually plentiful here in East Hawai’i, but not that day. It was one of the hot, still, and muggy days of summer. I guess there was a storm offshore that blocked the trade winds from blowing, and the storm’s winds hadn’t reached Hilo yet.

Whatever the cause, there simply wasn’t a breeze to be felt.

She gave it her all, though. She raced back and forth across her chosen field, letting the kite string out behind her, and gasping each time the kite seemed to take leap skyward on her leg-driven wind.

Each time she came to stop, though, the kite would sag in mid-air, and fall gracelessly to the ground. Sometimes it would plunge to earth even as she ran. All in all, it was really frustrating.

Nothing she tried would get the kite to fly.

Grumbling, she went to see her grandfather, hoping that he would have some wisdom that would get the kite to fly. She poured out her troubles as he listened, and he cast a glance at the trees, where the immobile leaves confirmed the problem.

“I’m sorry,” he gently said when her sad tale had ended, “but without any wind a kite won’t fly.”

Some tears later (she’d been counting on this, after all), she remembered her other question for the day. Rather hopelessly, given how the kite flying had turned out, she raised her other question.

“Grandfather,” she asked, “how do I know when someone loves me?”

Grandfather considered this for a few moments, and smiled.

“Think about your kite for a moment. Without wind, what does it do?”

“Nothing,” pouted the granddaughter. “It falls to the ground.”

“Love is like the wind that lifts the kite,” said Grandfather. “If you feel like somebody is lifting you up; if you feel like somebody is supporting you; if you feel like somebody has helped you to fly, that’s somebody loving you. That’s how you know.”

As she listened, the girl realized that, despite the sorrows that had brought her to her grandfather, she now felt lifted up. She now felt supported. She now felt like her soul had taken flight – a low, short flight (it must be confessed), but flying nevertheless.

So she gave her grandfather and big hug, and said to him, “You mean like right now?”

Grandfather looked at her, and inside he, too, felt like he was being lifted up, like he was being supported. He felt his soul flying. So he smiled his widest as he said:

“Yes, granddaughter. Just like right now.”

There may not have been a kite flying that day, but two souls soared on the wind of love.

Addendum: It was at this point that one of the young people said to me, “Could you please tell us that she was able to fly the kite the next day?”

Why, yes. As it happened, the wind returned the next day, and she was able to fly her kite. Even better, though, it was also a day when she felt lifted up by love as well.

And that’s the best kind of day of all.

Magic Words

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Painting by Jacob Hane

‘Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the house,
The children were screaming –
And they’d frightened the mouse.

Well, I’m afraid that’s as far as my memory will let me get with rhyming. So I’ll have to tell you the rest as a story. OK?

Sometimes, when children are screaming, it’s good screaming. Sometimes you’re just so happy or full of energy or overflowing with good feelings that they come out at full voice. And if everybody else is doing the same thing, well, it just gets louder and louder, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, on this day, in this house, the screams weren’t happy screams. The kids were screaming with anger.

They’d reached the point – you’ve been there, right? – where they’d forgotten what they were mad about. It was all just yelling and name-calling and sorrow and rage now. Lots and lots of screaming.

One of the children went in search of the mother, who had sought a place at the far side of the house in the (forlorn) hope of escaping the screaming din. The child, with some difficulty because of the way tears and indignation combine to disrupt a coherent story, demanded that the mother come and stop all the rest of the children from being jerks.

“Well,” said the mother, “why don’t you just use the magic word?”

The child had some experience of this, however, and would not be put off by this ploy. With folded arms, a tossed head, and (I’m afraid) rolling eyes, the child informed the mother that “Please” had already been tried and the other children were still jerks.

“All right,” said the mother. “Why don’t you try this one?”

Leaning over, she whispered softly and briefly in the child’s ear. The child’s face went through the contortions of surprise and puzzlement, but recognizing that this step had to be taken before anything else happened, the child made the trip back to the other side of the house and the screaming room.

The screaming, I have to admit, continued.

But a few minutes later, one of the other children appeared before the mother with the same complaint. Once again, she whispered a few words into the ear, and the child exited her room, with a face filled with surprise and doubt.

The screaming continued, but with somewhat less volume.

One by one, all the children made their way to see the mother, and one by one returned with the same whispered instructions. Finally the last and littlest one seized her hand and would not let go until she, too, made her way to the surprisingly quiet screaming room.

The children were no longer screaming. They were repeating their magic words, sometimes one after another, sometimes overlapping each other, sometimes all at the same time. Their faces held the surprise that had overwhelmed them some time ago when the screaming faded away.

They were all saying, “I love you.”

I can’t promise that those words will magically end any of the screaming matches you find yourselves in. I can definitely tell you that it’s worth trying: It’s worth trying to say them, and it’s definitely worth trying to live up to them.

As for the mother, she smiled.

This story takes its inspiration from one told in my hearing some years ago by the Rev. Dr. Ronald Brown, senior pastor of First Congregational Church UCC in Southington, Connecticut. I haven’t found that story available online, but you’ll find Ron’s wit, wonder, and wisdom on his blog.