FINDING THE BEAUTY OF GOD IN NATURE A Reflection on a pilgrimage to Hawaii by the J2A Youth of St Luke’s Church, Alexandria, Virginia
These are the things that I, Makoli, learned. What I write here are my thoughts and feelings based on the experiences of spending time in close quarters with eight other pilgrims.
Saturday, June 20 “Travel-to-Hawaii” day! We gathered at the church in the early morning. Ketlen handed out the t-shirts, which had our names in Hawaiian on them. We said good-byes to parents, pets and good friends, and loaded ourselves into the vans after praying a Native American prayer led by Tuck. Keke (Ketlen) took charge at the airport, checking us all in at the ticket counter. Savannah retrieved her wallet before boarding the plane, and I reviewed the material that Kokonui (Scott S.) gave me about King Kamehameha IV, Queen Emma and Father Damien. The pilgrims brought a large amount of reading material with them, and they bought even more in Hawaii. I learned that pilgrims are voracious readers.
I was the only pilgrim without a boarding pass on the flight from LA to Honolulu, so I stood in line over an hour waiting to get on the plane. Keke got on the plane, but came back into the terminal to make sure I made it on the plane. She was not going to allow the plane to go Hawaii without all the pilgrims! I learned that Keke takes very good care of her flock.
We arrived at Camp Erdmann on the North Shore of Oahu very late at night, and were thrilled to see the pile of goodies and supplies the Weavers had procured for us: pillows, jugs of water (refreshing!!!), beach blankets, and breakfast bars. We made up our bunks and tumbled into bed. I learned that pilgrims fall asleep quickly after a long trip.
Sunday, June 21 The worst thing about traveling from the East Coast to Hawaii is the time difference, 5 hours. Alternatively, the greatest thing about traveling from the East Coast to Hawaii is the time difference, 5 hours. Waking teens for an 8 o’clock service on any Sunday is a dreaded task for parents, and waking 6 teens after a full day of airplane flight seemed improbable to impossible. But since it was the equivalent of 1 pm body time, all of the pilgrims arose and were ready to attend the 8 o’clock service held at the Cathedral Church of St. Andrews in Honolulu, 35 miles from our camp. The Weavers met us just outside the church, a welcome connection to our familiar Virginia parish. We sat in the third pew from the front, and we comprised about one-third to one-half of the early morning congregation. Just as we got settled in the pews in the beautiful nave, I heard three long eerie, breathy sounds. I realized that the celebrant was blowing a conch shell just as we would ring our bell, calling all worshipers to enter the sanctuary. It sent shivers up my spine. Then, instead of a resounding chord from the organ, the solo voice of a woman chorister began the processional chant, singing in Hawaiian. I turned around to watch the procession and was greeted with the most amazing sight of the full-wall stained-glass window soaring to the roof line. Sunlight streamed through the window, a riot of color and stunning beauty. Lectors read the lessons in Hawaiian. The psalm was chanted. It seemed especially appropriate that it was Father’s Day, a day to think about our relationship with God, the Father. This is what I took away from Father Tim’s homily: “Open my heart, Lord.” As the service drew to a quiet close, I realized that the choir was humming very softly, gradually growing louder, but still only approaching mezzo piano. They sang the recessional hymn a cappella, in Hawaiian, a gentle closing to a meditative service. I was very moved by the way the service ended, and every time I think of it, or tell someone about it, my heart feels glad and full of love, and it brings tears to my eyes.
I learned that attending a worship service anywhere brings me closer to God and allows me to hear The Word anew. I learned that attending this service should be on every Episcopalian’s bucket list. I learned to pray, saying, “Open my heart, Lord.”
After the service we were showered with welcome kits, kind wishes, shell lei (the plural of “lei” is “lei”), and invitations to the coffee hour, the rummage sale, bell ringing in the tower and tours of the cathedral. Every member of the congregation was bursting to tell us of the history of the church and Hawaii, and it was obvious that it meant a great deal to them to share this with us. Everyone took their ministry seriously, with a great sense of fun and adventure. We learned about bell ringing, spending an hour in the bell tower, and we learned about the founding of the Anglican Church in Hawaii through the invitation of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, and Queen Liliuokalani’s role in the church.
We walked to Chinatown, a few blocks from St. Andrew’s, and feasted on Chinese food. After lunch we returned to the van, still parked at the church, and changed into swim gear. A parishioner showed us where to change and then gave us directions to a less-crowded beach at the east end of Waikiki, almost to Diamondhead. We drove back to Haleiwa for dinner, eating at Killer Tacos. We did not find Kua Aina that night. We held evening prayer outside our cabins.
I learned that typos can happen anywhere, even in tour guides.
Monday, June 22 We ate breakfast and gathered for Morning Prayer, and reflected upon King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma’s contributions to Hawaii. Our goal today: snorkeling! We stopped along the way for shaved ice at Matsumoto’s Store. All the colors and flavors of the rainbow greeted our tongues! On the road again, our destination was Pupukea, a sacred place to Hawaiians where human sacrifices took place. The twelve-passenger van was put to the test as the narrow road quickly climbed up from the ocean and met a truck at a 270 degree curve. Ketlen did an amazing job getting us to the top. “It’s just like driving in Haiti!” she sang out. I thought we were going to have to install a hinge to get the van around the curve. Pupukea covered a hilltop above Waimea Bay, and the ground was red-blood clay. It was raining at the top of the hill, and the clay stuck to flip-flops, sneakers and bare feet, with no discrimination at all. Later, we found out that it rains constantly at Pupukea. In the afternoon we rented snorkeling equipment and sent everyone into the water to see the fishes and turtles. We explored beaches on the way to Kohuku. We ate at Giovanni’s shrimp truck, where Evan wrote “Evan St Luke’s Pilgrimage ‘09” on the truck with a sharpie. At Compline that night we discussed worship styles, the different daily services, and the length and tone of services. We talked about nuns and monks who pray for us all the time. We listed many things we are thankful for.
I learned that our pilgrims are thankful for turtles.
Tuesday, June 23The morning began for me just after sunrise. I joined Scott S. who was talking with Naomi, who was visiting with her daughter. She was quite the story-teller and had lots of interesting stories! She told us how her 4-year old granddaughter let her know that she knew that Naomi was old. Naomi asked her granddaughter to explain, and she said, “Nona, I know you’re old because your band aids don’t have pictures on them.” After our morning devotion, we set off for Pearl Harbor. Taylor Skardon called in advance to reserve tickets for a tour. We had time to tour the exhibits at the visitor’s center before watching the film and taking a boat ride to the Arizona memorial. The film was introduced by a WWII veteran who added personal reflections and set the proper tone for viewing the film. The Memorial is a sobering, quiet and reflective place. So many people sacrificed their lives for our future. It’s difficult to put into words exactly what I felt, but I was thankful for the opportunity to feel the enormity decisions made by governments that create chaos in people’s lives, and to understand that it is individuals who must work through the chaos to create harmony again.
We ate lunch at Schooners, a place recommended to us by Taylor and the Weavers, and we stopped off at St. George’s, the church that the Skardons attend. We learned from Taylor that Tom Stallman helped to install the cross atop the church. We stopped at a drugstore to buy water and Band-Aids with pictures on them. We worshiped together in the morning and in the evening.
I learned that positive lessons can be learned from destruction. I learned that only old people wear band aids without pictures on them. I learned that parishioners from St Luke’s leave lasting impressions in places far from Alexandria.
Wednesday, June 24 Wednesday went by in a blur. We arose, ate breakfast, worshipped outside the cabins at the picnic table, and set off for the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, a point on the Windward side of Oahu. If Oahu is a clock, we were staying at 10, and Makapuu was at 4. It was a very sunny day, and we had heard that the trail offered no shade cover at all. We talked about how much water to take with us, how to carry that much water, and how much suntan lotion to use. As we scooted down the H1, we decided to stop off at the Lyon Arboretum, just north of Waikiki on the mountain sides perched above Honolulu. The Lyon Arboretum is located within a rain forest, and it was beautiful. There are miles of trails through lush vegetation and stream valleys. The pilgrims split into 3 groups and soon we were all exploring gardens full of native plants that were exotic to us. We eventually regrouped and ate lunch at the arboretum in a gazebo, joined by a dog named Kona.
Apparently, we soon decided to abandon the lighthouse walk, and we drove through the central part of Oahu to the Pali, a sheer cliff that divided the windward from the leeward sides. Until the late 1950’s, there was no direct route from Honolulu to the windward side. The Pali Road was a dangerous, windy, curvy donkey trail widened to barely accommodate 2 cars in the 20th century. In the 50’s a tunnel was built through the cliff to directly connect Honolulu with Kailua. A park sits atop the cliff, and it is the windiest place on earth. The Pali is a narrow gap between 2 higher mountain tops, and it becomes a wind tunnel. Evan, Scott and Kyle climbed above the Pali Overlook and felt the wind at its full force. Caitlin, Savannah and Julia walked on the old road below the Pali Overlook and felt the wind at its full force. I stayed on the Pali Overlook and was almost blown over any number of times. I also saw images of pilgrims’ lifeless bodies at the bottom of the cliff as my over-active imagination kicked into overdrive, and dreaded making the call to their parents. All pilgrims regrouped safe and sound, excited by their adventures. I have to admit that letting out the rope and allowing them the space to learn their limits and use their judgment to gauge their safety is an important component of mentoring.
Our destination in the afternoon was the Valley of the Temples, a huge cemetery on the windward side. We visited a replica of a Buddhist temple. The temple was beautiful. There was a large temple bell that several of our pilgrims rang. Its sound was gorgeous. Peacocks ruled the roost and harassed Savannah. The place was peaceful and quiet. The temple was only a small section of the cemetery, and the visit made me think about what we do with our human remains. What does it mean for our families? This was a place of life, abundant; death, abundant. What did it all mean?
We followed the main road around Oahu in a counter-clockwise direction, and ate at Romy’s shrimp shack for dinner. We stopped off at the Foodland, and caught a rainbow! Sunset on the beach at Shark’s Cove was a great way to end the day. We gathered for our evening worship and prepared for the service at the River of Life Mission to be presented the next day.
I learned that I feel the presence of God when I am surrounded by natural beauty. I learned that I need to believe in a youth’s ability to care for their self (ie: chill!). I learned that silence and peacefulness are comforting.
Thursday, June 25 As usual, we’re up early. We eat breakfast, and worship, but also make a call to Taylor Skardon to consult about the availability of doctors and emergency care physicians. Julia has an earache, and we find out that there is a walk-in clinic close to the airport. Good, we already know where this place is!! It didn’t take forever to see a doctor, and Julia came out with 2 prescriptions.
We headed to River of Life Mission, just prior to noon and set up for a worship/praise service before serving lunch to the clients. Scott S. picked out several hymns and Mission favorites for us to sing, including a mission favorite called “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.” The youth acted out the gospel reading, and Ketlen delivered a knockout message. The clients told Evan that they thought we sang like angels. The staff directed several of us to go into the food line area to put food onto trays, while other stayed in the dining room to deliver trays and pour drinks. Scott S. sat at the piano and played for more than 2 solid hours. It was quite a blessing to hear music the whole time we were serving others. It didn’t feel like work at all.
After the lunchtime cleanup was completed, the staff took us on a tour of the River of Life Mission building and told us about their programs. We heard the stories of several clients, but one in particular has stayed with me, and I think of him every day. Chris told us his story of redemption. His was a long story, and I lost count of the number of times he went through drug rehab. But he kept on trying to find the right path. If you ever want to see a truly happy person, meet Chris. He glowed with joy and happiness in the security of the Lord’s grace. He is happy because he chose to believe in Christ. Chris does not have an easy life; he has overcome many challenges, and has many yet to conquer. But Chris has an incredible inner happiness and calm to him that can only be attributed to the grace of God. Seeing and hearing him filled my heart with gladness. He reminded me that I, too, have chosen Christ, and I need to be conscious about how this choice governs my actions.
I only have a few pictures of that day, taken late in the evening. Our valuables were locked in a file cabinet drawer as soon as we entered the mission. After we left the mission, we filled Julia’s prescriptions. We visited Walgreen’s and Wal-Mart before getting the right mix that would work. It was bonding kind of day, I would say… We ate dinner that evening in Haleiwa, and returned to the camp for our evening worship.
I learned that there are people who really, really, really believe in Christ and are not shy about sharing that belief. I learned that caring for others and caring for each other is equally important. I learned that I am truly blessed by God, I learned that music is a powerful ministry.
Friday, June 26
Quotes from my journal on this day: I notice when I go out to the beach in front of the cabins at sunrise that more rocks are exposed than earlier in the week at the same time. Ah, the joy of staying in one place. The unknown becomes familiar, just like we learn to know Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. But we always discover new surprises. The level of the tide, the depth of our faith, they are ever changing. Stay in one place long enough to get to know it. Stay with Christ long enough to feel His love. Ever changing. Alpha and Omega. Evermore and Evermore. Get to know a place so that when you leave, you will miss it. Learn to love and respect Christ enough to know how much you need him.
We follow the pattern set during the week: view the sunrise, walk along the beach, eat breakfast, gather for Morning Prayer, and get in the van. Today is the day we learn to surf!! We go to Barber’s Point, close to where Bobbie Bruce stayed when she taught school in Hawaii. Scott S. and Ketlen decide to stay on the beach to observe and cheer. The rest of us put on reef shoes and rash guards (a long-sleeved t-shirt) and watch the first class of the day finish. It looks like fun! The instructors are all very fit. They guarantee that we WILL stand up on our board, or get our money back. After some demos on moving the board through the water, and the theory behind standing up on the board, we drag our board to the edge of the surf and swim out to an area between 2 pink buoys about 150 yards from shore. Here is the truth—Surfing is a lot harder than it looks!! You know the wave that knocks you down? Well, when you hold a surf board, the wave has even more surface to hit and knock you even further and harder. Savannah, Caitlin, Julia, Evan, Scott and Kyle all had a great time surfing. I had a great time surfing, I just didn’t do it as long as they did. The instructors actually pushed me out to catch a wave, and sometimes they hooked their toes over the front of my board and dragged me out. Did I mention they were fit? I stood up once. I screamed as I stood so everyone could see me stand up, because I figured it may be the only time I did it. I can say that I did it. I admire the tenacity of all the pilgrims as they surfed for 1 ½ hours. They were awesome!!
That evening we drove to Turtle Bay Resort, east of the camp, on the North Shore, for a Polynesian luau. It was our last night in Hawaii, and we all dressed up for the occasion. The luau was held outside, and the sunset that evening was gorgeous. The luau also featured dances from Polynesian regions. The music and dances were unique and beautiful. Evan learned a hula. We had an opportunity to sample native foods from the buffet. Our evening ended, as usual, with a brief worship service. We bid each other good night and agreed on a time to rise to pack and clear out the cabins. We also agreed to rise in time for a sunrise Eucharist.
I learned that anyone can surf, if you have the right equipment, good instructors, good waves and the willpower to do it. I learned that sunrises and sunsets in Hawaii are especially beautiful.
Saturday, June 27
Departure day. I wake up early, or so I think, but Kyle and Scott M. are already on the beach before sunrise. The others gather, and Ketlen leads us through the Eucharist. The youth are sleepy-tired, but they all participate in the service to the best of their ability. The daylight continues to brighten the beach, and it becomes easier and easier to distinguish the hills behind the camp, the rocks along the beach, and the bright yellow paint on our cabins. We greet the day with the blessing of the Lord upon us.
I now know since I can’t stay in Haleiwa, I must return at some point. That was before we ate breakfast at Café Haleiwa. After that breakfast, I wanted to cash in my plane ticket. We spent the morning hanging out in Haleiwa, eating coconut ice cream for the last time, and then headed down toward the airport. Where were we to park the van with all of our belongings? We headed to the relative safety of the Ala Moana mall parking garage, where we could take care of last-minute souvenir shopping and also eat at the food court before dropping off the van and boarding our plane. Ketlen ministered to a lost soul in the Sears store who desperately needed to hear the word of Christ.
Ketlen and I dropped off the van that had served us so well during the week, and returned to the airport. We managed to run several bags multiple times through the Department of Agriculture machine (never did figure out exactly what was going on there…) and we all made it through security to the gate, to find that our flight was delayed by an hour or so. Our seats were scattered throughout the plane, and since we left at 10pm Hawaii time, we all looked forward to sleeping on the plane and waking up in Denver.
We ate breakfast in Denver, and just before boarding the plane, Ketlen served a Eucharist. I said goodbye to the pilgrims in Denver. I feel very fortunate to have spent the week in Hawaii with Ketlen, Scott S., Caitlin, Scott M., Savannah, Evan, Julia and Kyle. They have all taught me many lessons, about myself, about them, and about God. Bless you all.
I learned that taking a wrong turn is not terminal.
I learned that to be a good pilgrim you need to open your heart and all of your senses to the possibility of meeting God.