The surf is high on the Kohala Coast on the Big Island in Hawaii. The waves rear like stallions reaching for the sky. They rise proudly, knowing their power and showing their glassy underbelly. They spew banks of furious foam and crash down into the soft sandy beds, churning the sludge into the whirling white froth, browning the aquamarine brilliance. Then, as though spent from such fierce motion and drive, the waves ease gently upon the half moon of beach, caressing the buffed and print-less shore.
We walked along the edge of the sea, marking the sand with our bare feet, feeling its cool wetness, its packed density. The ocean roared and thundered under a huge steely sky and a pale sun filtered through, here on this ancient Hawaiian Island, home of kings, queens, and volcano fire. Today is a soft day playing upon the border of rain and sun, with palms dancing, beckoning to the skies, praying for the light.
We walked to the edge of the cove and I stumbled on a rocky lava outcrop, bruising my heel. It was so easily done, here in this sensory paradise of seeing and hearing, so easy not to look at my feet, to look beyond to the roaring surf, to misstep. It is a mesmerizing world, a world of beauty laced with danger. It is a land where not all is as it seems.
For we do indeed live in a beautiful, fallen world. Just as we, as human beings, are at once beautiful and fallen from grace. These islands remind me of this paradox, and today I recalled the importance of watching where I step. The water was shallow where I slipped, and the bottom seemed sandy, but in fact was a churning eddy masking the hard rock. The eddy swirled into and over and I didn’t see beneath the surface.
And indeed, today, this Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, I can feel Lent approach and my mind begins to turn to my falls and scrapes of the past year, when I stumbled, righted myself, and got back on track again. I recall those moments when I didn’t see beneath the surface. Lent is late this year, hinging on a late Easter which is in turn set by the moon’s journey. Some years we have two Sundays following Epiphany and other years up to six Sundays. This is a six-Sunday year. Little Lent begins in two weeks, February 20, and Lent proper is five and a half weeks away. Easter is not until April 24.
The path is not always clear, and eddies often stir up the sands, muddying our vision. And to stretch the metaphor, I often feel I am walking on the edge of two worlds, much like where the sea kisses the land, where the land embraces the sea. They are the worlds of the seen and the unseen, the world of time and of eternity, earth and heaven. The roar of the surf is my heartbeat and I walk through time stepping carefully, looking for the path, watching for sharp shoals in muddy eddies.
Yesterday, as day turned to dusk, the sun descended slowly through a heavy cloudbank and emerged from the gray mass of sky as a giant red ball balancing on the horizon. Our earth turned slowly in a backwards arc, away from the fiery disc on the edge of the sea. It looked to us as if the sun had set into the sea, but we know better. We know we are the journeying planet, not the sun. Planet Earth rolls on, orbiting through dizzying space, through starry time.
We are small in this vast wondrous land of power. We try and make ourselves big with our building and our taming of the land, with our self delusions. But the natural world, the earth, is far larger than our population, and, it seems, what numbers we have are diminishing. The natural world is also far more powerful. It took man many centuries to feel safe, and we hold onto that safety by a thread.
When I think these things, and feel these moments of insignificance in this land of sea and sky, I think back to Christmas and the great hope of the Incarnation. I consider God’s immense love to come among us little folks whom he created so many years ago. I marvel that the creator of this incredible world became one of us and took on our flesh, with all of our temptations and burdens. And I give great thanks that with his coming to us he gives us his own life, himself, his Spirit. No longer are we little. We are Sons of God. We are Children of God. We have God with us, in us. We have the promise of eternity.
Epiphany is the drawing out of the stupendous and powerful meaning of the Incarnation. When we catch a glimpse of what God has done for us, when we begin to sense his immense love, when we ask this great God into our little hearts, only then can we continue the journey to his cross. For it is his path on earth that we shall follow in the coming months, his healings and his miracles, his teachings about the kingdom. We shall prepare ourselves for his death with our Lenten rules of prayer and fasting so that we can share in his resurrection from the tomb on Easter morning.