Septuagesima Sunday

We flew home from Maui last night.

It was a long trip, up early in Hana, and home late in California.   Our bags were picked up as the sun rose over the sea through silvery clouds, as I said my morning prayers.  It was going to be a warm day, the sun conquering the clouds, the palms barely moving in the early air.

We boarded the small propjet waiting for us at the little Hana airport and soon were flying low along the coast to Kahului for our flight home to San Francisco.

As we flew low along the Maui cliffs, the sun turning the greens greener and blues bluer and the mist slipping lazily around the volcano, the sea this morning quietly lapping the red and black rock with it white foam, I thought about my week in Hana.

It was a great blessing to return to the scene of my novel, Hana-lani, and the folks in Hana greeted us like family, ohana, as, indeed, they always do.  There had been some changes to the Hotel Hana Maui, for they no longer have the weekly dance show, featuring the many generations of talented men, women, children of all ages, dancing the stories of their people.  Perhaps one day they will offer this again, a lovely warm outpouring of song that captures the melody, color, scents, moods, of this beautiful land.  The hula, when it is danced by these many generations, becomes a poem that I have always loved.

I was happy to leave copies of my novel with Neil Hasegawa of Hasegawa’s General Store in Hana, and to soon see it on display near the entrance (check for photos on my site soon,http://www.christinesunderland.com/).  Hasegawa’s is part of the American tradition of the general store with everything, so very necessary in a small community such as Hana.  Hardware, tee shirts, books, groceries.  I featured a scene here, as my characters stock up for a picnic.  I am also pleased to announce that the Hana Cultural Center (http://www.hanaculturalcenter.org/) and the Hotel Hana Maui (http://www.hotelhanamaui.com/) will be carrying copies of Hana-lani.  All author proceeds will be given to the community of Hana.

This morning was clear and cold, and Mount Diablo behind our house was covered in snow, which was strange since I could still hear the Hana surf pounding the black cliffs of Hana, the tumble, the roar, the glistening water rising and crashing.  Nevertheless, we donned our winter clothes and headed for church.

After checking on the children in the Sunday School, I soon realized it was Septuagesima Sunday, and “Little Lent” was beginning, those three weeks before Ash Wednesday.  The Epistle was one of my favorites, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in which he speaks of “running the race” for the “incorruptible crown.”  Corinth, in Paul’s time, was a center for the Roman games, so Saint Paul’s metaphor was particularly appropriate.  He goes on to talk of bringing his body into subjection, controlling his impulses, disciplining his behavior.  The Gospel, always connected thematically, included one of the “hard sayings” of Christ, that the last shall be first and the first last, that those who find God in the last days of their lives are counted the same as those who find Him in the early days.

So we run the race, we follow the law as best we can, we control selfish impulses.  Then our neighbor who has done none of these things, sails right into heaven at the end of his life.

Of course, as our preacher explained, we have the rewards of heaven immediately, and so we do.  We enjoy paradise now, we experience joy now, we have the certainty of the Holy Spirit weaving through us now.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything, and as I received the Eucharist, I knew how true this was, this present joy.

The lessons today were a fitting cap to my week in Hana for Hana-lanitalks about these things, the question of goodness, how can we know right from wrong in a world of unbelief.  How can we inform our public square with its many faiths, including no-faith, with the oughts and shoulds of the Judeo-Christian ethic?  The oughts and shoulds, the laws of our Founding Fathers, embedded in our Constitution and Bill of Rights?  Many folks are asking this question, for many are concerned.  We are a culture of freedom, of freedom to believe or not to believe.  But to preserve that very freedom, we must rely on a faith that embraces freedom, and not all do.  A true conundrum.

We run the race, and as T.S. Eliot says in his masterpiece, Four Quartets:

There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Only the trying.  As a Christian, I welcome Little Lent and soon to come, Lent proper.  It is a time to run the race, to exercise discipline of mind and body, to be one of the early laborers in the fields of our own lifetimes, so that we can know joy here and now, and not put such bliss off into the future.  I shall embrace the trying.

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