Monday, May 2, 2016

Seeking signs of new life

One of the most spectacular natural sights I have seen is watching, from sea at night, Kilauea's molten lava cascade into the ocean. Molten lava usually has a temperature in excess of 1200 F. In addition to a fiery iridescent beauty, its tremendous destructive power indifferently destroys homes and other structures in its path.
Once or twice most weeks, I walk in Kewalo Basin Park. For several months I wondered about a large shed with fishing nets prominently posted with signs declaring, "Kupu." My Hawaiian is extremely limited, but I do know that kapu means keep out or forbidden, so that seemed an unlikely interpretation.
Eventually, I saw a young man exiting the shed as I was approaching it. Our eyes met and I seized the opportunity to inquire about the meaning of kupu. He appeared pleased that I would take a moment to inquire and explained that the kupu is a fern, which is often the first plant to grow on freshly cooled lava. Kupu, he continued without embarrassment, is an organization that helps young people like him get a second start. He invited me to visit Kupu when I had more time to learn about the organization.[1]
It's easy to forget that the Hawaiian Islands exist because of volcanoes. Beneath all of the buildings, roads, and other structures that humans have added, beneath all of the lush flora and coral, these islands are huge piles of ash, cinder, and lava. The death and destruction of volcanic eruptions makes life here possible. You and I, this parish and school, this community and this city all are kupu, new life that flourishes where once there was only uninhabitable barrenness.
In today's gospel, Jesus said that those who love him would keep his word and he gave them his peace.[2] Jesus' command is that we love one another. Love is not the absence of conflict. Human uniqueness – each person is a unique individual – inevitably leads to disagreement and conflict. For example, no child matures into adulthood without experiencing conflict with her or his parents. Instead of our futilely attempting to avoid conflict, loving one another demands mutual respect and learning to see God in one another.
In today's gospel, Jesus also gave his peace to his disciples, that is, to you and to me. Peace is not the absence of conflict. The biblical concept of peace – both the word eirene in Greek and shalom in Hebrew – connotes human flourishing, living abundantly. We experience peace – the peace that passes all understanding, abundant living, flourishing, as individuals and as a community – when we cooperatively seek the common good, bound together by love, aloha, strengthened by our different gifts, enriched by our divergent perspectives, and completed by our sometimes-contradictory priorities.
A week and a half ago, in earthquake ravaged Montecristi, Ecuador, disheartened people spied a sign of hope. They spotted a delicate statue of the Virgin Mary, brought to Ecuador by 16th century Spanish missionaries, a statue that in earlier centuries had survived pirates shelling the city, standing undamaged in the ruins of the basilica named for her. Claims that the statue protected the city, when the earthquake that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale killed more than 570 people, ring hollow.[3] Instead, the statue, like the kupu fern, symbolizes the power of resurrection, God's power to bring life out of death.
We all, individually and collectively, have dead zones in our lives, ravaged by earthquakes, volcanoes, or other destructive forces. Many of us try to hide or to ignore these dead zones, although occasionally a public figure, such as BeyoncĂ© in her newly released album, Lemonade, will dare to break that silence. The good news of the gospel is that if we look carefully, we can see signs – an undamaged statue, a fragile fern taking root – of new and more abundant life when we dare to love one another and dedicate ourselves to building the peace that Jesus would give to us, the peace of more abundant, flourishing lives.


[1] To learn more about Kupu, cf. http://kupuhawaii.org/contact-kupu/.
[2] John 14:23-29.

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