Sunday, August 25, 2019
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
I have been blessed to have two sets of parents. I say that, though to be truthful, I haven’t always been thrilled to be double parented. The first 20 years of my life I was raised by my mainland parents. The next 20 years were strongly influenced by my hanai parents, a Portuguese hanai mother, who was born and raised on Maui, and a Hawaiian hanai father, born and raised in Honolulu. But that didn’t mean that the two sets of parents didn’t at times do double teaming with me. My guess in retrospect, is that God knew I probably needed a lot of supervision, because it wasn’t uncommon for me to try things all on my own at first, and THEN realize I probably should have sought out some advice and help first.
And so it was with no exception, that in my early 30’s, shortly after finishing graduate school, I began doing volunteer work for the Hawaii Psychological Association by working at the legislature. I knew NOTHING about working at the legislature, and it was pretty evident. On one of my spectacularly unsuccessful days, it occurred to me that I was again, going about it the hard way. It finally dawned on me that my hanai father DID know a lot about working at the legislature. He had done it for years, first as a policeman and assistant to Honolulu Police Chief Dan Liu, then as Police Chief of Maui, as a Maui County Councilman and as a trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. So I swallowed my pride and decided it was time to ask for help. Thankfully he was willing to teach and willing to help. And just as a little aside, the Hawaii Psychological Association gave HIM the legislative award that year for HIS help at the legislature - but that would be a different story and I digress).
Despite the fact that HE got the award, I really was grateful for the help. He helped me in being able to go talk with key legislators, and he accompanied me to my very first legislative hearing. I remember sitting and listening intently to testimony from the opposing side. I was a bit irritated by the number of inaccuracies I was hearing from the opposite side, and I was very eager to clear that up. At a particular point in the hearing, the chair of the committee asked a question of the person giving testimony. They didn’t know the answer. But I did. My hand popped up to answer the chair’s question, and just as immediately I felt a jerk, and my hand came right back down onto the table where it started! Startled, I looked at my hanai father who had deftly grabbed my arm and brought it back down. I still remember with eyes narrowed, and between gritted teeth he whispered:
“Pa’a ka waha, nana ka maka.”
I’m not fluent in Hawaiian, but I knew enough Hawaiian to know my father had just instructed me in NO uncertain terms to close my mouth and JUST watch!”
I had a very clear perception, based on nothing, about how information would be imparted in a legislative hearing. It is the nature of the mind to form perceptions based on what we think an event, or a situation, or a person will be like. But I learned the hard way, on that day, that my perception in no way matched up to my father’s experience, or the reality of how a legislative hearing is actually run. Thankfully my dad saved me from embarrassing myself and sinking my bill all in one fell swoop.
Fortunately for me, my father decided to pass along the wisdom of many generations of Hawaiians who have long taught the principal of first- be still, then watch, listen - THEN do.
Our scripture verses today comes from both Isaiah and the Psalms. In Psalms 46 verse 10 it says “Be still, and know that I am God.” Like the Hawaiian proverb, these verses teach us that if we want to tap into God’s wisdom we must be still, rather than succumb to the constant internal chatter that goes on in our minds. But it is a challenge for most of us to practice hearing that still small voice of God. It is NO easy task. So how do we do that?
Years ago I was on a flight back to Maui, and I remember the inflight magazine had an interview with the Dalai Lama. In that interview he was asked about prayer and meditation. He first of all clarified that all faith groups teach meditation, but so many do not really understand it. He made the interesting statement that one has to be conscious in order to meditate.
He then defined “being conscious.” It is literally to be still - and to keep one’s awareness completely in the present moment. It is to observe the present moment in all of its beauty, in all of its gifts, in all of its abundance. Even if it is just observing the breath that keeps us alive from moment to moment. I remember the startling realization that based on that definition, my dog was probably more conscious than I was!
Because - we have a unique attribute as humans. We can think about, even anticipate, the future. We have the ability to relive the past over and over again- or we can imagine 1000 different scenarios of some future event. However, this special ability, particularly unique with humans, comes at a cost. It robs us of the present. In fact, our thoughts often deceive us into believing that we don’t want to be in the present. We want to live in some imagined future, where we believe all things will be better.
But today’s scripture gives us some startling information. If we want to meet God, there will be only one place we will find him. In the ever present NOW - he abides in the stillness that is NOW. He doesn’t live in the future. He doesn’t reside in the past. In fact it is noteworthy that in the scriptures God did NOT say “I am the great I was”, or “I am the great ‘I will be’.” He said “I am the great I AM.” He abides ONLY in the present tense. And so if we want to meet God where he is, it is only “now.” He further instructs us, that if we really want to know his peace, his joy, and his ever abiding love, we must be STILL - in the now.
It is the nature of our thoughts to take us on trips to the past or imaginary trips to the future. But ironically, every time we do that, those thoughts steal the present. So God says “be still” for he knows the only way we get to meet up with him, is by silencing our own thoughts, and in that silence we begin to experience the deep stillness where God lives.
When our minds are no longer preoccupied with our thoughts, we clear up space in our minds and our hearts for God’s presence. It’s like cleaning the closets and making space for God’s peace and stillness to fill those empty spaces. When our minds are no longer preoccupied with ourselves, our world opens up.
I have come to truly believe that miracles begin to occur when we actively seek to live in that space. I also believe God honors our efforts by helping us learn how to be still. And when we make even the smallest effort to do so, he blesses that process.
Our verses this morning tell us even more about what happens when we learn to dwell in God’s stillness. It says we then do away with the “yoke of oppression.” In reality it is our very own thoughts that are often the most oppressive to us. They burden us and weight us down with worries, and fears, and self-recriminations. Our thoughts create cloudiness, chaos, and in some cases, complete darkness.
When we become caught up in the distress of the world around us, without that internal anchor to God’s stillness, we become like untethered furniture in a hurricane. But instead of seeking that stillness, it is often our tendency to seek solace in the things around us, friends, family, food, substances, “psychologists” - but nothing is secure in this outer world - these verses urge us to go back and secure ourselves in that inner world where God dwells - in that stillness.
When we move into stillness, and clear away our own thoughts, the bible says that the light will begin to rise in the darkness. When we dwell in God’s stillness, these verses tell us our night will become like the noonday. Our own needs become satisfied. We will be guided. We will become like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Because no matter what goes on in the world around us, we have tapped into the great I AM, the inner stillness that anchors us in such a way that we realize we no longer have to be afraid. We have nothing to fear.
In the last three weeks we’ve had some profound and very important messages for our journey together. Danette encouraged us to consider our legacy by looking at our relationships - are they anchored from the inside - are they anchored in the stillness first? Are they anchored “in the great I Am?” When we do that, then our relationships become healthy - they blossom - these verses say we become more compassionate and more understanding of others and their needs.
On our second Sunday of this month Taka urged to be prepared and not to be afraid. When we train our sights outside of ourselves, it is hard to find that security because it does not dwell there. To be prepared we must find that stillness that anchors us from within.
And on our third Sunday we were encouraged to see that Keawala’i was and will continue to be here throughout the years. Thom helped us see that our Kupuna have, through the years, perpetuated Keawalai’s legacy, and I have no doubt that they did so by anchoring themselves in that great stillness where God abides. It is now our turn, to preserve the sacredness and the legacy for the generations who come after. But in order to do so, let us not train our eyes without, but listen to the guidance of the still small voice within.
Perhaps in someways God has gifted us with an easier access to that stillness because every Sunday we dwell at the shores of this peaceful bay. Perhaps here, more than most other places, it is easier to sense and to experience, God’s stillness in the peace that is Keawala’i. As I learned from my father, my own thoughts and perceptions are not often accurate, but there is wisdom when I stop the chatter, when I stop to look and to listen. Only then, after I visit the silence, can I move and act with God’s wisdom integrity.
So I’m going to ask that we stop for a moment, and take our focus away from the constant chatter that occupies our minds, and move our focus into the stillness. Let’s close our eyes in prayer . . . .Let go of our own thoughts for just a few moments and let us listen to the stillness together and sense God’s peace and his presence . . . . .
And in this quiet, let us close with the words of St. Francois de Sales:
“Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. . . . Be at peace, then, put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations, and say continually: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart has trusted in Him and I am helped. He is not only with me . . . but in me . . . and I in Him.”