Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika

“Wao Akua: The Wilderness”

Romans 8:18-27 & Mark 1:9-13

I was ten years old when Kīlauea Iki erupted in November 1959 at the Volcanoes National Park on Hawaiʻi island. For five weeks the volcano spewed lava in the sky, day and night. At one point the lava fountain reached a height of 1,900 feet.

Today the crater is dormant. A trail across the crater floor has been closed in recent years. But for a time, there was an opportunity for visitors hike to from the crater rim nestled in a rain forest down to the crater floor. The trail of descended 400 feet along steps and switchbacks equivalent to climbing down and up a 40 story building.

I hiked across the crater floor as a young adult with a group of friends. I could not help but notice steam rising and gaping throat of the vent that built the Puʻu Puaʻi cinder cone.

Although it was not likely that an eruption would occur during the hike, the thought was in the back of my mind. From the crater rim, Kīlauea Iki looked relatively small compared to Halemaʻumaʻu, but once on the floor the walls of the crater loomed large and the thought of being vulnerable to the vagaries of nature entered my mind.

So I found great comfort at the end of the day when we made camp at Namakani Paio. It was from Namakani Paio that I walked into a kīpuka for the first time I my life. A kīpuka refers to any area that features vegetation older than its surroundings.

Over the years lava flows from Mauna Loa covered large portions of forested land but from time to time spared some areas. By flowing around areas of native vegetation and trees, a natural island was created in the midst of a lava field as a habitat for a variety of native plants, trees, birds and insects.

The first time I walked into a kīpuka my senses were overwhelmed – the sight, sound, smell and touch – all of it was at once familiar and unknown. It was as though I had been in the kīpuka once before. I wondered if it was only in my imagination thinking, “This is what the Garden of Eden was like.”

Visually, the predominant color was green. I could smell clean moisture in the air and at an elevation of over 4,000 feet it was moisture that was cool and dense, not hot and humid.

The ground cover felt like a plush carpet of moss and lichen under my feet. At first there was no detectable sound. It was really, really quiet. There was only silence and then it became apparent that there was sound everywhere – the hum of a bee, the flutter of bird’s wings in the distance, the sound of wind blowing through the canopy of koa and ‘ōhiʻa trees.

My experience across the crater floor of Kīlauea Iki and in the kīpuka not far from Namakani Paio reminded me that we may view the wao akua or wilderness around us a place of comfort and reassurance or a place of distress and suffering.

In our reading from The Letter of Paul to the Romans, Paul draws our attention back to the story of creation in The Book of Genesis and reminds us of the curse of the land that resulted in great human suffering. (Genesis 3:17-19) He saw creation itself “groaning in labor pains” but not only creation but humanity itself “groan inwardly” while waiting for creation itself to be restored, “for by hope we were saved . . . we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Genesis 8:24-25)

We wait knowing that the Spirit will help us and intercede “with sighs too deep for words” (Genesis 8:26) and guide us through the wilderness of our own lives. Our reading from The Gospel According to Mark reveals that in the same way Jesus was held, nurtured and led by the Spirit so are we held, nurtured, and led by the Spirit.

Like Jesus, the wilderness becomes for each of us, a place of testing and a place of clarity. Tempted with the promise of power and the material riches of the world, Jesus comes to the realization that if our relationship with God, with one another and with creation itself is to be saved, we must live our lives in worship and service to God. (Matthew 4:10)

Over the last several weeks the thoughts I have been sharing with you runs parallel to the lessons of our children’s Sunday School Program. The Season of Creation has been a time for us to reflect upon the ways we are connected with God, with one another and with all of creation. It has been a time for us to consider our impact on creation and the impact of creation on us.

PBS Television began airing The Roosevelts: An Intimate History of the lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt earlier in the week. The film by Ken Burns reminded viewers that it was President Theodore Roosevelt who established the National Park System and founded the U.S. Forest Service during his term in office. It is said that his passion for preserving the wilderness began as a result of a visit to the Dakota Territory in 1883.

That visit had a tremendous impact on Roosevelt and helped shape a conservation policy that has become one of the lasting legacies of his life. Roosevelt understood that without the protection of the national parks, we were destined as a people to destroy not only a wilderness area but an integral part of God’s creation.

“Ke Ao Nani Nei” was composed by the late Mary Kawena Pukui, a noted and highly respected Hawaiian linguist and scholar. It conveys a simple and profound appreciation for our island home. It may well be that Roosevelt would have appreciated her words.

Above, the flight of birds. Below, the flowers of the earth. In the uplands, the trees of the forest. In the sea, the fish of the sea. A he nani ke ao nei. Come and see, how beautiful the world.

I luna la, i luna.
nā manu o ka lewa.

I lalo la, i lalo,
nā pua o ka honua.

I uka la, i uka
nā ulu laʻau...

I kai la, i kai,
na iʻa o ka moana...

Haʻina mai ka puana,
āhē nani ke ao nei...

For the wao akua – for the wilderness, for the trees, for the land – we give thanks to God. Amen.

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