The Welcoming Sound of Vowels: A Photo Essay

There was just a small spot of light on the pew, the one just below the open window.
The window made of green sea foam glass,
through which the strong Hawaiian sun filters itself into softness,
becomes invitation.
The breeze welcomed us to worship as the service began,
offering gentle reminders of the wonders outside the building
as we enjoyed the simpler ones within.

We’ve been to this place before, five years ago,
and remembered the gentle, sometimes befuddled, kahu (pastor).
He was sitting in the tiny choir loft
as we walked into this beautiful old wooden building,
the one so often featured on postcards and travel brochures;
he was pulling notes together,
readying himself to lead.

But Sunday morning is not a time for postcards,
and there is no paragraph about what happens here in any brochure I’ve ever seen.

Sometimes we need reminders that real people live in this place, this paradise.
Real people, with jobs and families, worries and hopes and dreams.
To sit with them, to sing and pray and listen,
to watch the keiki (children) hurry to the front to meet with the kahu
and then make a quick exit to the open-air Mission Hall for music and stories;
to hear the sweet sound of ukeleles and Hawaiian voices during the offertory;
to watch the graceful hands and hips of two middle-aged women
offering a hula at the same time . . .

All of this reminds us of how much we share even though the details may differ.

The sermon was not exactly a sermon,
at least not a sermon using the seminary definition of same.
No biblical exegesis, no story-telling.
Rather, a collection of verses around a theme,
a series of quotes found online,
a bit of stumbling here and there in the delivery.

But you know what?

It was a wonderful theme, and some of the quotes were funny and memorable.
And the pastor was sincere and kind.

“Show proper respect to everyone . . . ” I Peter 2:17 = guiding verse.

And these were the 5 main points:

When you speak, be tactful not just truthful.
When you are served, be understanding and not demanding.
When you disagree, be gentle and not judgmental.
When you share your faith, be respectful, not rejecting.
When people are rude to you, respond politely.

And these were some prime quotes for each point:

“Being tactful is making people feel at home when you wish they were at home.”
“Why are we most disrespectful to the people we’re closest to, our families?”
“We are not morally superior to anyone.”
“Righteousness does not equal rudeness.”
“Don’t be a blowtorch with your faith witness, all you’re asked to be is a light.” 

No, it was not the intellectual challenge that we’re used to,
that we enjoy on Sundays in Santa Barbara.

But here’s the thing:
the pastor knew his people,
and the people knew their pastor;
every person in that room was glad to be there,
every person in that room was friendly,
every person in that room exuded gentleness of spirit,
thoughtfulness before speaking,
and a deep gratitude for the presence of visitors.
Out of a worshipping congregation of about 120,
approximately 25 were 1st time visitors —
and every one of them got a handmade flower lei.

And over and around everything,
from the printed bulletin,
to the unison prayers,
to every song sung but one,
there was the soothing sound of this language,
this mellifluous, lilting language,
these words composed of so many vowels.
Only 8 consonants and each one must be followed by a vowel
or a double vowel.
Something about hearing it is soothing, welcoming.

 Aloha is more than a word in this part of the world.
It is a way of life,
and we are grateful for it.

For the first time in a long while, happy to be joining with Michelle and Laura:

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  1. How lovely, Diana. I so appreciate your insights here…not the “church” most of us know…but lovely thoughts that are certainly in line with scripture. xox

    • Thanks for reading, Patricia. It was most definitely ‘church,’ just in a different venue and with a different cultural richness.

  2. There are many similarities between the native Hawaiians and the native people of New Zealand, the Maori… including language! The Maori language uses lots of vowels, although not usually double vowels – and the Maori word for love is ‘aroha’!
    I hope you are all finding rest for your souls in this beautiful place 🙂

    • Yes, I did a tiny bit of Wikipedia research and saw that ALL the Pacific Islander languages are related, including Tagalog and Maori. We are enjoying the beauties of this place and are slowly, slowly releasing the worries of home. It takes a while, at least for me.

  3. You say your writing well is dry? I don’t think so, my friend. This is beautiful – pictures, words, reflections, everything.

    • Thanks, Michelle. I did a couple of chapters in Julia Cameron’s “Right to Write,” asked some friends to pray for me and this just sort of came. It’s a start back into the waters, I hope.

  4. *sigh*

    a breath of fresh air. and those five points? good ones. the lovely thing about serving as pulpit fill around our region is that I get to observe the congregation in the way you do here. it has changed the way I see “pastoral relationship”. such a gift to be able to look in on this kind of love.

    • Amen to that, Laura. I think that’s often the greatest encouragement in ‘church visits’ on vacation – peeking on community and finding God shows up just about everywhere. :>)

  5. Diana, so lovely to read (and see!) your words. ‘Aloha’ is ‘spirit, or ‘breath’ I believe…truly you captured the spirit of aloha. Perfect.
    (And the line about being tactful….oh, so true!) Smile.

    • Aloha is an all-purpose word for ‘hello,’ ‘good-bye,’ ‘all is well,’ and maybe exactly what you’ve put here. Yeah, I loved that line, too. :>)

  6. I think your writing is just fine, Diana. No worries, friend. And thanks for the “sermon,” complete with such amazing photos.

  7. Love the way you find beauty everywhere you go, Diana. And thank you for sharing the quotes. Some great wisdom tucked in there!

  8. Thank you for your beautiful story, it warmed my Polynesian heart and your pics made me long for my island home.

    • I’m so glad you found this, Vilisi – which island are you from? If I were younger, I’d try to travel to more of Polynesia but those long flights are intimidating!!

      • Hi Diana, I’m from Niue Island. My children and I live in NZ during the school year.

        • Thanks so much for answering, Vilisi! I had to look that one up and was delighted to see a few photos of your beautiful home island on Wikipedia. I imagine living in NZ is a bit of shock, if you live where the weather turns cool with the seasons. Very nice to meet you!

  9. Beautiful photos, Diana!
    A light, not a blowtorch. Yes. These are words I want to keep close to me.

    • Thanks so much, Marilyn. I liked that contrast, too, and want to hang onto it whenever someone tries to lay a guilt trip on me for not beating more the blowtorch type. :>)

  10. Enjoyed this immensely; the five points especially.