December 18, 2020

I’ve been thinking about thefirst Christmas I spent as kahu (pastor) at Wananalua Congregational Church in Hana, Maui. It was the day that we would decorate the Hale Pule (the house of prayer/church house). I’d asked several times about what we would use for a tree, and was reassured that the men would be able to find one to cut down. I didn’t know until the help showed up at 4:30 pm was that the tree was a 40-foot-tall Cook pine right outside my bedroom window.

I doubted that it could happen, and if it did happen, that it would happen safely, both for the size of the tree and the windy, rainy weather. The challenge was to persuade a 40 foot tall tree to fall away from the Hale Kahu (parsonage) and away from the graves of our dear kupuna, (elders) without falling on any living people.

All I could imagine was a crushed hale, or headstone, or worse yet, a crushed person.  Thoughts of liability ran through my head in an out-of-sync duet with the words and tune of “O, Christmas Tree.”  Several times I asserted myself, asking, “Are you sure you can do this safely?”  And along with the questions, I made the suggestion, “It is OK if you think it would be a better idea to come back when the weather is good.”  The simple answer, “Can,” indicated in no uncertain terms that the feat would be accomplished. 

They sent a teen climbing to the top, to place ropes that would ease the tree’s fall and prevent broken branches.  Much to my anxiety, there were no ropes in place to ease the teen’s fall.  Twice he made the climb to the top – and twice returned to the ground safely – although there were a few very scary moments when one of his footholds snapped.  Next, several strong men held the ropes securing the tree which in the mud and rain looked like some sort of tug-of-war gone too far.  I offered to help, and was politely turned down. I suspect they felt better knowing that I was out of the way – and probably weren’t as distracted by my “O Jesus,” prayers for divine intervention and help when uttered from a distance. 

Then, with the pull of the cord, the chainsaw roared to life at the base of the tree, the tree was down, and dragged into the Hale Pule – filling the entire right side of the sanctuary, and stretching in tall pride from the floor to the top of the ceiling.  No one got hurt; nothing got destroyed, except, of course, the tree.

If that tree could talk, what stories it would have to tell, after standing as a silent sentry over the cemetery for the past 30 years – stories of homeless people resting under its shade, stories of burials, stories of remembering, stories of winds and rains, of draught, of an endless procession of peoples’ lives being touched by a place and a church.  And its final story was a group of people, working together, decorating together, and worshiping together. Only the story doesn’t stop there, because now you know it as well.  

Tell the story of Christmas, someone needs to hear it! ~ Anne

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