Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sacred Spaces

As long as humans have lived on this planet, we've looked up into the night sky and longed to talk to the One who made the stars. Like Jacob, who set up a stone after he dreamed about a ladder reaching to heaven, we tend to mark certain places that have given us a sense of special connection to the divine.

Since it's Sunday, I thought I'd share a few pics of this sort of place from several of our very soggy shore excursions. We'll be island hopping a bit.

This first picture is of St. Benedict's from the Big Island of Hawai'i. The church structure was built around 1899 and then a Belgian missionary priest painted the interior scenes (with house paint of all things!) There are idyllic scenes of creation and, in stark contrast, a truly nightmarish depiction of hell on the opposite section of the walls. All the painting has been recently touched up, except for the view of the underworld. Evidently, its purpose is fulfilled without additional embellishment.
Belshazzar's feast--Note the handwriting on the wall...

A closer view of the altar (without anonymous heads in the way!)

Jesus rejecting the temptations of Satan

Hell (Sort of needs no explanation, doesn't it?)

The church is still in use by an active congregation. There is a a sweet stillness about it and the green gardens around it add to the peacefulness of the place.

Also near Kona, there is a special place of refuge called Pu'uhonua o Honaunau. If someone broke a kapu, such as letting your shadow fall on the chief's land, there was no trial. The ancient Hawaiians had no prisons. The punishment for any infraction was death.


If you could reach a pu'uhonau, you could be forgiven and after 3 days released without further punishment. Of course, this particular pu'uhonau was bounded on all landward sides by the chief's land, so there was no walking to it. An offender must take his chances in the shark infested surf in order to escape his death sentence.

When Christian missionaries came, most of the places of refuge were torn down, but this one survived fairly intact. Several members of the Hawaiian royal family are buried there.
More lava than sand on this beach

The carved posts guarding the place of refuge were fierce-looking.

Ancient double hull canoe

Between the surf, the sharks and the lava that would slash a swimmer's feet once he staggered to shore, finding refuge was not for the faint of heart. But the site was dedicated to life, so human sacrifice was not performed on the grounds.

The same cannot be said for other marae. We saw these volcanic rock open air temples on nearly every island we visited, but the one on Tahiti, the main island of French Polynesia, was the largest and most complex.

This marae was guarded by large male and female tiki figures. The statues are not worshipped as gods, but are thought to hold mana (power) during the rituals. The ancient Tahitians had many gods and the rites performed here were to placate them and urge them to aid the people in some special undertaking--a war with a neighboring tribe or a migration to a new island. Only men were allowed inside the marae, but lest we ladies feel put upon about that, remember that the person chosen for sacrifice was picked from those inside the stone walls.

Clearly, this was not a time to be on the outs with the priests!

Tiki figures were not worshipped. Instead they were thought to hold mana or power, which could be tapped into.  I'm sad to report that some of my fellow passengers made fun of the figures by taking pictures of themselves imitating the posture and expression of the statues. I had to wonder how they'd feel if a Tahitian visited their hometown, went to sites that were dear to them and laughed at their culture or beliefs.  

Now most Polynesians are Christian, about 80% Protestant and 20% Catholic. We were delighted to hear the same table prayer we use sung in Hawaiian. While we're loving this trip and totally enjoying the ship, I have to admit I miss my church. But God, a personal, eternal, omnipotent God, is here in the middle of the Pacific. And however imperfectly we understand Him, however inadequate our worship, He's already reached down to us.

He's just waiting for us to reach up.

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