It is something I cannot fully put into words, and I feel it most deeply in Hawaii.
Father George William Rutler, in his masterful biography of Saint John Vianney, says of the patron of priests:
Vianney had a special kind of physics, the meta kind, according to which, by going west he might grow young. There is a curious human urge to move west; it is a symbol of the desire to find new things and be young where there is no past; it was symbolized in myth by the glorious sun spirit, Phoebus Apollo, who fed ambrosia to his horses before dawn and rode them westward in a chariot of diamonds and chrysolite. But the very strange people one meets in parts of California, for instance, are a clue that the west can have a disastrous effect if you think you have reached it. To think that the farthest horizon is the final limit of all that exists is a flat way of looking at a round world. Materialistic people are spiritual flatlanders, and they will not easily understand their place in a round world; they think of the west as a physical direction, whereas the saints also know of a metaphysical west that is a destiny. Looking for direction without a loftier destiny is devastating madness (95).This desire to go west sings within my soul, beckoning me westward, in both a physical and metaphysical sense.
Physically, in Hawaii strength returns to my weak joints and I feel young again, even to the point of being able to walk and hike several miles each day (Sunday I easily hiked five miles and then walked at least ten on Monday) without wearing out; in Illinois I could hardly do the same.
This difference, too, can hardly be put into words and each time I return from Hawaii I become increasingly aware of the effects of climate on my arthritis. With the return of strength to my joints I also find I have much more energy and stamina in Hawaii than in the Midwest, especially during the winter months, which gives to me a youthful spirit and an easy smile on my face.
Even so, the great draw of Hawaii for me lies much more so in the metaphysical direction, to go west, towards God.
Standing on the shore I feel a deep desire to cross the waters, which seem to have no end. Something sings.
Looking up from the base of the mountains, I feel a deep desire to ascend to the summit. Something sings.
Walking through the forests, I feel a deep desire to leave the path and enter the deepest part of the woods. Something sings.
Looking up in the dark of night into the brightest stars I have seen, gazing in wonder at the twinkling in the heavens, I am drawn to contemplate with King David: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him” (Psalm 8:3-4)?
It has often been remarked that the natural beauty of the islands is a profound aid to a life of prayer and have made the Hawaiians a deeply religious people. Father Damien wrote to his brother, saying, “You could not wish for better people; gentle, pleasant-mannered, exceedingly tender-hearted.” They are this way because the natural beauty which constantly surrounds them lifts their thoughts to the Most High, always singing to them, calling them beyond to life with God.
This is my experience of Hawaii. The ocean, mountains, forests, stars and people all sing to me. Their song is a summons to prayer, an invitation to enter the metaphysical west, to be lost in God.
This is especially true of the waters. The ocean seems to beckon to me, to cross beyond to the hidden horizon, to go into the west, to enter the presence of God. In the sound of the waves the Lord calls to me. The vast expanse of the waters call to mind the greatness of God. The pounding of the waves on shores call to mind the power of God. The calming repetition of the waves call to him the gentleness of God. And when the waves crash upon the shore, leaving behind a shell or a rock or a branch, they are a reminder that when the grace of God washes over us something is always left behind on the shore of our souls.
In Hawaii something sings and I hear its melodious song – at the same time joyful and melancholic – in the depths of my soul, and my longing for God is increased. This, then, was the fruit of my days of retreat: a deeper longing to be with God.
At the end of his great trilogy of the War of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien describes the parting scene of Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee. Sam says to Frodo, "But I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done." Frodo answers, "So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam."
I, too, have been deeply hurt, wounded, one might say, and I long for the place of rest, for what Tolkien calls the Grey Havens. This life is good indeed and the Lord has blessed me in many, many ways, but it is also profoundly marked by the deaths of my parents and my arthritis.
Frodo, Tolkien recounts:
And the ship went out of sight and sailed into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet frangrance ont he air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.I want to see those white shores and that far green country, to see that swift sunrise, the face of God. But to Sam, who was left behind by those he loved to remain with those he loved:
...the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West. There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-Earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart.This is something like my experience standing still on the shores of Hawaii, gazing out over the waters and looking up at the stars. It is a melancholic experience as it deepens my longing for God and, as such, it is also a comforting, peaceful and joyful experience.
On my final day in Hawaii, I was looking for a new pair of shoes, having worn out the pair I brought with me from lots of walking. After talking with the sales associate for a while and telling him what I was looking for, he asked, “You’re from here, yeah?” (Whereas the British might have asked the question, “You’re from here, no?”, the Hawaiians always seem to end question of the sort with the positive, “yeah?”)
His question certainly ranks among the top five things anyone has ever said to me. In my heart, I am from Hawaii; in location, I am not, but hope one day to be.
I never did find a pair of walking/running shoes. I am looking for something light, simple and not flashy; apparently Honolulu isn’t the place to find non-flashy shoes.
I am off now to Springfield to look for shoes and think I will have the small portion of the grilled mahi mahi at KS Hawaiian BBQ.