Marsha and I have just returned from vacation. We decided to splurge and celebrate the fact that both of us are turning 60 this year, and so we took a first-ever trip to Hawaii. We flew into Honolulu and spent 3 days visiting there, and then we took a nice cruise to four of the islands and got to know some of the history, beauty, and people of the Islands.
It was nice to get away, and very healing for us after we have spent this year dealing with the deaths of Marsha’s mother and father in April and July.
A part of our trip included visiting with Rev. Eddie Kelemini (pastor of First UMC in Honolulu) and his wife Topou, along with Bishop Mary Ann Swenson and her husband Jeff. Mary Ann serves the Cal-Pac Conference which includes Southern California, Hawaii, Guam, and Samoa. We have known the Swensons and the Keleminis for many years, and it was fun to learn about island traditions from them.
When we left Hawaii to return to Indiana, those friends told us that we should now list ourselves as “temporarily off island.” That is their terminology for anyone who leaves the Hawaiian Islands – no matter for what length of time – because that term implies that everyone will want to return to the Islands. To be “temporarily off island” even for many, many years, is a reminder that we should always hope and plan to return to that island paradise.
I have been thinking about that term “temporarily off island,” and I have realized that it also might describe the years of our human existence. All of us are “temporarily off island” in this human life, no matter for how many years, and we long for our return to our ultimate spiritual home with God. We are not human beings trying to live a more spiritual life, we are spiritual beings who live through this human existence even while longing for our destination with God. That is summarized by Paul in his letter to the Romans in chapter 8 where he says (according to The Message by Eugene Peterson):
15-17This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him!
18-21That's why I don't think there's any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what's coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.
22-25All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us; it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
26-28Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
Such words can only be written by someone who knows that he is “temporarily off island” in this human life, joyfully waiting for the ultimate fulfillment that is our resurrection promise.
I am not sure if I will ever have a return trip to Hawaii (right now the thought of that long airline flight is not too appealing), but I am trying to live my life as someone who knows that our human existence is temporary and that we are on a journey toward a paradise.