Have you ever been at the beach, when the waves are so forbidding that the farthest you want to wade in is about to your ankles, maybe your calves? On Thursday afternoon at Waimea, the waves were like that. I was actually there long enough to watch the sets of waves get higher and higher. When I arrived they were cresting about at the shoulders of the surfers out on the water. But by the time I was leaving, they were well over the heads of the surfers. And all of this might have been warning enough—it was for me. But luckily, along with the thunder issuing forth from the crashing waves, and the concussion of waves making landfall, warning all who approached, there was also a helpful loudspeaker operated by someone I have to assume was a lifeguard, though he sounded more like a sports commentator. And the sport he was commenting on was the sport of keeping people safe and keeping people slightly, just slightly, shamed. But he sure did it with style.
When I arrived, parking far from the loudspeakers, I could just make out his plea to parents with young children…that was delivered like this.
Parents of young children in the water, I can see you. If you’d like directions to a safer beach, please come see us at the lifeguard station. This is not a safe beach for children.
And after getting settled in he was continually keeping everyone updated about where to swim and when. With access to buoys sensing the water far out to sea, he could tell when bigger or smaller waves were coming to shore. So we’d all hear messages like this.
OK, folks, if you want to get in a water here right by the lifeguard stand, it will be fine for a little while.
And it all went on like that for a time. But then a few really big sets of waves came crashing in, and we were warned to simply get out of the water. And that’s when the speaker stopped addressing all of us, and started talking to just one person.
Swimmer, we see you, someone is coming out to get you.
And then racing down the beach we saw a lifeguard holding two fins and yellow foam floatation device. The lifeguard ran right at the water and really bounded into the crushing surf holding the fins. Then the guard got them on and started paddling out through the sets of waves, swimming right into the highest waves, up and over, up and over. And as all of us on the crowded beach watched in silence, or mumbled lowly about the fate of the swimmer or the bravery of guard, we heard it,
See folks, this is not a beach for beginners. You need two fins and a lot of experience at this beach to be out there.
By this time, virtually everyone was a few feet from the reach of the waves coming ashore. The warnings and the now evident danger beat us back to the drier sand. And not long after that a second guard took to the water with a surfboard under his arm. He paddled out to the swimmer and other lifeguard to aid in the rescue, which we all could tell was not going well. But we watched as the person we’d only known as “the swimmer” was loaded on to the front of the board and was moving to shore under the power of his own arms and those of his rescuer’s. But he got tired, this boy who’d been bobbing for so long in the surf, and we saw him stop paddling. And that’s when we heard it again.
Hey victim, how ‘bout some strokes. Let’s see some paddling there.
I’m sure against the evident exhaustion and the fear he was experiencing, this galling suggestion over the speaker wasn’t a welcome one, but it helped. When he began to aid in the strokes, he got to shore pretty quickly. And we all applauded. Maybe we clapped for the swimmer safe on shore. Maybe we clapped for the bravery, cunning, and strength of the guards. Or maybe, just maybe we clapped for the deadpan commentator on the loudspeaker.
What struck me was the sight of seeing Waimea so crowded with sunbathers and onlookers, crowded with boogie boarders and surfers out in the water, yet only two among us, two guards, had the power and the authority to save the bobbing boy and gather him with them to shore.
In this month, we are looking at the ways that balance may be in our lives or the ways that balance maybe should come into our lives. And so it’s fitting that we celebrate this day of welcoming new members right after the earth once more shifts its balance upon its axis just enough to move us into the elongation of days over the coming season. In some other parts of the world, this is the time of year when rains or showers become more common than the snows that were blanketing town and villages. But on this island where we are, many of us know that the season of rain is actually past now.
For the past few weeks I know you’ve seen it too. The sky streaked in the bold bows of color happens less often now. The green of the undulating mountains, the rich comfort of the grassy patches around beach areas, in many ways the rains have done what we love so much: made this place about as lush and vibrant as we ever get to see it.
But what about the lushness that we don’t get to see from our cars, around golf courses, padding past sandy areas onto the grass? What about the lushness of the sea itself? That is what our phenomenal ukulele choir, pop-up choir, and the seemingly boundlessly talented Imiloa showed us in our story and our song welcoming our new members gathered to our shores here.
Limu describes a number of the important plants in the sea. I know that in some places the word seaweed is used, and though I am sure that word is fine for people who like to pronounce the vowel sound “ee” as often as possible, why wouldn’t we use the rich, round, beautiful sounding word like limu? In the song we heard, we learned about the different kinds of limu that need to be gathered. One of the first ones the song mentions is limu lipoa. Limu lipoa comes from the sea in its subtidal regions. It has leaf-like branches and has a spicy flavor and is used in stews, especially. And it has a strong, characteristic odor.
Another we heard about is the limu kohu, which is roughly translated as the supreme limu. Rather than growing like the leaves of a tree, limu kohu is a creeping vine. After it attaches and begins to creep along a rock, small shoots come up from the creeper. These shoots are what are harvested. Limu kohu is used in small portions because the flavor is powerful. It’s often added to poke and other things to give it a kick.
I know I’m focusing a little more on food than I usually do. I promise, it’s not because I forgot to have breakfast. But as someone who has a plant-based diet, reading about plants with such strong and powerful flavors gets me pretty jazzed. I like to imagine the minerals the plant collects in its growing, how those minerals are arranged and mixed, to create a unique and unexpected flavor. Limu are among the most nutritionally dense foods you can eat, with minerals unavailable in the same concentrations in plants on land.
Remember, I had to, that when the verse in our song talks about the plants growing on the rocks of the ocean, and swaying ready to be picked, they aren’t rocks exposed to the air and swaying in the breeze. They are rocks under the water and the plants are swaying in the undulating currents. That current draws us to and fro, up and over, in the ocean. That current gathers the nutrients and the fish to the limu. That current moves the vastly greater part of the face of our earth in a constant flowing motion. And so it is that currents of time, of space, of destiny have brought our new members into our space today to be with us so that we can welcome them home.
Many people know how often I say that for some of us, a Unitarian Universalist community was the last house on the block. We’d tried, and left, tried, and, left, too and fro, too and fro, different faiths, churches, beliefs, never finding one where we can be truly ourselves and then be loved and accepted for it. We knew the rough waters, like the limu kohu, which grows best in those dangerous, choppy waters, but whose flavor is so worth the time and attention it takes to safely secure these limu. Maybe for those of us like this, who’d seen some rough going where faith was concerned, this was the last house on the block.
And then others, whose deep roots, far beneath the tides, knew the rock to which they’d hold fast, like the limu lipoa, a Unitarian Universalist community was the only place that ever made sense in the first place. For them, our community, this faith, might wall have been the first house on the block.
Lucky for all of us, especially for those of us mixing our metaphors right now, our house, this house, is literally the last and the first house on our block! And this is why welcome is so, so, so important to us here.
Because whether this is the last place left or the only place we’d ever want to go, the same thing is true: many of us need to be here. After the harrowing adventures of life, after the raging and surging that the storms gather into our lives, after the rain comes, after the rain goes, the sun shone warm on the shore where we stand and consider how best to bring the beautiful fruit from the sea once more.
When the bobbing boy, the swimmer, the reluctant paddler, the victim, came ashore, a small group of about four boys was waiting for him closer to the shoreline than others were standing. When the boy on the board exited the ocean amid the wash of applause, I watched one pat his shoulder and some others simply stood by. I couldn’t hear them and I couldn’t see their faces really. But I can gather a lot of what they were discussing. What happened, where you scared, did you ever think you’d come back? And then, came running another boy, across our field of vision and over to the boy come ashore, the running boy outstretched his arms to embrace his friend with a hug. But at the last minute, the boy who survived the ordeal didn’t return the hug and the running boy just sort of stood there. I get it. Not everyone is a hugger. But it was a little awkward, and the running boy just stood there with his arms out anyway. Then like someone had shown him once years ago how best to gather those things you love to you, and beckoned a little more with his hands, as if to say, c’mon, get in here, and the named victim, shamed into paddling harder, relented and embraced his young friend. And somehow there was relief in that. Like the ordeal hadn’t really ended until someone’s open arms welcomed him back.
The balance that comes when we bring new souls into this community is the kind of balance that our earth demands. It’s inevitable as far as anyone can tell. One of our six sources of knowledge and wisdom in this tradition are the spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature. I really do love our tradition. And the rhythm that comes once again this past week is the rhythm that swings us back toward the lengthening days of these lives we lead together. When we bring new folks into our community, we are blessed with the chance to re-balance ourselves once again.
Maybe we are welcoming someone who has known the churning waters where the limu kohu thrives and grows, whose flavor when it is added to meals is penetrating and powerful.
Maybe we are welcoming someone who has known the quiet waters where the limu lipoa sways and grows from deep roots, whose flavor is more moderate, but still has plenty of spice.
Or maybe we are welcoming someone who was drowning, who was grasping for life in and unforgiving sea, who needs a lot of help to come ashore again, who might be so ashamed that they can hardly handle a hug.
No matter where you are in that ocean, one of the great calls of Unitarian Universalism is to come out after the rains and see who needs gathering, to sense how best we can bring all who seek together, and to welcome you home.
Whether you are a lifeguard, whether you are standing, watching, clapping, whether you are there for hugs and understanding, or whether you’re the one with the microphone, we are all here to welcome you home.
And may it always be so.
 Limu kohu now only grows on Kaua’i and Ni’ihau.