Reef Dreaming


I was twelve or thirteen years old and a patrol leader. We were camping at Hanauma Bay, a beautiful extinct crater now full of sand and coral reefs. The seaweed-covered reefs teemed with parrot fish, hinaleas, eels, butterfly fish, trigger fish, to name but a few.


I was fascinated by the world down in the holes of the reefs. I was so absorbed in the sea life beneath the reefs that I thought I had become one with the waving seaweed and flitting fish of all colors and stripes.


Spending hours on the reefs, I tried to catch some of those fishes. I had my bamboo pole, my hook, line and sinker, my shrimp bait, but I was not having any luck. Was my hook too large for the fishes in the holes? Was I using the right bait?


One of my tasks as patrol leader was to lead my group in cooking and cleaning up. We wanted to best the other patrol in these practical activities. It was not that I did not have the ability to do this–to lead others in cooking and cleaning up–but God had created me with the gift of creative waiting. I lost myself in tidal pools, in anything under water, or in anything small and flitting. So there I was on the reef, hoping to catch one of the beautiful little fishes, when the sun began to drop behind what remained of the crater.


Back on shore, the boys of my patrol began yelling at me. “Lowell…Lowell!” they called. I yelled back: “Just one more minute…!”  A few minutes later, “Lowell…Lowell!” I’m not sure how many times I yelled, “Just one more minute!”


Soon darkness came, and I had a miserable time getting back to shore. I couldn’t see where I was stepping. Large holes yawned in the darkening waters before me.


In later years, I would talk to God and ask, “Why, O God, did you make me this way? Why am I attracted by small birds at the roadside, the crows in the air, the murky waters of what most people see as an unsolvable, unprofitable problem? Why do I not throw anything away? Why do I crucify myself on what is opposite, contrary–on what invites multiple interpretations or possibilities? Why do I want it all? Why am I restless, willing to live and play with what is uncertain, shifting. Hoping to tease meaning from even what is abandoned, discounted, devalued, or discarded, I ask, “Why, O God, why…?”


Back on shore I was greeted by five sullen, hungry boys. I had to talk to God and I had to apologize to the boys. They wouldn’t help me cook, so I had to start the fire myself. I stared into the soothing flames and imagined a time when I would be clean as a tongue of flame, burning brightly, giving of warmth and light, as God intended. They wouldn’t help me clean up, so I had to ask them again, and invite them again to join me in a community of soap and water. It was not easy for them to do this. They had to find a place in their hearts for a leader who got absorbed in the darndest things. They had to put up with the snickers from the other patrol as we struggled to wash our dishes and pans by firelight.