The Banyan Tree
It seems a living cathedral with columns, ramparts, and archways
We visited the Hawaiian Islands in 1987 and took a tour of Lahaina, the former royal capital on Maui. In that small town, the activity was along Front Street lined with stores and restaurants, and packed with tourists. In the middle of the historic district, Banyan Court Park featured an exceptional banyan tree, which I later learned was the largest in the United States, planted 147 years ago, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Christian missionaries. While my travel companion was shopping, I wandered into the park.
One has to experience this natural wonder to believe it. The Banyan Tree spread over an acre. Its tubular branches ran straight as horizontal roof joists twelve inches thick. They radiated from the main tree trunk in all directions, sprouting more new trunks from its many vertical tendrils dropped to the ground. To me it seemed a living cathedral with columns, ramparts, and archways allowing shafts of light to pierce dense foliage.
Red-crested cardinals, scarlet honeycreepers, and small pinkish-gray house finches flitted among its branches, twittering in sonorous volume. Colorful lovebird parrots swooped in and out. A thousand birds in celestial song held me in rapt attention. As I stood beneath those branches and listened to pleasant bird callings, I drifted within my mind to a safe and peaceful haven. My anxious mind-rambling or thought‑chattering had gone silent.
I sat on a wooden park bench and noticed an older man sitting on a nearby patch of bare earth in a Buddhist lotus posture. A saffron robe draped his body and prayer beads dangled from his fingers. He was still as a statue, his eyes closed, his breathing shallow, his hope Nirvana.
I slipped into a trance listening to birdsong, and shafts of light penetrated my inner darkness. It was almost 90 minutes before my companion, returned from her shopping, roused me. I looked for the Buddhist but he had vanished. Seated across from me, a ragged homeless man devoured a hotdog dripping with relish. Tourists strolled beneath the ramparts of a living cathedral, most of them unaware they walked on sacred ground.
Afterward, some two blocks north of Banyan Court, we visited Maria Lanakila Catholic Church, the name of which means Mary, Lady of Victory. A few tourists on meditation benches in a dedicated grove, not far from its cemetery, pondered a statue of Father Damien, the leper saint of Molokai.
The white interior of the church, meager of decoration, had vaulted ceilings resting on fluted Ionic columns. Its open windows had no stained glass and its ceiling fans struggled against the hot, humid atmosphere. High up behind the altar hung a painting of Jesus the Christ ascending into heaven. A statue of Jesus left of nave, and one of Mary and Child to the right, gave decorative balance to the sparse interior.
Yet, the church offered far more than the peace of mind I found under that Banyan Tree in Maui’s paradise. Kneeling before any church tabernacle, plain or elaborate, helps me remember Jesus and his saints who sacrificed their lives for the poor, the sick, and the weary. Dare to live that way of life and I might attain the peace of Paradise Regained.
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