You are the presence, breath of all passion and fire!
Filling the earth, splashing the heavens with light!
Wind and the ocean, maker of earth and the skies!
Color and sound, seeking and singing the song!
You are the healing, hope for all people in fear!
Comfort and peace, tenderness is your embrace!
Word and the silence, strength to the broken and weak!
Laughter from tears, promise of life from death!
You are the thunder, power and voice of the just!
Holy and strong, fountain of wonder and might!
Father and mother, lover and dreamer for all!
Joy of our lives, returning, renewing the earth!
Words and Music by David Haas / Copyright © 1987 GIA Publications, Inc. Printed with permission.
God’s activity in the midst of the natural wonders of creation is an awesome thing, indeed. “You Are the Presence” is my response to such an encounter. In light of all of the activity with Pele on the Big Island these days, I thought it timely to share the story of this song, and the amazing circumstances that led up to its creation.
In the early 1980’s I had been hearing much about a conference that was held each year in Hilo, the Big Island Liturgy and Arts Conference, held at a very small native Hawaiian village just outside the city limits, at a parish named “Malia Puka O Kalani” (which translates, “Mary, Gate of Heaven”).
My first connection with this amazing community was through Joe Wise, who had presented there in past years, and so had Marty and Linda Haugen. I was invited to attend and be a presenter there for the first time at their fall 1985 gathering. I found out later that the conference organizers—Fr. George DeCosta, Joe Camacho, Paul Neves and Clayton Kua—were “checking me out” for some time, to see if I would be a good fit for this very unique event that brought together people from throughout the Islands to be formed, nurtured, and a formed in their ministry of liturgy and music.
I had no idea how profound an experience it would be to be a part of this event, nor could I have predicted the level of impact that this community, this conference, and these wonderful people would have on me throughout my life. There is not enough space here to share how powerful the experience was, other than to say it was transformative. The blending together of powerful music, dance, preaching, storytelling, all through the lens of the indigenous Hawaiian culture and their people, brought about a seismic shift in how I saw the possibility of passionate liturgical celebration and the pastoral care of God’s people.
I have been invited back almost every year since 1985, for many conferences at Malia and other locations including (in recent years) Chaminade University in Honolulu. In particular, Fr. George and Joe Camacho have been a part of numerous projects and events that I have been involved with here on the continent; Joe has sung on many of my recordings, and Fr. George has been a most attentive mentor and friend. Both have been team members for the “Music Ministry Alive!” program off and on over the years. Others from Malia and other parts of Hawaii are now an intimate part of the fabric of my life, such as Kathy and Glenn Baybayan, Fr. Alapaki Kim, Paulette Ching, Dean Pakele, Sr. Yoo Soo Kim, Bro. Dennis Schmitz and the entire Marianist community at Chaminade, and Joe and Peggy Farias and their two children: Sr. Louis Bullis, MM and Doreen Baptiste and her family. It was at one of the BILAC conferences where I first met Helen while she was pursuing graduate studies at the University of Hawaii. I have made many pilgrimages there with my parents and other close friends and colleagues, and it was here where I came to meet for the first time and develop close friendships with people like Betsey Beckman, Fr. Michael Sparough, Graziano and Nancy Marcheschi, and Waldemar Perez.
At that first conference that I was a part of in 1985 I was part of a team of presenters that included Marty and Linda, Bobby Fisher, Waldemar, Elaine Rendler, Fr. Don Osuna, and Ron Griffen. After the three-day conference and a few more days of play, fun and sight-seeing, it was time for me to return home to Minnesota. I was one of the last artists to leave the Hilo airport to return home that day, so Fr. George and I had a wonderful and friendship-deepening dinner, just the two of us, at a Japanese restaurant nearby. In the middle of the dinner, Fr. George received a phone call (the restaurant phone, as there were not cell phones back then!) telling him that the still active volcano, Kilauea, had erupted in a major way, and we needed to come to where they lived so we could get a good view. So off we went, and I do not think I have ever seen anything quite like it. It was a geyser of fire and lava leaping into the sky (it happens to have been the last time it has had an eruption of this size (until the events of recent days, yes?), and I was totally transfixed in silence, starring at it for about 20 minutes. Then I had to get to the airport.
After being seen off by about 30 people from the parish (there was always so much love from this community), I got on the plane. After we left the ground, the pilot flew as close as he could for us to see an even more fantastic view of what was for me, a wonder of the world.
Once we got farther away from the Hilo airport, I took a pen to paper, and on the plane, right then there, created a poem, the words that you see above. It came screaming out of me just like the volcano was erupting. No music, just the words. It was a lasting memory that will always remain holy for me.
It was a couple of weeks later that the music arrived to give life to the words. All I could think of was the movement and energy of the volcano, which is why the rhythmic piano part was created. I remember when I played it for Fr. George for the first time. He liked it so much he had me share it at the conference the following year, accompanied by a video of Kilauea doing its magic. I recorded it in 1987, as part of the As Water to the Thirsty recording, calling upon Bobby Fisher (electric guitar) and Marty Haugen (synthesizer) to assist me in creating an instrumental interlude between the second and final verse. The other instrumentalists, like Patrice Pakiz on oboe, and the amazing drummer, Gordy Kundtson (who is the drummer for the Steve Miller Band), filled out our “volcanic” ensemble. I have no way to describe it. You just have to hear it.
This was during the time when Marty, Michael Joncas and I were most active in presenting concerts and workshops together across the country, and so I called upon them to sing it with me on the recording, along with some extra male “beef” from our bass-singer friend Jim Waldo (who to this day, still sings on all of my recordings). In addition, the amazingly powerful and laser-singing of Robin Medrud on the final descant … amazing.
It was not until the recording was finished that I realized that the song is Trinitarian, but expressed— not consciously at the time—through the core elements of nature. The first verse begins: “You are the presence …” (the Father Creator), followed by “You are the healing” (Jesus, the incarnation of God to the world), and “You are the thunder” (the movement and work of the Spirit).
The video performance of Glory Day which took place in 1996 provides both an aural and a visual experience of the song, featuring clips from the erupting volcano. Joe Camacho beginning the song with a Hawaiian chant, and incredible dance and movement by Joe, Donna Anderle, Jean Bross-Judge, and Bob Piercy.
I love my annual visits to Hawaii, as each one calls to mind that first conference experience, this song, and the deepening of such important friendships. The song is dedicated to Fr. George; his passionate preaching, teaching, and witness of ministry is like the fire of the volcano—always stirring, never tiring, always convicted. I love every opportunity I have to be there. When I am not able to do so, I have to resort to watching the episodes of “Hawaii-Five-O” to keep me connected. Mahalo! (11.22.17)
This essay is an adapted excerpt from I Will Bring You Home: Songs of Prayer, Stories of Faith by David Haas (G-9617). Copyright © 2018 GIA Publications, Inc. / www.giamusic.com. Printed with permission. All rights reserved.
Song Video: You Are the Presence by David Haas