The Journey of Names

Lately, I have been pondering: “How do we know who we are?”  Some of our knowledge about ourselves comes from our own adventures and misadventures but I suspect that there is more to knowing ourselves than strictly what we bring to the table!  On a trip to Kona a Hawaiian mother revealed to me, as if to her child, that my Hawaiian name is  Kahuna-pule Kimo.  When she spoke it I felt as if Hawaiʻi was revealing me to myself in this latest phase of my evolving names.

CLICK HERE FOR LARGERBefore entering monastic life my name was Robert, although in my family I am and remain to this day Bobby.  When I entered New Skete Monastery in 1978 I was given the name James, thereby becoming Brother James.  When I was ordained to the priesthood in 1996 I became Father James.  And on a trip to Kona it was revealed to me that my Hawaiian name is Kahuna-pule Kimo.

Having heard from her who Hawaiʻi says that I am was a feeling of having been found, of having been hānai‘d, even before I even knew of the concept of hānai.  It was a clearcut moment of belonging.  The spiritual life of every individual is a journey of transformation (within Orthodoxy we refer to this as ‘Transfiguration’).  This is not a goal to arrive at but a process, a journey, as well as the way in which one takes the journey.  The names given to us along this journey are markers on that journey.

We live in an age where there is ever more alienation which is, of course, the opposite of ʻohana which is all about relationships.  I am convinced that Western culture’s values work directly against aloha, ʻohana and kuleana, and do not prepare us to live a spiritual life.  Western culture’s way of thinking is “me first” instead of “us”; a mindset that does not support us in our struggle to live a spiritual life.

Hawaiʻi, however, approaches life differently.  The basic values of it’s culture and traditions are based upon the transcending of the self for the good of others: “Ua mau ke ea oka aina i ka pono” (“The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”)… meaning dependent upon things being in a proper relationship.

And it is within relationships I would propose, that we come to know who we are… as opposed to the western concept of the “self-made man”, as if we had given birth to ourselves!  Within aloha, ʻohana, and kuleana we come to know who we are by knowing who came before us, what they valued, and what they expect of us, their offspring.  Inheritance is a standard against which we need to measure up!

On my 2010 trip to Waikīkī I very much wanted to visit the Royal Mausoleum to pray before the earthly remains of Hawaii’s Sovereigns.  Why?  Because in an Orthodox Christian understanding we refer to the earthly remains of others as “relics”… meaning physical matter made sanctified by the struggles and life of the one whose matter it is.  I think that this is the equivalent of the Hawaiian term mana.

And so, to stand before the tombs and to see the names of the Kamehamehas, of King Kalākaua, of Queen Kapiʻolani, , and especially that of the saint of long-suffering, Queen Liliʻuokalani… was strangely for me both a moment of reverence and a moment of coming home.

How strange! I am not Hawaiian but Hawaiʻi is where my heart is.  And then I recalled when that woman told me who Hawaii says that I am, Kahuna-pule Kimo, the latest name in my journey.    At the Royal Mausoleum I prayed to be found worthy of living in Hawaiʻi someday.

Kahu Kimo


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