Various cultures may have varied words for spirituality but no matter the terms used they refer to the life of the soul, which life is constructed of choices and the reasons for those choices. Since my first visit to Hawaiʻi in 2004 I have often reflected upon the strong feeling I have for Hawaiʻi. What is it that I hear calling to me, pulling me to itself? Since spirituality has been the focus of my life now for forty years I have come to understand that what I sense is a deep connection between my spiritual development and Hawaiian values.
When I travel I wear my clerical collar, and I often receive various reactions because of what it signifies. As I once went to board a flight from the Big Island to Oʻahu, a Hawaiian mother came over to me with her young teenage daughter. The mother was anxious about the daughter traveling by herself even though her father was to meet her at the end of the flight in Oʻahu. So the mother asked me without any hesitation, “Can I put my daughter in your care until she lands?” I said yes. The flight went well as we chatted the whole time and the father met her when we landed.
In Orthodox Christian theology there is the concept of “kenosis”, which is a giving away of the self and which is necessary for spiritual growth. From my first visit to Hawaiʻi I have seen that Aloha is a culture of respect which requires the setting aside of the self; in other words, kenosis. I have often reflected upon the way in which that Hawaiian mother trusted me with her most precious possession. There seemed to be no question in her mind that I would help her. I was deeply moved by her unquestioning kenosis, her giving away of her daughter into my care.
In fact, that Hawaiian mother told me what my Hawaiian name is! Before we got on the flight she asked me my name. I said that I am Father James and that I supposed that in Hawaiian I would be a Kahuna. Her eyes went round and she replied, “No, no. A Kahuna is sort of a witchdoctor! You would be a Kahuna-pule, a priest of prayer. Kahuna-pule Kimo, that’s your name!”
And so it is. She gave away two things that day: her daughter, and a name. In receiving my name from her I felt as if it was Hawaiʻi itself telling me who I am!