Hula, Icons, and Reverence

In the book “Unwritten Literature of Hawaii (The Sacred Songs of the Hula)” the author Nathaniel Bright Emerson speaks of the halau or hall in which old Hula was performed.  Originally the halau was viewed as a temple for a god in which there was always the kuahu, or altar, as the visible temporary abode of the deity.  Upon the kuahu might stand a rough block of wood arrayed in yellow tapa cloth which bodily presence represented the presence of the god itself.  The only expressions proper to the halau were reverence and respect, of which the hula expressed in rhythm, chant and strictly prescribed bodily movement.  Hula is how Hawaii knows itself, how it speaks to itself, how it tells its story.  Hula is the longing of Hawaii’s own heart made incarnate.

So why is it that some, if not many, non-Hawaiians equate the expressions of reverence and respect as being synonymous with subservience or superstition?  Rather, these expressions reflect the Hawaiian perception that when we are in the presence of any expression, symbolic or otherwise, of the uncreated Divine the only proper expressions are reverence and respect as our gratitude for having been given life and form.  The Hawaiian understanding is that it is in expressing reverence and respect that we are most fully human.

This attitude accords exactly with Orthodox Christianity’s concerning the essential Transcendence of the Divine’s nature, the understanding that the Divine can be present in a Temple without being confined by that presence, and that when one is in the presence of the Divine in any manner, reverence and respect are the only acceptable forms of conduct.  In the same way that Hawaiians understand the Divine to be everywhere and in everything, Orthodox Christians also regard reverence and respect as the only acceptable behavior outside the Temple as well as within since the Divine, as we Orthodox express it “…art everywhere and fillest all things.”

What a sad comment upon mainland culture’s values is the perception that reverence and respect are expressions of subservience!  I can hardly think of a situation in which the expression of gratitude would be out-of-place!  I would posit that viewing reverence and respect as subservience is the fruit of the West’s adulation of the Self with its presumption that nothing is more important than the desires of the Self.  I am afraid that when we in the West speak of all people being equal, what we really mean is that no is allowed to be superior to myself; the corollary to this being that, therefore, I owe nothing to anyone.  How different is this attitude from Hawaiians and Orthodox Christians: Just as the halau would contain an altar upon which rested a block of wood representing the Divine, so too Orthodox Christians view reverencing of our icons… as windows through which the reverence and respect that we express pass to the realities portrayed in the icons.  Maybe this is why I feel such a kinship with Hawaii?

Kahuna-pule Kimo

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