29 August 2012

Augustine, Damien, and the Hawaiians

The natural beauty of the Hawaiian islands is but one reason among many that keep me coming back to the Land of Aloha each year (and sometimes twice each year, if I can swing it).

Sunset at Hale'iwa Beach Park, 25 August 2012
As we celebrate today the memorial of the great Saint Augustine of Hippo, Holy Mother Church draws our attention to these words of the Doctor of Grace:
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!  You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.  You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
As I walked this morning from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace to the church of St. Augustine by the Sea, I couldn't help but consider these words from a different perspective. Even if short in distance, it was a pilgrimage.

From the church of St. Augustine by the Sea, Honolulu, Hawai'i
Here in Hawai'i, "from the mountain to the ocean, from the windward to the leeward side," as John Cruz sings, it doesn't seem that the Lord so much shout as whisper.  It seems nearly impossible, seeing the beauty of this land, not to be drawn towards the Lord.  The lapping waves on the shore draw your thoughts to eternity; the brilliance of the stars leads your thoughts to the heavens; the wind seems a gentle kiss; the mountains recall God's firmness and strength; the many colored flowers of varied shapes and sizes are but gifts of love.  It is difficult here to be lost in created things but easy to be led to the Creator; here the fragrance of the Lord is to be found everywhere.

Rainbow over the Honolulu Harbor, 29 August 2012.
Perhaps this is why the Hawaiians (and here I do not simply mean people living in Hawai'i, but the descendants of the native Hawaiians) are so filled with the spirit of Aloha, the spirit of love and welcome and peace.

The other day I noticed a book written by an Hawaiian who lamented the fact that so many Hawaiians today think Christianity part of their cultural patrimony; indeed, the Hawaiians very quickly adopted Christianity perhaps because of their aloha.

Father Damien described the Hawaiians in these words:
You could not wish for better people, gentle, pleasant mannered, exceedingly tender-hearted, they neither seek to amass riches, or live in luxury, or dress much, but are most hospitable, and ready to deprive themselves of necessities in order to supply your every want if you have ask a night's shelter from them.
Each time I return to this blessed land, I find this description quite apt. Once you meet an Hawaiian, you are quickly part of their ohana, their family, and very often you instantly become an "uncle" or an "auntie".  Once you have been welcomed into their homes you are always welcome, even without notice.

One might well wonder from where this natural friendliness comes.  I would suggest it is both part of their blood, but also due very much to the natural beauty in which they live.

Even after only a day or so on the island, I already find myself - each time I return - quickly acclimating to island life and becoming quickly a cultural Hawaiian.  By this I mean that I become more patient, less hurried,  and more at ease than on the mainland (or elsewhere, for that matter).  I am more inclined to talk to strangers here and find Saint Paul's admonition to "pray without ceasing" much easier here because my thoughts are always being led to God by the beauty of Hawai'i.

Yes, here the words of Saint Augustine easily become my own: "You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for more."

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