Hawaiians have a word which many would hear getting off a plane on one of the islands or entering a tourist resort in Hawaii called “Aloha.” It’s a word that gets used and abused as many words, especially when it is wrapped up in the tourist experience visitors have come to expect from visiting a beautiful, island paradise on holiday. Many have come to understand the word Aloha to mean “welcome” or “hello” as a result of visiting the island and hearing it in the touristy forms I’ve just described. However, as with many words there is more depth to it’s meaning than meets the eye and I believe there is a great lesson we can learn from it’s original meaning.
Aloha in Hawaiian comes from the word “Alo” which means face-to-face or sharing, and “ha” which means breath or life. For tourists, the word is simply a word one hears in Hawaii or to remind them of a vacation, but for Hawaiians, it is more than a word, it is an attitude and a way of life. You see, Aloha refers to many things. For a fisherman, it can be spending time with the ocean and the ocean can be described as a fisherman’s aloha. The people you see and love and care for in life can be your aloha as well. A people, a place can be one’s aloha. What one shares life with, that is. What one feels strongly connected to and with, some might say.
What is interesting about the meaning of the word is that is means sharing life, or sharing breath with others. It is also interesting that it is more than a word, but a way of life, an attitude.
It seems to me that this is something that has been lost among Christians. We read the Bible and we read commands to “love one another” and to “love God” and we seek to abide by them, but we abide by them as words on a page, not as a way of life. Now, they are words on a page, but that is not all that they are, yet, we often treat them that way.
Genesis 2:7 says,
then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
Humanity were made by the breath of God. It’s the breath of life that God has given which animates our bodies and the breath of new life that is given to reanimate new life in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Spirit being the word that means “breath.” God has given the breath of life to humanity and the breath of new life to those who have faith in Christ. However, that is not where it ends. Similar to the Aloha attitude and way of life, that life that humanity has been given is a life that is meant to be shared and a life that is meant to be lived in community. It was not good for man to be alone, so a community was introduced for man to share his breath of life with. A person does not enter into the new life of faith in Christ to be alone, but rather they enter into a family, into a community. Humanity were created to live in community with one another and that which disrupts and destroys community is sin, and sin destroys community with God and one another.
The Hawaiians are onto something though as they have their Aloha spirit, their way of life and attitude that means sharing life, sharing breath with others. It is such an attitude that the hand gesture called the Shaka comes into play, the three middle fingers on a hand bent, and the thumb and pinky fingers extended out, looking like a wave, and then slowly moving twisting it at the wrist as if to form a “J.” This Shaka gesture is a symbol used all over Hawaii and has taken up residence in surf culture worldwide, but is a means of communicating the joy and excitement of life, communicating perhaps that everything is okay, or even just a way to share the joy and passion of life with others. You cut someone off in traffic in Boston, you may find another symbol used to convey hate or anger, or worse, you may even have a street brawl on your hands as a result of road rage which I have witnessed. However, in Hawaii, you cut someone off in traffic, you may not see the symbol to convey hate and anger, but the Shaka symbol communicating that it’s okay to which you would respond with the same gesture. This symbol flows out of the Aloha lifestyle of Hawaii that is deeper than a tourist slogan and welcome, it is in the very roots of the people who call Hawaii home. It is a way of living a life of peace and sharing it with others.
Christians are called to not simply keep their new lives to themselves, but to share it with others. Loving God and others is not meant to be words, but an attitude, a lifestyle, a way of life. There is something to the Aloha spirit that Hawaiians get that Christians can learn. It is sharing the blessing of our lives with others. Allowing that Gospel which has shaped us and defined us as Christians flow into all areas of our lives so that others experience that breath that we experience as we do not hold our breath and keep it in, but exhale and share it with others. Life in Christ is not meant to be some wooden way of living, but as natural as breathing because it is the way of life that we were created and meant to live for and by.
If Hawaiians find it so easy to live by this attitude and way of life, with this island spirit, why is that Christians find it so very difficult to love God and others?
I believe it is because we relegate too often the commands of God to mere words as opposed to breath that we breathe into our lungs and allow to animate us, becoming a way of life, a lifestyle, more than a mere word. Perhaps it is a Western idea of separating that which is knowledge to be learned from a book and actions that are meant to be done in response to that book, however, it seems we have things a bit warped. It is like the words to the Switchfoot song, Meant to Live, that go…
… we were meant to live for so much more, but we lost ourselves
We are not responding to a book, we are responding to God, responding to God’s grace, responding to our Creator, living in light of how we were meant to live. The knowledge in that book is not simply something to be learned, it is a life to be lived. Living means to breathe it in deep and to breathe it out and to breathe it in again and to breathe it out. The Word of God is meant to be a part of the daily rhythms of our lives, as normal as breathing. When we are in a room with others or in a coffee shop or restaurant, we are still breathing and we are sharing the air with others. As normal a function and thought that this is, this is how normal it should be to love God and others as Christians because we are not loving by our own power, as if we could, but we love by the power of the Holy Spirit who has given us new life as well as the ability to love God and love others from the new heart that we’ve been given. So think of the Aloha spirit that Hawaiians talk about, not the word that tourists might hear, and think about the way you live your life. You live your life often making decisions to best serve yourself and you make those choices often to seek happiness for yourself, but strangely enough you still are searching for that happiness, you are still found wanting. Why is that? The reason is you were meant to live for so much more than yourself, you were meant to live for others and for God. You were meant for community, and that means sharing the life that God has given you with others. Aloha!