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Hearing the Voice of God in The Heart of Waikiki
Every so often you come across an experience that boggles the mind. This was one of them.
About two years ago, I experienced a theophany (God experience) in the heart of Waikiki. I was at a wedding rehearsal dinner when I heard a voice say, "I am commissioning you as my priest."
The voice was not blaring or overly dramatic; just a simple summons clearly spoken to my heart. It was unmistakable.
What made it more intriguing was the locale of my call, Helumoa. This place in Waikiki served as the seat of authority for the kings and queens of Oahu for hundreds of years prior to the invasion of Kamehameha I (1796). Kamehameha also held council here until he moved his head quarters to Honolulu.
On that mysterious night, Waikiki was celebrating the birth of King Kamehameha I. Leis draped his statue, ukulele strings filled the atmosphere, tourists flocked to concessions, plumeria scented the air, coconut trees waved oin the breeze. I heard the MC exhort the crowd with these words, "Welcome to Helumoa, the ancient seat of authority for Hawaii."
I do not understand all the ways of God. It's an enigma to me why he does certain things in certain ways. I am part Hawaiian. My family name is Kapeliela. I can trace my lineage all the way back to Kamehameha I.
I sensed God, the creator of the universe, the rightful king, commissioned me as his priest at Helumoa. My niece chose a restaurant in the heart of ancient Hawaiian history because my nephew was the manager of this Italian eatery. God chose it for his reasons.
This sacred ground is now covered by concrete and festooned with garish lights and popular boutiques and restaurants. I was eating at one of them when I heard God's voice. Only a small patch of coconut trees and a plaque serve as reminders of the ten thousand tree plantation that once fed the kings of Hawaii on this spot.
I take some solace in the fact that the rent from this property goes to support the children of Hawaii. However, it would be awesome to see just for one day the old Waikiki filled with tropical fruit, bubbling streams, verdant taro patches, pristine beach, and only torch light to brighten the night. All of it is gone today. Only the memory exists.
Yet, in some mysterious way, God spoke to my heart and commissioned me on this sacred ground. Why? I really don't know. Yes, there was some connection to the way kahuna were commissioned in the past, but I am a follower of Christ, not an animist or a polytheist. I do not follow the god's of Hawaii, but a religion birthed thousands of miles away between Asia, Europe, and Africa. I follow the God of the Torah and the New Testament. I follow a religion from the Middle East, not the West.
Why would the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob call me into ministry on a spot favored by the pagan kings of the past? Honestly, I do not know. Maybe he is just creative. Maybe he honors the rich traditions of the Hawaiian people minus the human sacrifices and internecine wars. Maybe he honors my connection to Kamehameha I. Maybe he is just God and to try to figure him out is futile. Maybe that's it. Who knows?
After this theophanic experience, I conducted my nieces wedding one week later at a spot located right across the street from Iolani Palace, the next place of authority after Helumoa. The spiritual connections were unmistakable. The reception was held at the State of Hawaii Art Gallery (downtown Honolulu); which once housed the Armed Forces YMCA; which once was the old Royal Hawaiian Hotel built by Kamehameha III, the place I had the rehearsal dinner at (The New Royal Hawaiian Hotel was built in the 1920's in Waikiki).
I sang at the reception and had the eerie feeling that my ancestors did the same thing on that spot. Who knows if they chanted or did hula? It just felt strangely familiar.
A few days later, I attended another wedding as a spectator in another sacred spot on Oahu called Kualoa. It was a place where the old kings and queens of Hawaii trained, received spiritual instruction, and rested from the rigors of ruling. My kahuna ancestors practiced their craft on these grounds.
I walked the land. That's what I needed to do. I didn't feel or sense anything overly spiritual. It was a beautiful place to have a wedding. Ti leaf, ginger, ferns, mango trees, and other flora filled the land. It looked like the Waikiki of old.
We sat in an open air reception hall and ate Hawaiian food, complete with poi and lau lau (pork wrapped in taro leaves). I started up a theological conversation with a guest at the wedding, which then led him to ask how he could find God. I showed him how to find God. He shared, "I don't know you, but I sensed I needed to talk to you. How can I find God?" It was kind of simple. I didn't hear a voice. I just did the priest thing. I directed him to God. I prayed with him to receive God into his heart.
I left Kualoa with my wife amazed at the spiritual thread God was weaving in my life. Connections were forming before my eyes. I decided to continue to walk and experience whatever God wanted me to experience.
Four days later, I performed a wedding at a school founded by Kamehameha III called Iolani School (heavenly hawk). It was conducted in a chapel called St. Clements, a famed English martyr, known for his gift of evangelism and healing. The wedding reception then moved to the Prince Hotel in Waikiki on the fringe of the ancient compound of Helumoa.The Hawaiian royalty symbolism continued to abound.
Since that time two years ago, I have left my senior pastorate to focus on teaching, writing, composing songs and praying. God continues to remind me of my Hawaiian cultural connections and his love for me. I'm still trying to piece together what transpired over a period of two weeks. I'm still piecing. I now work with more Hawaiians who have deepened my love for these islands. People have come up to me and said that I am connected to Kamehameha I. I don't know what it all means, but that's okay.
All I know is that I heard the voice of God in Waikiki and since then I've been on a spiritual odyssey. The journey hasn't ended yet. It hasn't ended for you too. We are all on the same journey to some extent. We are all on a journey to find truth. Aloha pumehana. Malama pono (heed these words).