Hawaiians are passionate about preserving remnants, at least, of their culture, and few things are more important than the hula. For Hawaiian Baptists, the ancient dance is more than a cultural memory, however: the hula can be holy.
I suspect that when most of us think of the hula, we imagine a bevy of scantily glad women gracefully moving their arms while rolling their hips in a mesmerizing motion. Steel guitars, perhaps, are playing in the background.
That’s the sort of thing you might see at a commercial luau in the islands, but it’s more of a caricature than the real thing. Listen to some folks, and you get the impression that hula is not just a dance, but a way of life.
Hula, essentially, is designed to tell a story in artistic and appealing fashion. The fluid motions of hands, arms, and body are not designed to be beguiling, but instructive: they recount legends from the past and communicate hopes for the future.
For many Hawaiians, praising Jesus without hula is like throwing a luau with no kalua pig. Through hula, worshipers can portray praise with eloquence, or appeal for response in touching fashion.
A ho-olaulea celebration that brought together Hawaiian Baptists with Baptist World Alliance members from six continents included large doses of hula.
During a time of fellowship and activities, some participants took hula lessons (above), with mixed results.
While an award-winning Hawaiian gospel group called Kaukahi sang and played, a woman interpreted the words through hula. During a song about loving Jesus and loving one’s neighbor, worshipers were invited to follow along and hula (with their hands, at least) while celebrating their love for God.
Who would have thought it?
Hula can be holy.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.