Monday, 20 March 2017

Some snaps from my seaside holiday.


 View from the caravan
The cormorant or common shag
lays eggs inside a paper bag
the reason you will see, no doubt
is to keep the lightning out.
But what these unobservant birds
have never noticed is that herds
of wandering bears will come with buns
and steal the bags, to hold the crumbs.
 Clemency at her favourite beach in the whole park, Little Anapai.
 On the track to Anapai

 After an absence of many years, and following an intensive pest control programme and some effective re releases, the weka have returned.
 And so have the pukeko
 Totaranui headland

 The Avenue, Totaranui
 This, and all the pictures following are of Totaranui


Totaranui Beach from the Headland Track, looking South to the string of beaches, ending in Awaroa.
 The Abel Tasman National Park is a large block of native forest in Golden Bay. It is best known for the string of golden sand beaches on its Eastern edge, stretching about 65 km in a line from Marahau in the South to Separation Point in the North. A track follows this coastline, winding along the beaches and over headlands between them, providing a 4 day walk of exquisite beauty. There are huts and campsites spaced along the track, and a winding, single lane dirt road leads to Totaranui, a beautiful beach about 10km from the Northern boundary of the park. Totaranui has a large Department of Conservation campsite.

Clemency's family arrived in New Zealand from England in 1962 and in 1963 went to Totaranui for the first time, when the national park was only 15 years old and the programme of reforestation from farmland had only just begun. They returned annually and spent about a month there, camping, like everyone else, on the beach in old canvas 9 x 9 tents.

Totaranui was a place of growth and safety for Clemency. As a newcomer to this country it became for her a spiritual and emotional home. I met her at the end of 1972. In early 1974 I went there for the first time, to the delight of most of Clemency's family and to the disappointment of  one or two of the other young, hopeful male campers. I too was captivated and charmed and smitten with this sublimely beautiful corner of Aotearoa. We returned annually, and after our children arrived, took them to this place so dear to us. When we moved to Hamilton in 1985 the trip South became too problematic, so we found other remote and beautiful spots: in the Ureweras, on the Coromandel Peninsula, in Northland and on the East Cape, but nothing could compare to Totaranui. Nothing had that perfect mix of golden sand, forest, warm weather and solitude.

We came back to the South Island in 1998 and eagerly returned in the first summer holiday, but were devastated by what we found. Our beloved Totaranui had been discovered, and during January was packed to overflowing with caravans and camping trailers. There were speedboats. There was a waterski lane.  There were stereos playing loudly and the burbling throb of generators. There were jetskis. F*&%$ing JETSKIS! in Totaranui! It was like discovering a hot dog stand in the Sistine Chapel. We quickly left, and never returned to camp there, although on 3 or 4 occasions we took packs and a tent and walked the track. We stayed a day or two in the trampers' area of Totaranui, but never longer. It was just too depressing.

Then last year my brother Alistair told me he had gone there in mid March and it had been just like the old days. The weather was warm, the sea clear, and the campground sparsely populated. We decided to return this year.

The weather was warm. I swam every day and we walked all the day hikes. In all the time we were there I never once heard an outboard motor. There were perhaps 50 occupied campsites in a space designed to accommodate 800, but there was a steady stream of young people on the track, speaking a variety of languages and carrying packs. We went to bed and rose again with the sun, fought the sandflies and watched the birds.  We were home. It was wonderful.

For The Bible Tells Me So

The headland between Totaranui and Goat Bay, looking South to Goat Bay and Waiharakeke

Here are three things which are related. Please bear with me.

1. A couple of days ago I finished reading 1 Chronicles. So many odd names, and so many lists! And so many contradictions and omissions and obvious glosses! It was a tough slog, but I got there. And my understanding of the Bible as a whole is greatly enhanced by the effort

2. A couple of days ago Clemency and I walked the short piece of the Abel Tasman track from Totarauni to Awaroa Inlet. We have walked this short piece of our favourite part of the planet dozens of times before, and the leg over to Goat Bay is easy peasy lemon squeezy: a very short, flattish jaunt around the base of the cliff. But, since we last did it, a landslide had taken out the track, and DOC has cut a new one over the top. Now it is a  steep little 30 minute gutbuster to surprise us as we begin. It was a tough slog, but we got there. And our walk to the inlet and back was one of the best, loveliest, most joyous things we've done together in years.

3. Today I read a survey on Bible readership conducted by the Lifeway organisation. I was surprised to read that, of active church goers, only 20% claim to read their Bibles daily. I was surprised that it was so high. The wording of the survey ( a question which asks, for example, " I desire to please and honor Jesus in all I do. Yes/No" ) shows that it was designed by and probably answered by conservative evangelicals, that is by people who claim to hold scripture in very high regard.

I would suspect that the real, as opposed to the reported levels of Bible reading are actually lower than the Lifeway survey suggest. I think that across the whole spectrum of Christian denominations, they would be lower still.  The fact is, most Christians don't read the Bible. Some of them read parts of the Bible but very few read all of it. I suspect that if you were to ask "have you read every word of the Bible, Yes/No?" and people answered truthfully, when reporting the "Yes" percentage, there would be a decimal point then several zeros before you got to a digit. Now isn't this strange, amongst people who claim that the Bible is the Word of God? If you actually did believe that the creator of the universe left a written record, direct from his (sic) own mouth, then that record would be somewhat compelling, right? It would be unputdownable, surely?

In all things, it is what people do rather than what they say which reveals what they really think. So your friend says "I LOVE tennis!" but doesn't own a racquet or a ball, never goes near a court, is vague as to the rules and never, but never, watches matches live or on TV. He's lying. So your girlfriend says "I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before." But she never returns your emails and texts, it's been years since she gave you so much as a birthday card, she changes the subject when you try to engage her in deep conversation, and you know she is simultaneously dating several other blokes. It's time to dry your eyes and sign up to Tinder. In much the same way, what Christians do with the Bible tells you what they really think of it.

The trouble is, the Bible is hard work. There are some nice bits (everybody answering the surveys seems to mention Psalm 23 and/or John 3) but lots and lots of boring and distasteful bits. And reading it brings you face to face with your own presuppositions about the Bible itself. For example, the ONLY ways to preserve a belief in Biblical inerrancy is either to only ever read parts of it, or to never read it at all. Much energy is spent on the question about whether or not the Bible is the Word of God, but actually, that's the wrong question. Or at least, it's the wrong question for Christians. A better question is: HOW is the Bible the Word of God? and that's a much trickier one to answer; or at least to answer glibly.

The Abel Tasman track is one of the world's great walks. It's comparatively easy to walk the whole thing but it does take some effort. Some people walk bits of it: there are water taxis which will drop you off and pick you up again from almost anywhere along the path, so you can stroll along the prettiest bits and not be unduly challenged by it. But the only way to really know this, the most beautiful corner of the planet, is to start at one end and walk it all: to soldier through the Tonga Swamp, and risk the razor sharp shells and the stingrays as you wade Awaroa Inlet as well as bask on the golden sands of Bark Bay or swim in the crystal clear water at Little Anapai.

The only way to really know the Bible; the only way to come to some real, as opposed to imagined, understanding of what God might be doing with the strange old book is to read it. Not read bits of it. Read it. 

So before you tell others who God's Word permits them to love; or whether or not they can speak in church; or when they should take their days off, read it. Show by your actions, and by your actions alone, that you actually believe the Bible to be what you proclaim it to be.

Monday, 13 March 2017

A Family of Strong Women

 My mother, Pat Wright and my niece, Tania
My nieces Tracy, from Perth, Western Australia and Jasmin, from London, with my sister Valerie in whose house we were gathering.
 Clemency and Ada. 
Sandie and Jane, my cousins, with my Auntie Julie.  Jane is an old flatmate of mine. Sandie a very accomplished painter. And no Julie , I do not cheat at scrabble. I just have a better than average ability to imagine possible and PERFECTLY LEGITIMATE grammatical constructions, that's all.

Tomorrow my mother is 90 years old, though her memory is fading a bit and she may not quite realise it. This weekend past my whanau gathered in Nelson to celebrate her contribution to us all. My brother Guhyavajra was here from Stockholm with his daughter, Jasmin, from London. My niece Tracy, whom I had not seen for 45 years,  came in from Perth for the weekend with her daughter Anya.  My nephew Hamish excused himself from the wedding of a close friend to fly across from Sydney and another 30 or so of us converged from all parts of New Zealand. We had a lunch at my sister's house on Saturday which went on til about midnight and a midday barbecue the following day which was still going strong when we left at 7.00 pm.

Mum lives in a nursing home in Nelson and she is not as sharp as she used to be. She has a bit of trouble distinguishing her grandchildren and she sometimes lets a few minor details - such as where I am living now and, occasionally, which one I am, exactly - drop temporarily off the autoprompt. She can often forget that we have all heard this anecdote before, five minutes ago, actually, and her horizons have shrunk back until now they don't extend much beyond the walls of her little serviced apartment. But no-one minds her little fadings because we owe her so much.

She was born in 1927, and married in March 1948, when she turned 21 and could legally ignore the objections of her family. She had her first child in December of that year and had 4 more  in pretty close order. In 1963 my father began to manifest signs of mental illness and was hospitalised for the first time. He continued to struggle with his grasp of reality for the next couple of decades, improving as the years went on but he was never an easy man to live with. Mum has been a widow since 2008, and at the time of his death we were all a bit surprised at the depth of her grief. My mother raised the 5 of us pretty much on her own, and managed my father who at times acted like another child, albeit a very large, strong and expensive one, but they did have a measure of companionship and mutual dependence.

My siblings are some of the most interesting and able people that I know. All of us boys are in either one of the family businesses, shipping or religion. My brother Stuart has managed both. All of us are are in, or have recently retired from positions of leadership. My sister retired in her late 40s from her string of businesses and sailed, with her husband, around the world in a yacht for 7 years before settling down in first one then another fairly astonishing houses. I look at where we all started and where we all are now, and know that it is down to one person. Patricia Wright.

My mother, underneath the ravages of age and gummed up neurons, is a highly intelligent, practical, resourceful, courageous, unflappable and wise person. She has a deep Methodist faith which is strong on acceptance, care of the disadvantaged and tolerance. I think she could, at one time anyway, have done anything she set her mind to. I remember once when we moved house and  the only place to put a bed in one of the tiny bedrooms was just a bit short to accommodate a single bed. So Mum disassembled the bed, shortened the runners by 4 inches, reattached and restrained the sprung wire mesh and reassembled the whole thing, which now fitted the space intended for it. All in an afternoon. I hope I am at least a bit like her, but apart from the benefits of her genes, she gave us all a gift which has proven life changing, for every one of us.

We grew with the example of strong, motivated, principled womanhood. The one of us who was a woman expected to be like that, and those who were not, expected to be partnered with women who were like that. On Saturday I looked around the room at the astonishing women my brothers have married; at my strong, self aware, capable nieces; at my own daughters. I saw my sister, my cousins and aunt, each assured and confident and articulate, and each with their own particular successes. I noticed the young women partnered to my nephews and to my son and the feisty little girls who are the latest fruiting of my mother's legacy. Here were four generations of  interesting and articulate and vital women.

And here in this room; here around the barbecue on my brother's deck were some dozens of people each one of whom I knew and was known by and each one of whom I liked and respected.  I was so pleased to be there, so proud to belong amongst these to whom I didn't have to explain anything. And I rejoiced to know  that the real character and uniqueness of this family was marked by its women.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Retreat Day 5

We finish tomorrow, so today was the last time I saw people for spiritual direction. My job is to keep my trap shut, try as hard as I can to keep myself out of the conversation, and listen and watch and pray. Occasionally I can make connections and see patterns that  the person has missed herself, but I don't have to make anything happen. I try to encourage and reassure but after the first day or two even that is unnecessary; the process works.

There is a rhythm to the day. There are a couple of times of group meditation and a daily eucharist, at which we three leaders take turns at preaching - the day's only teaching input. The programmed events are spaced to give lengthy periods in which folk can walk, journal, read, pray or meditate. The food is excellent and plentiful. People can, if they want, come and see one of their friendly local spiritual directors to share coffee and have a wee chat. But mostly, they are silent, and in that silence the Holy Spirit is present.

Yesterday was a day of tears. Today was a day of resolve and enthusiasm and empowerment, as in the space of one short week things were resolved or revealed or removed. The trick will be translating the learnings from this apartness into the lives that will be lived back home, but given the momentum I saw today, maybe that won't be such a problem.

Being here, in this role is such a gift. I find myself humbled and inspired by the movement I was privileged to observe in so many lives. People are already asking about a place in next year's retreat, and John, Mary and I are all up for that. Now I have more time on my hands I would be interested also in running a longer retreat, perhaps a ten day silent retreat with a stronger emphasis on meditation and a shorter, taught Centering Prayer retreat. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Retreat Day 4


A blue, clear sky and no wind. Dew on the grass in the slate gray, early morning shadows. Still. Silent. Wide.

By now people are at home in the silence. It softens the crusted layers that time has hardened in their soul's depths. Bits break free and drift into consciousness. Tears come. And laughter. And immense courage, to bring to the light what is so feared, so reviled.

those who try to make their life secure, will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.

I was privileged to witness death and resurrection today.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Retreat, Day 3 and Eden to Patmos, Week 14.

Today I started on 1 Chronicles, that book whose first 11 chapters are all but unreadable. These chapters are information dense and thin on structure which means page after page of eye glazing opacity: genealogies and lists and unpronounceable place names. If you believe in Biblical inerrancy it's best to avoid 1 Chronicles entirely as it is so full of contradictions, both within itself and with other parts of the Bible. You can preserve your belief  by pretending to have read it, the practice adopted, you will be reassured to know, by pretty much all of your compatriots. But there are,scattered here and there, one or two little bits and pieces which offer just enough intrigue to keep you going. So in v 2:7, for example we get  ".....The sons of Carmi: Achar, the troubler of Israel, who transgressed in the matter of the devoted things....." , and in 11:22 the record of Benaiah, Son of Jehoida who "was a valiant man of Kabzeel. He struck down two sons of Ariel of Moab. He also went down and killed a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen..."

So in all this stuff, there are glimpses of the people who lived intriguing lives and suffered and transgressed and triumphed. What was going on with the devoted things? It is the details which bring it to life. It is the details which show me the depth of soul which lies behind all this theory and the gathering up of facts. 
It was cold this morning. In the night there was heavy rain and when the darkness lifted, there across the Maniototo Plains there was snow on the mountaintops. Snow! In the first week of March! After our group meditation, I walked in the cool, shadowy morning, down to the caravan. I turned on the gas heater, made coffee and waited for those who might seek a few minutes in this warm little space. 

People have been silent now for more than 48 hours,and the cessation of noise is beginning to do its work. As in a glass full of muddy water left to stand, time and stillness bring clarity. One by one people came to sit for a while and talk and it was in the details that I glimpsed a depth of soul behind the theory and the facts of lives. It is all so tender, and beautiful. It is all so deep and painful. It is all so privileged.