Monday, 25 May 2015

Ultreya

Early morning in Timaru while waiting for the hospital to be ready for me to visit Clemency. 
Nikon D7100 set to Sunset Scene mode; 18-200 Nikkor VR zoom @95mm. f5.6 1/125 @ iso 250 

A package arrived for me this week. It was a pair of Salomon Cosmic 4D 2 GTX walking boots. They are the shoes I will wear when Clemency and I walk El Camino Santiago del Norte in about 6 weeks time. A pair of boots like this will last about 1000 km on hard surfaces. My current ones were bought halfway through last year's Hikoi and while they are still in pretty good nick (my guess, about 250 km of wear left in 'em) they won't carry me the almost 900 km from Irun on the French border to Finisterre on the Atlantic coast. Just to make sure they were OK, I wore them for a stroll around the block, about 6.5 km, and put them back in the box.
What with one thing and another, I don't feel nearly ready, this time around. Clemency has been assured her sternum should mend in time, and she's nothing if not determined, but obviously she's not going to get a lot of preparatory kilometres done. This trip is all part of my sabbatical, which will be about pilgrimage and holy places. I'll also be doing some diocesan business while I have the opportunity. We will be flying to Barcelona on July 4 and taking a train northwards the day after we arrive. We intend to walk the Northern route, along the coast of  El Golfo de Vizcaya through Gernika, Bilbao and  Santander before turning inland, probably at Ribadeo and walking through the Galician mountains to Santiago. This time, I'm pretty keen to carry on to the coast. The Coastal route is slightly longer than the Camino Frances and is reputedly a little harder. The photos of the scenery look stunning. We are hoping that the rumours are true, and that the crowds will be lighter, at least until we join the hordes on the Camino Frances at Arzua. We won't be going fast and our timetable will be a little open ended, so we can stop and admire the views for a day or two if the going gets too tough. The path of miracles calls us. It has its own wisdom and will take care of us.

After the Camino we will go to the UK where I have a few specific things to do, in Wye, Oxford and Edinburgh, but I want to fulfil the call of many years and go to Poland and visit Auschwitz. Why exactly, I think I'll only truly know when I get there. I have a brother in Sweden, a daughter in London and we have good friends in Switzerland, so our route will sort of take care of itself. So, Nick, Louise, Guhyavajra, Cat, if you are reading this, expect an email sometime soon.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Bang!

It's been an eventful couple of weeks. Ada was rushed to hospital and kept there for a few days but she is now perfectly, wonderfully fine.




In the course of all the coming and going to and from Christchurch  Clemency's car needed replacing so I researched and bought a new one. Well, not so much a car, as a travel appliance. I looked around amongst the plethora of available Corollas and Swifts and Polos; all of them mass produced boxes which do everything well but nothing very well; the sorts of objects you could no more get excited about than you could about a blender or a vacuum cleaner or a fridge, and chose a Nissan Tiida. It was spacious and comfortable and quiet and frugal. It was red and shiny.


And on Friday night while driving alone to Christchurch, to attend Noah's second birthday party, Clemency crashed it. We found out, although we would rather not have, that actually it was also pretty good at keeping its occupants alive.


At the time I was driving back from Invercargill. My daughter Catherine phoned from London and told me just before I reached Balclutha. I diverted home, sorted out the cats, had coffee and drove to Timaru, where Clemency was in hospital, arriving about 2.45 am. Catherine had booked a motel and texted me a Google map of how to get to it. After briefly visiting Clemency in her ward and conducting a relieved conversation in whispers I got to bed around 3.30 am.

We had a long weekend in Timaru, she coming to terms with a fractured sternum, and the overwhelming knowledge of how much worse it might have been; me talking to panel beaters and police and hospital and insurers; both of us thinking about the pace of life which had led us to this moment.

We both work hard at what we are called to do. We have a mortgage late in life because in previous decades various parishes got all of our time. We both have jobs at which, no matter where we set the limits we are never ever giving enough, and there is always something else crying out to be done. Neither of us regrets any of this, but when the odd family crisis gets thrown into the mix it is very easy just to increase the hours vertical, decrease the hours horizontal and get on with it. But how easily all of it could end. How close we are to the edge of all things. And when we look at all the things which take up our time, how much, really, does any of it matter?

So for the last week I have been home, continuing all the negotiations begun in Timaru last weekend, looking after Clemency and doing a little diocesan work whenever it fits into the schedule.

Noah's birthday party was, despite the absence of his adored Amma, a rip roaring success, by the way.


And I am back, once again, shopping for transport. I've seen this on Trademe. It might be just the thing. It certainly looks safe.



Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Limits

Lake Waihola. Nikon D7100 Nikkor VR18-200.  18mm 1/200 f7.1

In the last 10 days I have driven approximately 3,000 km, but it seems the inner journey has been longer. There have been the usual round of diocesan activities and I was greatly privileged to be able to lead a retreat in Akaroa for St. Luke's parish, Christchurch. But in the course of the last week or so three things have reminded me of the fragility and beauty and seriousness of this great adventure that are all embarked on.

1. Last week our infant granddaughter became ill. Ada, now three weeks old, developed a very high temperature and a very rapid heartbeat and was admitted to Christchurch hospital for a few days. In the end she returned home sore from the tests and treatment she had been given but otherwise none the worse for wear, but it was a fairly testing time for us all. Clemency and I took it in turns to be present with Scott and Bridget as they tended their little girl. My duties consisted of taking Noah to the botanical gardens or the beach, pushing the swings, buying him fluffies, playing hide and seek, reading him books and using his digger to fill his truck with stones; all of which by mutual agreement was pretty darned awesome.
This is what I bought into not so much on the day about a month ago when Ada was born but on that other day 33 years ago when her mum was born. When Bridget was about 5 minutes old and before she knew what a mouth was let alone what were the noises coming out of it, I held her and promised her that for as long as I lived and had strength I would be there for her. She may not have heard or understood, but I did. A commitment is a self imposed limit on behaviour and this is one I gladly keep. Last week I couldn't be anywhere else.

2. In the last few days I have learned that my friend Captain Phil Clark, the head of the Church Army in New Zealand,  is seriously ill. I've never asked him but I guess he's in his 40s, husband of Monika and father of Emily and Michael. I first met Phil a few years ago when he came South to be guest speaker at our synod.  He was a witty and challenging public speaker and the sort of dinner companion who had everyone else at the table clutching their sides in helpless laughter and worrying in case their dessert was running out of their noses. Then, last year, he walked Te Harinui, the Hikoi of Joyful News with me. Again, he was great company on the long walks and a very useful communicator in public meetings. He's one of the nicest blokes you could ever wish to meet. And now the doctors have told him he may not see Christmas.  I heard this news, shocked as were all who know Phil and knew again the preciousness and the fragility of life.

3. I heard a confession. Jesus' famous story of the prodigal son  is about someone who set off in search of freedom, self expression, fulfilment and the expansion of horizons but found instead enslavement and diminishment. So this modern prodigal, despairing at the end of a similar journey, sought me out in a public place and desperately named the chains and manacles and shackles which held so firmly. There was no purple stole and no prayer book. At the time I think we both would have named it a conversation rather than a sacrament but, nevertheless, I was able to be the one standing at the gate, and running eagerly forward to embrace and pronounce the undiminished love of the Father. I carry this particular confession with me many days afterwards because I had such a sense of God working in this person's life; because the circumstances relayed were so raw and so real;  and because they remind me so painfully of the chains which I have, from time to time, so willingly and eagerly clapped onto my own limbs.

So, from time to time we face the limits of our existence. But paradoxically a knowledge of our limits simultaneously faces us with some inkling of the infinity with which we deal.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Lest We Forget

(c) Donnosch (Deviant Art)

On the Eve of Anzac Day I was in our cathedral for a beautiful service. The choir was small but sang well. There were readings and I recounted the inscription from the memorial at Gallipoli, which quotes Kemal Ataturk:

"Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

I find the words of the great hero of Gallipoli unbearably moving but I managed them OK. And as I read I wondered whether, if the situation was reversed, would we have been so generous? If a large army of Muslims had attacked us unprovoked, and if in defending our own land from them we had suffered 250,000 casualties would we, only a decade or two later have extended such forgiveness? Would we, even now, generously host thousands of young Muslims coming each year  the place where the enemy had landed?

I read the words and returned to my seat. In front of me was a long black table set with 371 lit candles. One for each man from Otago or Southland who had died in the Dardanelles campaign. Each candle representing a life lost. Each candle a family which had never come into being. Each candle a testament to the utter futility and waste of the whole sorry episode.

Every year Anzac day gets bigger and bigger. This year  it was, of course the centennial but even so the crowds increase annually as more and more people draw meaning from the commemoration. This interests and puzzles me. Anzac day is fast becoming our most important national celebration and this is at least in part, religious. That is, the commemoration is about explaining our origins and giving us a sense of purpose.

We in the Southern Hemisphere imported from our Northern hemisphere ancestors all the festivals and celebrations which marked their year. But here, few of them really fit. The religious festivals, as they developed in Europe marked certain stages in the Christian narrative and are placed to be congruent with seasons and the flow of a working year. It's only when we visit the North that we truly realise how wrong it is to celebrate Christmas at the height of summer or Easter in the Autumn. Acting from some only half conscious impulse, we here in the South, seem impelled to find our own, more contextually suitable festivals. So we hold mid winter Christmas dinners, and of late have begun to make a big deal of Chinese New year, Matariki, and, especially, Anzac Day. The reason why it is Anzac day rising to preeminence rather than the arguably more suitable Waitangi Day are fourfold:

1. Most people can claim a personal connection with the first World War in general and Gallipoli in particular. Most have a relative who served there and is far enough removed in time to be unknown - and thus to have the aura of a tupuna - but from whom we can claim descent or at least relationship. We mark this by doing something that was unheard of when I was growing up, wearing the medals of the deceased.
2. There is an accessible ritual, the dawn service. Waitangi day has no such shared observation, and the dawn service is just difficult enough (getting up very early) to give a sense of mission and pilgrimage, while remaining easy enough for even children and elderly people to do.
3. There is a recognisable symbol, the poppy, which is distinctive and attractive. Increasingly, the colour red is also gaining symbolic value.
4. The growing mythology of Anzac suits our self perception as a nation.That is, versions of the oft repeated and partially true stories of the bungling British officer class and the noble Anzac soldiers explain something of who we are, and how our national identity emerged.

This latter point is one which is only just beginning to be worked through. The wall to wall documentaries and television programmes shown over the past week or so seldom, if ever glorify war. There has been plenty of accurate analysis of The "Great" War and of the Dardanelles campaign. There has also been a lot of talk about courage and sacrifice. But we are only just bringing these two things together, reluctantly so because the juxtaposition is simply too painful to bear. Those 371 candles burning in our cathedral truly represent sacrifice; but sacrifice for what? The young men who went cheerily from Port Chalmers never to return were going to further the cause the British Empire, which when all is considered, was not something that was worth championing. A reading of the horrific history of the Bengal famines and the Opium Wars shows what it truly was that they were defending.  Our young men poured out their blood for what? To promote this?

And see what their sacrifice achieved. It was certainly not the promotion of freedom and justice. The end result of their efforts was a shattered Europe which fostered the rise of Communism and a peace treaty which made the rise of Fascism inevitable. Their sacrifice served to promote totalitarianism and set us on course for an even bloodier, an even more destructive war. It was, in other words a complete waste. Futile. Stupid. Wicked. And perhaps here is the Genesis of our sense of national identity. Whatever it is that we aspire to be in our new little country, it is not that. 

So I wear my blood red poppy, lest I ever, ever, be tempted to forget.




Saturday, 18 April 2015

Ada

My granddaughter was born last week. She is named Ada after her Great Great Grandmother and Catherine after her Aunt. Perhaps names are prophetic and she will share with these two strong women a portion of their resilience and creativity and presence. There are details I know some of you will want -birth weight, length etc - but this sort of information passes through my cognitive system without leaving any lasting mark. I can tell you instead of the intricate delicacy and length of her fingers and the silky clarity of her skin; or the perfect symmetry of her tiny sleeping mouth; or how small she is in her blanket and how light to hold.

She dominated my week. Nick, Charms and Naomi came over from Sydney and Clemency drove her ancient Honda up to see them all. My week was more than usually full, as I made up for the time spent on retreat, and, as well, I made two return trips to Christchurch to see my pregnant daughter and then my tired daughter and my latest mokopuna. Also, my computer died and I set up the replacement. One of our guest cats (I won't name him because it wouldn't be fair on Frank) peed on my new down jacket, and I machine washed it, (the jacket not the cat but I was sorely tempted) harming both the jacket and the wallet which was in the pocket. Clemency's old Civic developed a transmission fault that no one could quite identify but which all agreed was going to be expensive. I researched and bought a new car and arranged to pay for it.

And on the second of the trips North I meet her. Indeterminately dark eyes, probably blue, which look searchingly at my eyes and a little head which already turns towards voices; a still presence which grows even quieter when I play her Taize chants. I have known her for only a week, and for most of her life I will be just photographs and mementos. I will never meet her life partner or her children, or know in what ways she will learn and grow. But my life is tied to and invested in hers.

I look at her beautiful hands, each about the size of a large postage stamp, and see them marked in miniature with all the lines and creases which will remain unchanged  through childhood and youth and adulthood and her own old age. They open and close around my own fingers without, as yet, any conscious direction on her part, but one day they will knowingly hold and touch and make and communicate. I am so grateful to see her; whose tiny fists hold so much promise, so much of my hope.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Early Morning Drive Home

I was in Te Anau for a couple of days this week. On Maundy Thursday I left in the dark for a gentle cruise home in time for the midday service in the Cathedral











Sunday, 29 March 2015

Integrating

At the end of ten days of silence we all sat in a circle and shared something of what the retreat had meant to us. When my turn came I did a simple powhiri, greeting the house and the land and the mountain; thanking those who had fed us and guided us so well. A powhiri is used when two groups of people meet on a marae as a way of blending the groups together to perform whatever task has caused the manuhiri to turn up in the first place. This was my way of beginning a similar blend: what had happened to me at Snowmass and what I was returning to on the other side of the globe.

Centering prayer is about two things: awareness and consent. As we sit in silence we use some symbol: a word or an inward glimpse, or perhaps simple awareness of the breath to signal our consent to whatever it is that God wishes to do with us. We notice the many and ingenious subterfuges we use to keep knowledge of God at bay, and rather than fighting them, are simply aware of them, and watch them as they drift past in our quietened mind. It is simple but not easy.

In the quiet, things changed for me. My perception shifted in ways which I didn't notice until I got back to Aspen and saw a different town than the one I had left, and knew that actually, it wasn't Aspen that had changed. The issue is, how do I relate these changes to the things which must occupy my time and attention here on the other side of the globe? One way would simply be to stay. The monastic life is very attractive to me, and I could easily imagine spending my last years in the silence and the rhythm of the daily offices, but there are other people to whom I have commitments who might hold contrary opinions. So I spent a night in a little lodge, caught a small plane and then a big one and then a small one again. I went to my daughter's house in Christchurch, played with my grandson and drove 400 km with my wife. And slowly, like easing into a hot pool, I will gradually become accustomed again to the life I have built for myself.

The old habits of mind, the old patterns of interaction with other people and the world are very easy to slip back into. If I didn't watch it, I would find that in a month all the benefits of my long silence would have faded away into nothingness, and, then, what would all the cost and trouble have been for? But the central lessons remain: awareness and consent. And I preserve these by the same methods by which they are always preserved which isdisciplined daily practice. Which, I must say, does seem a little easier at the moment.