Maori Spirituality: A Wairua on Auto-Pilot?

Maori Jesus, St. Faith’s Church, Rotorua

The following is an article I submitted to ‘Craccum’ (Craccum is the University of Auckland’s Magazine) for publication in their Maori Language Week edition of the magazine. At the time of posting this entry the magazine had not yet gone to print. The posting of the article here is in response to numerous requests from various people to obtain a copy. In all honesty it was put together in haste, but I believe everything I wrote and I hope one day to do more research and study in this area in the hope of producing a useful study/resource that will encourage and indeed empower Maori people everywhere.

For Māori, spirituality is such an important part of our lives and our identity that quite often it can seem as if it is ingrained into the core of our very being. Indeed spirituality is so important that ‘Taha Wairua’ (Spirituality) makes up one of the components of Dr. Mason Durie’s ‘Whare Tapa Wha,’ four things necessary to live a well balanced life based on Tikanga and Whakaaro Māori. But apart from a few rote learnt prayers and perhaps praying before we eat, it seems as if any sense of deliberate spirituality is becoming less and less prominent amongst our people. This then begs the question, is spirituality still a fundamental part of who we are as Māori or has it simply become habit and void of any meaning at all?

It is important first and foremost to recognise that spirituality is not a synonym for Christianity. Although more often than not the spiritual context on our marae and at our hui is a Christian one, it is necessary to recognise that the religious spectrum of Māori is so much broader than just Christianity alone. Likewise it is important to remember that Māori spirituality is more than just praying or setting aside times to be ‘spiritual.’ Māori spirituality permeates everything we do and affects all facets of our lives; it is for this reason that perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the key to Māori spirituality lies in its application.

Too often we rest on our tradition as a way of manifesting our own spirituality, this can look as if we are simply putting our Wairua on Auto-Pilot, not too worried about what the outcome may be. But in this space and time, as we attempt to make sense of the world that surrounds us, a world full of destruction and pain, a world where the poor continue to be oppressed, the marginalised remain voiceless and our Tamariki (Children) are still going to school hungry, a Wairua on Auto-Pilot is a dangerous thing.

Although the thought of a conscious spirituality may not be a priority to many young people, it is vital to the future of our people, our whanau (Families), and our very being. It is not enough to exercise a passive spirituality that bubbles to the service when we all of a sudden need a karakia (Prayer) to open a meeting or to bless food. We need to cultivate a deliberate spirituality amongst our people, something that is sadly lacking in too many of our whanau. This doesn’t mean that we karakia day and night in an attempt to become more spiritually awake, rather it means that we need to become more aware of our Taha Wairua and its intrinsic link to our very identity as Māori. By doing this we create a foundation strong enough to stand up to the worst the world has to offer but also sensitive enough to see and appreciate the wonders that surround us every day.  This provides us with a much needed lens with which to see and indeed, respond to issues of marginalisation, oppression and injustice with concern and love.

Our culture is enormously spiritual, from Tangi (Funeral Rites) to Powhiri (Ceremony of Welcome) to Hura Kohatu (Unveiling of a Headstone), Taha Wairua is the key to our culture. The risk we run if we approach our spirituality in a passive manner is that we reduce these most intimate of times into little more than a role play, a performance with no substance. The substance to everything we do as Māori relies on a foundation built from a spiritually deliberate base. This means that we have an obligation as Māori to become more spiritually aware. Just as we have an obligation to ensure the survival of our Reo (Language), we must also ensure the survival and growth of our Taha Wairua. This is what we are called to remember in the words of Sir Apirana Ngata : “E tipu e rea, mo nga ra o to ao. Ko to ringa ki nga rakau a te Pakeha, hei ora mo to tinana. Ko to ngakau ki nga taonga a o tipuna, hei tikitiki mo to mahunga. Ko to wairua ki te Atua, nana nei nga mea katoa.”

Right here and now we as Maori have the opportunity to make this happen, to remember the words of our Tipuna and Ta Apirana, and to turn those words into action. If we do so now, we save our children and our mokopuna the harsh and painful experience of having to search needlessly for the Taha Wairua that we lost.

Translation of Sir Apirana Ngata’s Proverb: Grow up and thrive for the days destined to you. Your hands to the tools of the Pakeha to provide physical sustenance, your heart to the treasures of your Māori ancestors as a diadem for your brow, Your soul to your God, to whom all things belong.

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Sermon – Pentecost 4 – Ordinary 12 – Mark 4:35-41

Peace Be Still. By He Qi.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, remain acceptable in thy sight

O LORD my rock and my redeemer. AMEN.

 “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

 You know Whanau, I feel lucky this morning, and its not because I won Lotto last night. As if preaching here, and being with you all this morning isn’t enough, when I looked in my lectionary last week to see what the readings were, I found the reading we have this morning is one of my favourites in the entire bible.

                Here we have Jesus and some of his disciples out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Mark tells us that they are on their way to the town of Gerasa, and while they are on their way, Jesus falls asleep. Whanau, that right there is why I love this reading. Here we have Jesus, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, and what is he doing? He is sleeping. In this moment, this brief instance we are given an insight into Jesus that we don’t often get, that is an insight into his humanity and indeed his human vulnerability. Here we are reminded of the human nature of God, the fact that God sent his son into the world for us. Not simply as conqueror, or some sort of super-human entity, but a fully human manifestation of God, what a beautiful thing. He got hungry, he got angry and he even got sleepy sometimes. Jesus experienced life just as we experience it and in that knowledge there is a sense of comfort for those of us who continue to struggle through life’s challenges, through life’s ups and downs. That comfort is the knowledge that Christ himself experienced these struggles, and continues to experience them with us.

As our reading continues, we see Peter, perhaps hysterically, attempting to wake up Jesus. There is a huge wind on the water and the waves are pounding the boat, fearing that the boat will sink, Peter puts it to Jesus, “Do you care?!?” So, in what seems like a dramatic shift, from a sleeping, fully human Jesus, we see a change to a wind and rain stopping Son of God.

I think a lot of us here can relate to what must have been going through Peter’s mind at that very moment. Here he was, literally facing death as the boat was being swamped and where is Jesus, the Man who can make it all go away? He is sleeping! I remember in 2010, my older sister, the oldest in our family of 7 kids, was very sick. She was having seizures and blacking out all the time and the doctors didn’t quite know what was going on. She had MRI Scans, she had tests but still, they didn’t know why these things were happening. It wasn’t until mid 2010, after a series of CT Scans that they found a tumour in her brain that was growing just behind her ear. In that moment, at that time, it felt to me as though Jesus had fallen asleep, and my whanau and I were alone, facing the devastating news that my sister had Cancer.

We all have moments like this, Whanau. Times where it can seem as if we are at it alone and we cannot see Christ or God in anything we are doing. When children are beaten and killed by their whanau, when loved ones pass away well before their time, when we look at the Newspaper and it seems as if there is war and suffering all around us, these are moments where we can all be forgiven for perhaps thinking that we are alone, and Christ has fallen asleep, unaware of the pain we are experiencing. But whanau, in our reading is the remedy for this feeling, all along, Jesus was with the disciples in the boat, and every step of the way, Christ is with us. Christ’s response to Peter after having calmed the storm holds the answer for us, Christ said “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Faith, Whanau, the answer is faith.

Of course this reading is all about faith, and faith, along with love and hope, is one of the most important aspects of our callings as Christians. This doesn’t mean that we are always 100% sure of ourselves or our lives; it doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments of doubt, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be times where we think Jesus, or even God has fallen asleep on us. Faith means that despite those times, we remain strengthened and empowered in our calling as Christians to love and to serve. Faith provides the foundation that allows us to live lives of service informed by love, and if we do it properly, faith means that our love becomes real and transforming not just for us, but for everyone around us.

I believe that as humans, we are called to love. Nowadays, love is word that gets thrown around all the time, it seems we have almost gotten too familiar with it as a word that we no longer feel it as the deep and powerful emotion that it really is. We live in a world where the important thing in a marriage isn’t love, but your sexual orientation. We live in a world where we use love to explain the way we feel about food, we use it to explain how much we like a song or music, we even use it to say how much we like a pair of shoes or jeans or a stunning dress, as Christians, I believe that we are called to a much deeper love than that.  The Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote a lot on his ideas around grace, his main whakaaro was that we should avoid what he called ‘cheap grace’ and strive for ‘costly grace’ I think the same thing applies to love. It is easy for us to love those who we like, those who we are close to, but that sort of love is easy for us; it is a cheap love that costs us nothing. It is much harder to love those who no one loves, to stand with those who are being persecuted, the lost, the lonely, the outcast. When we refuse to ignore injustice, when we choose to speak out prophetically in love rather than remain silent, that is when we are exhibiting the love that all Christians are called to show. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but with the faith that Christ talks about in our reading this morning we are all the more ready to show that love when the time or situation demands it.

Our Gospel reading this morning alerts us to issues of faith, it is a reality of the Christian life that there will inevitably be times where we question our faith, where even the most faithful among us will be tested, the thing we are reminded of in our reading this morning is that even when those moments come and it seems as if our faith is getting smaller and smaller, we must remember that Christ is with us, even if like in our reading this morning it seems as if he is sleeping, he is there nonetheless, and that knowledge alone is enough for even us to command the wind to cease and storm to stop.

And so I leave you with those thoughts in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.         AMEN.

Sermon – 1st Sunday After Epiphany – Ordinary 1 – Mark 1:4-11

The Baptism of Jesus, by He Qi.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts remain acceptable in thy sight o LORD our rock and our redeemer.

When Michael texted me during the week to see if I could preach, I must admit I was a bit nervous. Not because I didn’t want to preach or because the thought of preaching scared me, but rather because here we are, only the second Sunday of the year, but also the first Sunday after all of the hype and excitement of Christmas, New Years and the Holiday Season. Today is a hard day to preach… For the past month we have been spoilt for options when it comes to preaching. We have had the dramatic lead up to Christmas in Advent, we have had Christmas Day itself, and last week was New Years day. In the Church calendar today marks the beginning of two “seasons,” today is the first Sunday after Epiphany, and the first Sunday in Ordinary time. Although these things make it hard to preach on a day like today, I think that it is on this very day where the meaning of Christmas hits home and becomes real. Just like we recited together at Midnight Mass on Christmas eve with the poem: The Christmas Hymn: “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins:…” The rest of the poem goes on to tell exactly what the work of Christmas is: “…To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.”

Christmas is a time of year where, more than any other time, the difference between the rich and the poor is made obvious. It is at this time of year when the struggles of those on the lower end of the Socio-economic scale become front page news and for this one time of the year, the spirit of Christmas calls us all to respond to this poverty that is all around us. Here and now, on this, the first Sunday in Ordinary time, it is good to be reminded that poverty doesn’t just affect people during Christmas but also on the other 364 days of the year. The Herald reported that this year’s turn out to the Auckland City Mission’s Christmas lunch was an all time high, and so many people turned up that some had to be turned away.  It is now, after the struggles of the poorest of our community is no longer making it to the front page of our news papers that we should be responding to our calling to love and to serve. A calling that is inside every one of us that claim to be followers of Christ, a calling that is instilled in us at our baptism and nurtured for the rest of our lives.

Baptism, it is something that we do quite often here at Te Karaiti and in a couple of weeks we will be doing it all again as we welcome the Chanel and Tui who will be bringing their Children to be baptised. What a beautiful thing, a young newly married couple living out their faith in such a way that causes them to realise the promise, the potential and the hope that is signified in baptism. For Chanel, Tui and their whanau it will no doubt be an emotional time. Memories of past baptisms will come to mind…thoughts will turn to loved ones who couldn’t make it and still others who are no longer here. But the overwhelming feeling on the day will be one of joy.

This morning, although there will be no baptisms, we celebrate and remember all those things that baptisms mean; promise, hope, and potential…in the Baptism of Jesus. The gospel of Mark does not to have a Nativity Narrative, that is, there is no account of the birth of Jesus, instead we are taken directly to Jesus’ baptism.

Jesus’ seeking and acceptance of baptism is a sign of unity with and an example for us to follow. Although the baptism being offered by John was one of repentance, Jesus’ sinless nature meant that there was no sin needing to be repented, but rather the necessity for baptism and the importance of baptism was as a starting point, and an opportunity for a new beginning. For many, the baptism of Jesus signifies the beginning of his ministry, a new phase in his life. At this time of year and on a day in which we remember the Baptism of Jesus we are given an opportunity to reflect on the past year and think about our own new beginnings and the promise, hope and potential that the New Year brings. When we think of the bible and the theme of New Beginnings we most often call to mind the creation story in Genesis, but the bible is full of New Beginnings and this, the baptism of Jesus is an example of just that.

Here, today, we are given an opportunity to once again stop and reflect. First of all on the past year, the good times, the bad, the successes, the failures, the ups and the downs. But it is also an opportunity for us to look to the future, the New Year and see where our baptismal obligations are leading us, and what those obligations are calling us to do.

Here and now, as we remember the Baptism of Jesus, we are being called to reflect on those words of the baptism liturgy which call us to “walk in the faith of Christ, crucified and risen, to shine with the light of Christ.” Although the needs of the poor and the marginalised have all but disappeared from the front pages of our news papers, the calling still remains with us to respond to our baptismal obligation and be the light of Christ amongst those whose own lights may have grown dim. In order to do that we must firstly and whole hearted live out the words of the Christmas Hymn: “…to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people…”

And so I leave you with those thoughts in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.         AMEN.

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