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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Matua Hone Kaa – A Tribute.

Matua Hone...e rere tonu nga roimata.

 In January, I posted a piece about Sermons. In that post, I made reference to one of the best preachers I have ever heard, the Ven. Dr. Hone Kaa. I have had the privilege over the past few years to work with and learn from Matua Hone. From driving him around, to being one of his ministers in Mangere, to just spending time with him, Matua Hone has had a huge impact on me. It was with sadness then that we learned of his diagnosis of cancer and that little could be done for him. As the days went by, Matua Hone didn’t seem to change, he continued coming to Church, he signed up to front a new TV show, things were looking good. But at the beginning of the week Matua Hone’s condition began to change until, on Thursday the  29th of March, surrounded by his family, Matua Hone passed away.

As preparations began to take shape, myself and several other young ministers who Matua Hone had mentored began the task of looking after Matua Hone and his whanau during his tangi (funeral). It was a sad but humbling pleasure for me to preach at Night Prayer on Friday Night at Matua Hone’s tangi. The following is the sermon I preached that night, I wanted to say more, and to be honest I could never put in words all that Matua Hone has meant to me, but as we prepare to take Matua Hone home to the East Coast it seems appropriate to share the sermon here…given it was him who inspired me to post my sermons online! No reira ki a koutou te whanau, Whaea Jane, Hirini, Nepia, Paea, Ngarino, Emere, Hana and Takimoana, kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui.

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.

(John 10:11-16, The Good Shepherd)

                A couple of weeks ago, some of us from St. Johns were lucky enough to spend an evening with Matua Hone and Whaea Jane at their home in New Market. It was a night filled with stories, laughter and karakia. For my sins, it was decided that I would preach that night. One thing I noticed as I prepared my sermon, was that since Matua Hone fell ill, a lot of people had been using different words to describe him, now that Matua Hone has passed away, the whole nation is referring to him like that. Some have called him a “rangatira”, others an “activist priest” and some have even described him as a “living legend.” I remember talking to one of Hone’s cousins, Wharekawa, and we got to talking about sheep. Wharekawa said that some of my Huriwai wanau were good shepherds back in the old days. Well whanau, needless to say, that talent must have skipped my generation! I don’t know much about sheep, and to be honest, I haven’t even touched one, but what I do know is that the work of a shepherd is hard, especially in the time of Jesus. Their work revolved around being alert and ensuring the safety of the flock. It was the shepherd’s responsibility to ensure there was good pasture and water for their sheep and that meant the shepherds often spent long stretches of time away from home, often sleeping under the stars, open to the affects of the weather and in some cases wild animals. All of these things, combined with the sheep’s tendency to wonder off and become lost, meant that the shepherds were always working. In some cases the danger was so high, that in order to protect the sheep, the shepherd would have to place himself in harm’s way, sometimes resulting in the shepherd’s injury or worse, death.

Whanau it may seem as if this story in the Gospel of John is simply talking about Jesus, and you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that. But beyond that theme, this gospel reading is calling us all to realise that we too, through the death and resurrection of Christ are being called to be shepherds to our whanau, our friends, our people. Matua Hone did just that, he began a journey in response to his calling to serve his people, and like the shepherds of Jesus time this calling, this mahi lead him away from his home, away from Rangitukia and the East Coast and sometimes even away from Aotearoa. Matua Hone’s work as a priest, was a work and a ministry directly informed by his faith, and if anything the one thing he held closest to him was the care of people, so much so that given his over 40 years of Ministry as a priest, you could say that he lay down his life, and therefore lived his life for his people. That isn’t to say that he only ministered to Ngati Porou or to Ngati Kahungunu, No. It was Matua Hone’s belief that everyone was made in the image of God and that therefore means that we all have a vested interest in one another, all people were Matua Hone’s people. What better example do we have of this part of Matua Hone’s life then the establishment of Te Kahui Mana Ririki. Matua Hone took a vested interest in every child in Aotearoa, and when it was obvious that something needed to be done, and our tamariki needed a voice, Matua Hone once again lay down his life and did something about it.

So what does this all mean for us? No doubt over the next few days we will hear story after story about how Matua Hone touched people’s lives, or how he inspired them, or how he was a man of faith, and while the sharing of those memories is good, what can we actually take from them? Here and now, as we mourn the loss of Matua Hone we are given a chance to really reflect on his life and impact on us all. Here and now we are given the opportunity not just to tell stories and remember, but to turn those stories into inspiration and that inspiration into action. As we move forward and prepare ourselves to say goodbye to Matua Hone, we must let his example lead us to also realise our calling, the calling of Christ that demands us to love. It is a calling of hope, of justice and of service and it is that calling that Matua Hone lived his entire life. If we let this opportunity go by then we might as well bury our memories with Matua Hone, if however we wish to honour Matua Hone and all that he meant to us, then let us follow his example to live a life, our lives, in such a way that we are ready to lay them down for all people, no matter who they are. By doing this, we take a piece of Matua Hone forward with us, we transform this time of grieving into a time of rejoicing. We change the tune of our song from one of sadness to one of joy. Whanau, as I share these words with you I am reminded of a line from one of Matua Hone’s sermons, he said “When we expect the worse at the last, we get the best. That is the mind of God, always to turn what you and I consider to be the end result into something so different.”

No reira e te Matua, e te hoa, e te Hepara. Moe mai ra i roto i to moenga. Moe mai ra i roto it e ariki.

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