Sunday, February 22, 2015

Stones for Christchurch

 February 22 is the 4th anniversary of the big Christchurch earthquake that shattered a city and claimed many lives. After the quake I went to the Auckland beach near my home and made a shrine. I returned over many days to make new ones to post on my blog. You can see one of the posts here, and four others by scrolling back from there to older posts.

I wasn't just making shrines. I was also offering up prayers.

Those who have remained living in Christchurch have been shaken hundreds of times since.
They have had to learn to live with instability.
Solid ground turned to liquid and we learned a new word.
Anyone whose life has been shattered knows what it's like to have your foundations knocked from under you, to have everything that seemed certain and stable to turn to liquefaction.

This has happened in my life, not just once but several times. Maybe it's happened in yours too.
 And so it's important to reach for a new order, to find what can be trusted, to discover another kind of stability.

Today I have made another shrine for Christchurch, invoking faith for a city whose cathedral was broken. The colours for Christchurch are red and black. My shrine has two faces. Which one speaks to you most?

Prayer for Christchurch, four years on

May the stones of faith be reinstalled.
May the heart find its own resilience.
May a new order emerge, stronger than the one before.
May there be healing and holding.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Rituals of welcome

Through the summer holidays I had been sewing, plying my needle through tough canvas, to prepare for this special day. Now that the little one was to begin in Class One at the Steiner school, she needed a chair cover with a deep pocket across the back. At the end of last year each child was asked to choose one of the colours of the rainbow, and given a chair cover for someone to decorate.

What shall I put on it? I wondered as the chair cover was entrusted to me. No problem, the little one knew exactly what she wanted: a tree, an owl, some grass and a moon. Oh, and the night before I was informed that her name had to be on it, so some hasty chain stitch was produced.
 We stood outside in the cool breeze of early morning - well, early for me, to be out driving at the one time of the day I avoid: the rush hour, when workers, and parents taking their kids to school are all out driving here there and everywhere. But this was a special day, and I had to be there.
 For on this, the first day of school, the little one was about to receive a special welcome. She wore a pretty new cotton dress, and slung her not-new back pack over her shoulders in readiness.

The whanau was gathered around her. Whanau is a Maori word for family, picked up by Pakeha ( New Zealanders of European descent) when describing a warm and nurturing family unity. And that's what we were: Chinese granny, Pakeha granny (me), father, and mother with the new babe in her arms, and the little one in our midst.
 The Steiner School is robust on caring, and this means creating ceremonies of transition. While the philosophy began in Germany, there is a strong Maori influence in this school. Together with the other families, we waited. The children from the kindergarten were shepherded into a circle by their three teachers. Then we women—mothers, aunties, and grandmothers—were called to follow the little flock, and the men asked to walk in behind. We walked a few steps towards the beautiful school hall.
 Then we waited again. A dignified Maori woman wearing a korowai, a cloak woven from the muka, the fine fibre inside the flax plant, waited in the doorway. Then the moment came that we were waiting for: the beginning of the powhiri, the ritual of welcome.
 A ringing chant known as a karanga resounded across the space between us, and we slowly stepped forward, beckoned by the smiling woman, across the threshold and into the hall with its high stepped seating, like a steep amphitheatre. It was full of pupils and teachers; in fact the whole school was waiting for us.
It was at this point that my tears welled up as if they would never stop.
The cluster of young children was shepherded some more, on to mats on the floor.  There they sat with their kindergarten teachers, to whom they would soon be saying goodbye. Every now and then a little girl crept into the embrace of her teacher, cuddled up for a while, then bravely made space for another to do the same.

Meanwhile one of the Maori teachers began his oratory, welcoming the children in, speaking of the transition that they were soon to make, to Class One in the main school. He referred to the kindergarten as a kohunga, a learning nest, and that's just how it seemed as I watched those clusters of little children on the mats.

All the teachers then gathered around him to sing a waiata (song), and a Maori man on our side, representing the visitors, gave another speech. They went on a long time, these men, all in Maori, for they were brothers showing their skills to each other as well as to us.
And then came the moment that brought more tears. A candle was lit on a special table, an invocation was spoken, and through this wooden archway, threaded with flowers, the little ones were led, one by one. Each, when her/his name was called, was met by a senior student who gave them a posy of flowers, took their hand, and brought them through to their new teacher, Mr. Wigley (yes!), who is an award-winning musician and writer of children's songs.

The children now sat on benches with Mr Wigley, who then led them away through a doorway, off to their class room.

Meanwhile the three kindergarten teachers sat on the empty mats.

It was shortly after that when new tears began to flow, and not just from me. The seven years of magical childhood are almost over and a new phase is beginning. I felt as if the Pied Piper had appeared and led the children away into a mountain, where they would never be seen again.

A ritual of welcome can also be a ritual of loss, depending on where you stand.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Breaking bread at Lugnasad

 
 The wheel has turned, rain has fallen on the parched earth and a lively wind is rattling loose branches around my home. Time to sip tea, break bread, and give thanks.
 Thanks for the golden summer, which is now turning its head towards a doorway marked 'northern hemisphere'.  It won't be departing just yet, but all action begins with a thought, a turning away and a turning towards, and today that thought is buzzing in the breeze.
 In the Celtic calendar of old Europe tribes would gather to give thanks to the grain god Lugh, who was sacrificed with the reaping of the corn. Back to the body of the Earth goddess he was gathered, ploughed in so that new life might emerge in the spring. And so today we remember Lugnasad, his festival, and its continuation through Christian times as the festival of Lammas.
 Loaves made from the first grain harvest were brought to church to be blessed. Last night I baked a gluten-free loaf of bread, from a recipe posted by Australian blogger Charlie, who is a superb cook. She calls it a 'life changing loaf', and it certainly is. No flour is used at all. It's easy and nourishing, full of nuts and seeds. You can find it by clicking here.http://hotlyspiced.com/homemade-vegan-bread/
This season is also berry time, which was important in the Maori seasonal cycle. Not being a grain growing society (until European contact), Maori depended on the kumara (sweet potato) crop as the staple. However, at First Fruits/ Lugnasad/Lammas the kumara was still sitting in the ground, needing another month or so to mature. And so this was a lean time, 'Te Waru'.
 The native berries which the wood pigeons have been feeding on so enthusiastically out at my bach, provided some food, though not of a very substantial kind.
And the karaka berries needed special treatment, including long soaking in water, to remove their poison and making them safe for eating. Have you ever gathered wild berries? Berries are hard work.
And so, in giving thanks for plentiful food, I am also mindful at this time of year that for many, the basket is half empty. In my book Celebrating the Southern Seasons: Rituals for Aotearoa, I call this time the Festival of the Half Harvest. I find it a good time both to offer up gratitude, and also to make donations for those who are in need.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rituals of Arrival


What are your rituals of arrival, when you come to a special place?  Last weekend as I crunched along the gravel path and up the brick steps to the bach, I became aware of mine.
Between carrying in the first and second loads from the car, I found myself pausing to pull a few weeds from the path — not as in 'working', but as in greeting the land, and making a promise to tend it once more when I'd settled in.
Between the second load and the third, I made a detour up the steps to dead-head the cornflowers, as a way of saying, 'hello, I'm so glad that you are still flowering. You are beautiful.' It was but a small diversion from there to visit the tomato plants and pinch out a few laterals.
 After the fifth load I pick a fresh kawakawa leaf while the kettle boils. And after the sixth load it's time to pause for my cup of tea, and to taste the fresh fruit I bought on the way out. Big sigh of relief. I have arrived.
 Unpacking can wait till later.
 For now, creative ideas flock in, fluttering like butterflies around my head. I pull out my writer's notebook, and begin to write this blog to you, dear readers. So you come with me, you see, as my heart opens to receiving the blessings of nature, like these calling cards from the kereru (wood pigeon), that have been dropped at intervals along the pathways.
 I take my tea outside and sip contentedly, listening to the wind shaking secrets through the foliage, and the penetrating ki-ki-ki of a kingfisher spearing up from the nearby stream. I think of Jane Duncan Rogers, who wrote recently about arriving at a beach hut in Scotland, in the cold of winter, and Joan Anderson, who took a year by the sea at Cape Cod, and all those women who face the bravery of retreat.
From Virginia Woolf's room of one's own, to beach huts, cottages, baches, boats, and other hideaways around the world, where women escape to soothe their souls and wait for the wellspring to fill again, it seems I am not alone. I am a bead on a long loose string that encircles the world, and loops around times past, present and future.
In solitude and silence, the magnificence of nature is most deeply felt.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Nature is the teacher

It's time to take a break from some work that isn't going as quickly as I would like. Time to play, and my six-year-old playmate is all ready to go.
It's morning, and the tide is too far out for swimming. Never mind, the beach is perfect for sandcastles and the wet sand left by the receding sea is exactly the right texture.
 We know from trial and error the important of patting each layer and consolidating the sand in the bucket
 so that the form is preserved. The little one turns out a perfect sandcastle, and celebrates with a scallop shell on the top.
I find myself relaxing, accepting what nature is showing me. At present I'm developing an exciting new project, but it's taking a lot of time to set it up with a solid foundation.
 Sometimes I get impatient, like the little one with her next sandcastle.
It collapsed.
All was not lost, however. 'It could be a hill. Or a house,' she exclaimed, and so it was.
I'm happy that she is so ready to make something out of the 'failure'. A collapsed castle is no big deal for her. But I don't really want my new project to turn into a flat-topped hill or a house. I have aspirations. After all, I grew up beside a mountain.
 'Now we'll connect them all up,' she said,
gathering leaves from the sea. That's the best place. They are all floating in the water.'
And so the sandcastle town is completed, with pathways linking the successful with the less successful castles, each one decorated and standing proudly.
I return home to reflect on what I learned from a bucket of sand. A collection of loose ideas swirling around is not good enough. I need to draw them together, connect them up and pack them into a sturdy container. The new technology needs to work. The website page needs to be set up. Inspiration on its own is not enough, but the right amount, like the ocean water, will hold everything in place, well consolidated, ready to stand alone.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Back from the bush

 Being in nature and being in community: what a rich and nourishing combination this is. Once a year I attend a gathering of people who are concerned for the earth and its people. This year we tried out a completely new location.
The school camp at Port Waikato was set up for children's health in the 1920s, and has been cared for with great love over the years. The accommodation is simple, but clean and comfortable.
A local farmer gifted his land for the health camp on condition that the hillside of bush was retained.
It was the perfect place for our annual gathering.
 I learned more about the bush, the dedicated work that my friends are doing in the world, and I had the opportunity to test out one of my 'inspirational ideas for 2015' (which you'll be hearing about in due course).
There were plenty of spaces to retreat to, for contemplation, journal writing or simply to sit quietly and integrate the stimulating ideas that we had heard during the day. This one is 'the chapel'. I set out expecting to find a building, and then realised that the 'chapel' was completely open to the bush and the sky.
I came away feeling completely recharged, and ready for another year of exciting work.
Oh, and the children had a great time too.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Summer Solstice Circles

 After an hour of meditation this morning, a spell of gardening, a toast of elderflower champagne (!) on the steps with my gardener as we admired our work, I set off for the beach.
Each summer solstice my favourite thing is to create an offering on the sand, to greet this turning point in the seasonal cycle.
 This year, the pohutukawas are at their most splendid. It is a 'mast' year, which occurs occasionally, and has brought about abundant flowering of native trees throughout the country.
The rain has stopped and the sky is cloudless. A playful breeze whisks away the heat from the sun, and down at the beach it's still fairly quiet. This week before Christmas is always a special time to be here, knowing that I have let go of deadlines and rushing about, and left the busy crowds back in the city.

Here, even the computer has slowed down. It will take over half an hour to load this post, even though I've limited myself to only three photos. Right now, slow is OK.
The wheel of the year is turning. For those of you in the north, the light is seeded at winter solstice. For those of us in the south, the dark seed has been sown, even as the warmth is increasing and the waves are beckoning. As the wheel turns, our light becomes your light, and your dark becomes our dark. We are all connected. Happy solstice, wherever you are.