The Easter story is a remarkable one, but overshadowed in Alexandra (where we were visiting grandchildren) by the annual rabbit hunt ending in a corpse-strewn domain, a fair, the Clyde food and wine festival, and an Easter egg hunt for the children where it was reported an aggressive child could score a pillowslip of Easter eggs. Faced with this, the story of a crucifixion and resurrection occurring 2000 years ago had an uphill battle to be heard.
I’m not a religious person but, nonetheless, one of my favourite books is a study of mysticism by Evelyn Underhill, first published in 2011 and reprinted several times since. The book was gifted to me by Malcom Yockney, who I went to school with and who wrote in the front cover, Love and friendship always. It’s a scholarly but beautifully written work in which Underhill claims that mysticism is the essential religious experience. She collates the recorded experiences of the great Catholic mystics: Francis of Assissi, Catherine of Siena, St Teresa among others, as well as drawing on William Blake and Walt Whitman. She sees the artist and the mystic as bedfellows and reading of the mystic way offers solace in an increasingly crazy world.
I happened to be reading it for the third time this Easter and was struck by the simplicity yet complexity of the process. The mystic, after sensing God’s presence (the Real), embarks on a journey. The first stage they call Recollection, but it is actually the first meditative experience, the focusing on a single external object in order to cut out the noise of the mind – the fragmented thoughts, worries, anxieties etc.; the rabbit hunt, the wine and food festival, the Easter egg scramble, Donald Trump… The single object could be a flower, a tree, a creek, some representative of the creator. After practice in this discipline, the mystic enters a period of Quiet, where the relationship with God is established, with God being both external and internal. Underhill believes Christianity has produced mystics in relative abundance because of the complexity of the trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost- which enables rich relationships to be forged.
Finally, a Unity, a oneness with God is experienced, not as a passive state, but as an active relationship which then spills over to an active relationship with society. She despises the passive ascetic.
It seems to me, that this model is useful to the 21st century dilemmas. For behind it is the quest for the Real, the authentic, the vital. Surrounded by an extraordinary flood of the unreal, that quest is indeed a useful one. And to then develop a relationship with the Real, in whatever form that might take, is again, useful. Finally, to live in harmony with that Real. And the Real could be a narrative of social justice, it could be whanau, it could be community, it could be the creative project. And to energise that relationship with love.
Anyway, that seemed to be the hidden pattern of Easter for me. I was reminded of a moment in the 1980s when after spending Easter rehearsing Te Tutakitanga I Te Puna at a marae in Ruatahuna, we were driving back to Wellingotn and stopped for a break on the shore of Lake Taupo. Surrounded by motels, boats, cars, it was like glimpsing the Pakeha world, this overlay of capitalism, technology and alienation, from a traditional Maori perspective.
The search for the Real remains fundamental.