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Easter Journey

We went north for Easter, myself, Caroline and Te Whaea, drove to Picton, left the car, caught the ferry, had a night in Wellington, hired a car, drove to Ohau to scatter my brother’s ashes, then dropped Whaea off at her Mum’s in Palmerston North, before continuing to Napier to spend a night with my nephew from my adopted family,  whose mother recently died.

It was great not to fly.  Airplanes and airports are tedious, a fatal disaster the only possibility of excitement. On a car and boat journey, you experience change in the landscape, you see things and people: are disturbed as the procession of churchgoers with their cross walk through the pleasure-seeking crowd in Picton, over hear conversations, have time to ponder the blind girl and her friend, watch the white stick unfold and snap open, wonder about the man incessantly pacing the terminal, doze as you traverse the strait, watch the ramp come down ever so slowly and the bright light of the capital intrude.

The family gathering was healing. For the first time my brother and sister spoke their stories of the family disintegration, their middle-aged children weeping as the traffic on SH1 flowed past in the distance. The ashes were heavy and ready to form clay.  For the first time we seemed to exist as a family unit, a disjointed and edgy one, but that was okay. We’d  had to wait until old age for it to happen, but that was also okay.

From there to one of those Californian houses, large and lush, the adopted family having progressed from an ex-state house to this in two generations. It’s why Mexicans keep crossing the border, for they can see that the dream can happen; for these are ordinary working people living in these suburbs. I pondered the recent photos of my sister in law. She’d shrunk into the physical archetype of an old lady on a marae, become a kuia. They’d bought this house so she could have the flat that was attached. She was already frail and an infection in the pancreas quickly invaded and they’d had to make the painful decision to switch off the life support.

I remembered her first appearance at the ex-state house in Palmerston North. She’d been a girl with life in her and as she refused Pakeha puritanism, was a welcome change. I remembered the loving, close physical relationship she had with her infant son. I remembered her sadness when she witnessed my daughter’s growing facility with te reo and her telling us of her regret at not learning the language from her native-speaker father when she was a child. I remembered these things. I hadn’t seen her for ten years and now she had become memory. Remnants of my brother will still lie in the river bed.

My nephew and his wife took us to the local Indian restaurant for dinner. In the morning he showed me his Harley and I took their dog for a walk. The last night of the trip we stayed with Omar and Serena in Wellington. On their wall is a map of Palestine before the creation of Israel, a document lovingly prepared, the Arabic writing a graceful commentary.

It was the most political image I’ve seen for a very long time.


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.

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