My first academic assignment in seminary is still very much a part of my memory. The reason is that it made me wonder if I was cut out for this new path I was taking. I was to write an essay on Rudolph Otto’s work The Idea of the holy. Otto, an early 20th century German theologian, argued that the holy was to be addressed with fear and trembling, which he called awe. I know I was a neophyte theologian but I did not get his conclusions. They did get clearer years later when George W Bush attacked Iraq with “Shock and Awe”. That was definitely an Old Testament kind of holy. But anger, vengeance, oppression, and indiscriminate genocide do not instil me with awe. Ever since then, I have wrestled with the idea of the holy.
One of the more influential, life-shaping memories I store in my dishevelled filing cabinet of a brain, is reading King Lear when I was 16. It may have been my first in-depth encounter with the Bard of Avon. While I can give a basic outline of Shakespeare’s tragic play, it is not the story itself that haunts me, but one particular interchange between Lear and his Fool. The Fool tells him, “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”
Te Raukura is an important symbol to the tribes who affiliate to the Taranaki rohe. This symbol is captured in the form of a white feather, or a plume of white feathers. Te Raukura represents spiritual, physical, and communal harmony and unity. It is an acknowledgement of a higher spiritual power, which transcends itself upon earth. It is a symbol of faith, hope, and compassion for all of humankind and the environment that we live in.
There are various accounts of how the Raukura feather became such a significant symbol to the people of Taranaki. One such account refers to a gathering of people at Parihaka who witnessed an albatross landing on one of its courtyards, dropping a single feather before departing. This feather became the Raukura, and was honoured by Tohu Kakahi and Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, the prophetic leaders of Parihaka, and its community.
A couple of weeks before the Christmas of 1849, William Lewis Manly climbed to a mountain pass and beheld “the most wonderful picture of grand desolation one could ever see.” Manly was standing in what’s now southwestern Nevada with an empty stomach and a dry and parched throat.” Manly found himself wandering the desert owing to a series of unfortunate decisions. Hoping to reach the gold fields in Northern California they took a detour that led into some of the most inhospitable terrain on the continent.
“We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future. Humanity is currently causing the sixth mass extinction of species and the global climate system is at the brink of a catastrophic crisis. Its devastating impacts are already felt by millions of people around the globe. Yet we are far from reaching the goals of the Paris agreement.
Sankofa comes from the Twi language of Ghana in West Africa. A common English translation is “go back and get it.” The sankofa bird is an example of adinkra. Adinkra symbols make up a highly symbolic language—similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics. They are common among the Akan people of Ghana, and have made their way into the wider African diaspora. The symbols express complex thoughts and proverbs. The sankofa bird’s head faces backward as it attempts to catch its lost egg in its mouth. Its feet face forward. One translation is, “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have lost,” or “that which was taken.” Learn your past so that it may guide your actions in the present for the purpose of shaping the future. Another translation: “remember the past to protect the future.”
Whether it is a story about Rip Van Winkle or A Wrinkle in Time, sentient and self-aware beings cannot escape their enchantment with time. It wasn’t only Unitarian Charles Dickens who used time travel as a device to offer Scrooge redemption by visits to his Christmas’ past, present and future. Time like threads woven into the warp and weft of our lives connects us and all that followed the big bang. Tracing those threads as we seek to know where they lead has been a human endeavour since the ancient past.
There is no getting around it. Our rationalist faith doesn’t “get” Easter. We get Christmas. Jesus was born. We get Good Friday. Jesus died. We don’t get Easter. If we think about it at all, we struggle with the idea of resurrection. Our first reaction is to dismiss what we don’t understand or can’t relate to. Even if we know the stories about Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem, what Christians celebrate as Holy Week, they can feel old, dusty and irrelevant to our lives. Too much suspension of disbelief is required to take them any more seriously than fairy tales. As a result, many Unitarians find Easter as empty of meaning as the tomb. Why bother going to the effort to roll back the stone? There is nothing to see … or is there?
I have a bone to pick with my daughter. In a recent FaceTime call she was appalled to learn I wasn’t familiar with a TV series called The Walking Dead. I reminded her that I do do dragons and wizards — and werewolves if Michael J Fox is one. I don’t do horror films or at least not since I was 14, when I “watched” Hitchcock’s The Birds with my jacket over my head. A book about vampires is okay, but I don’t want to read about or watch zombies.
Then while looking for a new series to watch I saw that Neon had just made The Walking Dead available — all ten seasons. Just to be more up-to-date with cultural references I decided to watch just one episode and then tell my daughter it was a waste of time. I’ve just about completed season four.… I am thoroughly hooked.
From my experience, one of the most difficult things to do in life is to cross a threshold. I would like to be able to claim that I do so bravely and boldly. Sadly, human frailty being what it is, that has often not been the case. Sometimes it has required tornado public transport to move me from Kansas to Oz. Sometimes I have crossed by accident while playing hide and seek with myself and my fears in the back of a wardrobe.
I have shared in the past that I was reared by, and infused with the values of, a staunch empiricist. Yet my scientist father was a highly committed and active member of the Episcopal Church most of his adult life. Furthermore, to everyone’s surprise, including mine, he parented an Episcopal priest who evolved into a Unitarian minister. As a teenager I could not untangle the mystery of how belief in science and faith could be embodied in a single skin. It was a conundrum. It was an impossible juxtaposition. It was mind-numbing cognitive dissonance. It defied an adolescent’s black and white view of reality.