Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fine Fall Days Down Under

I spent a week in New Zealand, with the Brothers at Hamilton. Hamilton is a small city on the North Island, far from Christchurch and the earthquake. But we were not isolated from the effects of the earthquake--being a small country, the brothers knew of plenty of people who'd been affected directly. And there are lots of fundraisers for the earthquake victims being advertised on T.V.

Br. Simone and I enjoyed a day out, going to visit several places where volcanic activity was bubbling to the surface. Steaming rivers and boiling pools of mud are big tourist attractions in New Zealand. Best was swimming in the hot springs at Rotorua.

Here we are standing on a beach with the Pacific ocean stretching out behind us.

Brothers Damian Kenneth and Brian hosted a dinner party during my stay. It was a very ecumenical affair with Roman Catholic, Anglican and Romanian Orthodox clergy.

Another evening Simone and I visited a homeless shelter where he volunteers. We took some food, then stayed to talk. I was impressed by the experience--we could have been in New York, Washington or California. Its depressing to think homelessness is such a universal experience. The major difference here is that the men were mostly Maori. The other universal quality is the selflessness of the volunteers, the sign of never failing grace and generosity and that where homeless exists and the worst of urban life, there is always it seems right alongside it, the very best of human behavior: generous, caring and creative in the face of tremendous need. I was reminded of a line of a liturgy from the 80's: God came not to take away our suffering but to be with us in it. Yet with some political determination and a minor allocation of resources (compared to, say, defense budgets) we could make homelessness history.

The last weekend I was there I gave a quiet day for about 10 people: "Remember who you are" was the theme. I told them "be who you are before God: be simply yourself." The desire to do this is evidence of God's action. We spent the morning remembering family, hometown, the costs of forgetting our background: vulnerability to social marginalization, addictions. Remembering brings the will to work for healing and can unleash creativity. In the afternoon we spent time remembering who we are in God's eyes: beloved, worthy, empowered, forgiven. And to remember that we ARE the church. I ended up with the words of Eugene Peterson: Now God has us where he wants us--with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us.

Now I am in Australia. We spent the other day digging trenches to divert rain water, and since then we've not had any rain: glorious early autumn weather. Generally though getting spiritually ready for Easter and the cold winter months.

It is such a head trip switching hemispheres!!

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