Click the Image for more on Variable Oystercatchers via NZ Birds Online.
Today, I write only with a light touch about the sacred. I’m no expert. Neither am I entirely sure of the fullness of its nature. My spiritual sense of self, you could say, is often non-existent. Otherwise, it lays somewhere in a starry haze of semi-conscioussness that is ill-defined. I need to be full of wine to feel anything like I imagine it to be, unless it is simply the feeling of loving and being loved. I have no faith in an afterlife, and heaven is most definitely a place of ecological vibrance, a place on Planet Earth. Theologians have their time-layered works bound in chained libraries, and literature is loaded with the romance and the symbolism. Research potential is vast and just a little bit daunting. So I’m going to be bold and say here only what I have been thinking over the last few weeks.
Despite the amplitude of human thought, maybe we’ll never fully articulate what constitutes the most sacred. In so many ways, I’d rather leave it a mystery. I do see purpose in exploring the sacred extrinsically, none-the-less. This is the reason why I write today.
There’s credence in declaring ecological networks sacred as a route to the protection of life, a full sanctity of life. Nurtured this way, perhaps, the sacred become inviolable. Constituent lives are liberated to evolve with a free-will, a flourish of nature’s effervescent, green fuse. More, by cultivating a collective reverence for the presence of a community of living beings ~ through narratives, ritual and rules ~ we may look and ‘see’ life in new ways, a wave of sanguimund spreading though each one of us, the wonder of interconnected life. There have been many before us using sacred words with similar meanings now lost, and I hope many after, with words yet to be created. All I ask that we think about creating our own sacred, build the narratives and exercise the rituals. Then, defend from the profane. And that defense, in sanctity and in love, will need to be strong.
Guarding the sacred is not limited to protection from human intrusion. Sometimes, the opposite is vital. Sometimes, the sacred is one’s presence or consciousness and the tending of ecosystem in a loving, fluministic way. Fenced-off zones around Chernobyl have led to non-human life returning in abundance. There is a sanctity in the absolute devotion of ecological networks of that place. But the absence of humans is not a pre-requisite of the sacred. Churches may seem at their most holy when the bells toll loudly, when the stalls are heaving with parishioners singing hymns at the top of their voices. The sacred seems to exist somewhere in the union of the people in the nave, all facing east, a sense of reverence helped along by those clever architects placing windows in the clerestory to remind of God’s presence in beams of moted dustlight. The land can hold us with a similar sense of direction, committment and devotion. And God need not be involved, unless he is simply love.
But a private moment, no less, can be the touch of grace, with such strength that it can change one’s perspective forever. I lean over my Grandmother’s grave and remember her strength. Fused into my memory cells, she’d garden with such force as to create her own weather system. This memory seems sacred, but not her grave. I feel the difference in remembering I am her kin.
It may not be a surprise to you that I feel the sacred most in perceiving those bristling interconnections in the living world, the living, quietly seen or unseen. A humble field maple will do it, with birds in the gnarly branches and fungi at the roots. Their Autumnal yellow glow takes my breath way and I am minded to sit for hours and just be present. It is a profound love, intense and moving. A mother fox licking her young, a tender petal opening to a bee, these are all things bright and beautiful. Light is important to me, I’ve been to the darkest of dark (I call this blog Seasonalight, light seeking). That the direct or diffused sunlight gives succour to life seems profound. I love the light around waterfalls. So do the mosses and the liverworts. There are also also the green rays at sunset, or during eclipses, the last and first moments of light bent and scattered through our thin atmosphere like moments of magic.
The sacred can also be a memory, an event marked at a place only by the truth-myths passed down through generations. From the eastern sunrise, I once arrived at the spectacular Hokianga Harbour, North Island, New Zealand, an area brimming with sacred Maori sites. Yellow dunes on the far side of the bay shone brightly sucked back into a baby-blue vacuum. An incoming tide from the Tasman sea swept the bay clean with crested wave upon wave, and variable oystercatchers flew low at blistering speed (I could just make out their uncanny calls). I followed a sign to a look-out point high above the harbour entrance and sat on a low wooden bench. I felt an immediate essence of something profound here. I was positioned somewhere on the edge of it all, and it felt like sanctuary. Later, I walked along nearby Omapere wharf and talked to a Maori man from the village who was fishing with a simple line and hook. I was just a tourist, yet he was so generous in conversation. He told me his Maori oral tradition, that legendary Polynesian explorer, Kupe, of the Matahourua canoe, made first Aotearoa landfall and lived here. The story goes that he named it Te Puna i te ao marama ~ the spring of the world of light ~ until in his old age he decided to return to his island birthplace, Hawaiki. The words he spoke as he left were, Hei konei ra i te puna i te ao marama, ka hoki nei ahau, e kore ano e hokianga-nui mai ~ this the spring of the world of light, I shall not come back here again ~ and so, granted Hokianga its name.
The vessel of the sacred contains a good measure of vulnerability. Maybe this is an essential tension that drives us to protect. Great sacrilege occurred at Hokianga, long after Kupe’s departure, against the endemic and the Maori. The mighty kauri trees, like the blue whales of the world’s forests, were wrenched from inland Waipoua and floated down the river for milling and global export, mainly by the hands of Pakeha (non-natives). Unlike the Maori, who would take chosen trees with a reverence, for canoe-building, the Pakeha took nearly all. And without the kauri, large parts of the forest died and many endemic species lost forever. What was left was turned over to dairy, and again those products exported globally from the Harbour. To destroy the interconnections between living things is to destroy the most sacred ~ life. Thankfully, another Pakeha, William Roy McGregor, professor of Zoology, successfully campaigned to end logging of the Waipoua Forest in 1952 and created the Waipoua Forest Sanctuary. The sanctuary is still weak from attack, with Kauri Die-back disease laying claim to regenerating forest, and climate change will be having its effect. Let’s hope this small part of a once vast, ancient forest recovers to it’s truest dynamic state of being, given full protection and time.
Unlike the great Kupe, perhaps, I’ll return to Hokianga again one day. Modern technology makes it easier for me, though I’ll have to watch those emissions (always somekind of price to make such returns). The harbour and surrounds are a wealth of flora and fauna and, until then, it will be the distant sounds of the oystercatchers, torea-pango, that will remain in my memory as symbol of the sacredness of that place. If I am quiet enough, I can still hear the sacred, right now in my head.