All Saints Reflection by Mart the Rev

Prefaced by two readings from Isaiah 43: 1-7, 18-21with the line: ‘Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing’ and, Isaiah 51:1-4, 14-16 with the line: ‘Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you.’

It’s the All Saints season

I’m not sure it is an especially Presbyterian thing to acknowledge the saints before us. I have no recollection of anything about All Saints in my Presbyterian childhood.  I had heard of Halloween but only through American television programmes.  The tradition is much older than Halloween though.

I can’t say I like the idea of horror and frights and tricking if you don’t treat me thing at all. A very poor commercially driven substitute for what can be an opportunity for some very thoughtful reflection – much like Christmas!

At All Saints we recall that we are what we are because of what has been and we are who we are because of those who have gone before us. But we also acknowledge that we are to live now facing forwards.  It is good to reflect on our place in all of this.

For instance, it is quite natural to believe that the world revolves around us. Natural in that we are, at one level, the centre of our worlds.  We can only interpret the world we live in through our experience of it – we breathe in the air, feel the warmth of the sun or the chill of the wind, observe things, interpret things, engage with things, react to things, and internalise it all in our bodies.  Even if we read of other people’s experiences of life, we are still the vessel for being able to do that reading and interpreting, the experiences of other people can only make sense to us by our processing what we hear or read in some form.  Obviously, things do happen apart from us.  Almost everything that has ever happened has happened apart from us, but we are linked to it all, the seen and the unseen, and we can only make sense of everything by making connections through our senses and our bodies and our minds and our hearts and our souls.

But, the world, of course, does not revolve around us, or any of us. We are not the centre of anything.  We are passing life-forms in a very complex and very old universe.  Even in terms of the human story any one of us is but a passing moment.  In time we might be remembered for something but that is most likely going to simply be as an entry without story on someone’s genealogy chart.  But we are part of something.  Part of that genealogy.  Part of the makeup of that future person.  Apparently our DNA makeup is not fixed, as in a thing that is unchanging.  I remember hearing earlier this year that the effects of certain events in our lives can affect our genetic makeup and even be passed down and have some effect on future generations.  I suspect that traumatic events are the most obvious thing that affect us and those ahead of us.  But I like to think that love can be passed on as well. Love and loveliness, and kindness and thoughtfulness, the soul that is fed and nurtured, and soulful patterns of living – all passed on in the DNA.  Practice it, it matters!  Practice being soulful and lovely early before you breed!  Be lovely to young people and shape future generations!  How important are aunts and uncles and grandparents!!

At the beginning of the week I was hanging out in Whangarei and Northland with my mother, and older sister and brother. Mum hadn’t been back there since we left 47 years ago.  We lived there for six years in the 1960’s.  My siblings and I had been back on one or some occasions but never together.  That’s what made it special, having each other to awaken and test each other’s memories with and against.  Mum had a fairly hard time remembering many places – that’s understandable, she was raising six children, the oldest just seven years old when we moved there.  No car, no family, and few opportunities to interact and engage with the city.  For her, as you can imagine, it was pretty hard work.  But for her three eldest children these were our formative years.  Learning to swim and read and write and test our limits.  The landscape was huge for me and my brother in particular.  He paints, I photograph – the landscape up there, it seems, has always been the yardstick against which other landscapes are measured.

I wonder what part landscape plays in your sense of identity. What are the formative land or seascapes in your memories?

When Maori people are identifying themselves in a powhiri gathering, the earliest parts of their speeches acknowledge the ancestor in whose name the whare nui/meeting house was erected, and they acknowledge the dead who are always present, and then they acknowledge where they have come from including naming their mountain and maybe their river.

They are saying that whoever has gone before them and the landscape of their lives are essential parts of identifying who they are. They are saying that if they are to be received and understood then these things have to be taken as part of the story.

It is a great system. Everyone gets to participate because they all have a story.  No none’s identity is more important than anyone else’s.  It also saves anyone from having to exist as if we are the centre of the universe, and it helps everyone to remember, with gratitude, the many who have gone before them and gifted them life.  It is also an important reminder that there is a landscape that feeds and sustains us all.

So, on All Saints Day, Kia ora/I greet you all and all those who have gone before you. To the living and the dead, haere, haere, haere/welcome, welcome, welcome.  Ko Martin tenei/I am Martin) third son of Aileen Dawson and Allan Stewart, and married to Anne, Manaia is my mountain, Hatea is my river, and Canterbury is my home.  Tena koutou katoa.

Mt Manaia is on the Whangarei Heads and is a view I get to see only rarely, but it is the one that stirs me and draws me in a way no other landscape does.

Hatea is my river. I lived near the Whangarei Falls – the river flows from where I lived into Whangarei harbour.

So – on All Saints Day, why don’t you all greet one another in a simple way… by sharing with those around you, your name, your parent’s names and the mountain and/or river that has long meant the most to you. If you struggle in any way see if you have a story about why you got your particular name.  Go on!

In acknowledging All Saints, even if for just a little moment in the service this Sunday, we have the opportunity to remember those who shaped our particular church communities – the pioneers and the many workers,

along with the people of the land where our church community began, along with the people who brought the gospel to this part of the world, along with the people who held the light in little or big ways through the ages, along with those first apostles who believed, along with the ones who looked for and longed for the Christ, along with those who held the promises made to Abraham and Sarah, along with those who first found their voices and heard God’s voice giving form to their existence. The package is rather large isn’t it!

For me, this week began with views of Mt Manaia (my mountain on the Whangarei Heads) and Hatea, my river. Along the way, on All Hallows Day, Anne’s and my grandson Finn was born in Wellington.  And then I came home to be where my home is and back to work.

That’s sort of the journey of All Saints.  Remembering where you have come from, seeing that there is somewhere you are going, and then landing back to where you get to do your living.  All, of course, in gratitude!