I have never lived in a place where the sense of belonging appears so sheer and delicate as it does in the people I see in NZ. Appearances can be deceiving, and in this case they are.
Sometimes this part of Auckland reminds me of what New York must have been like at the beginning of the industrial revolution: filled with people, because of immigration, who will eventually move on to another place. Its not exactly like that though. Of course one must never judge a book by its cover. Its just that we have lived here for the better part of a year and I feel like I'm still reading the cover, or at the very least, beginning to turn to the first page.
I can see how easily we used to co-exist with the community at large when we lived in the US. Take Albuquerque for example: we felt different from the Hispanic, and Mexican, and Indian west-siders who lived near to us, but we had something in common that I took for granted and didn't miss it until now.
I look at New Zealand's beguiling island landscapes and they make me wonder. Not that my homeland's beauty can't compare. I say that it can. It is just that there is something about the light and clouds, the way that they interact with the view, and I just know that I'm not "in Kansas anymore".
|Driving along the foothills of the Kaimai Mountain range,|
where clouds just lean into the landscape
The land and her natural beauty are very important to the Kiwi folk. Beauty, unspoiled and serene, it is perhaps the basis for what makes for the sense of belonging, or at least one significant reason why. It is a small place relatively speaking, so everyone must share. To share is to belong. And we are expected to share responsibly.
Everyone makes an effort to be a good guest of New Zealand. Teachers reinforce neatness on the school play yard as much or more than the classroom. There are national reserves... aka beaches, where you are expected to bring your own trash bags, and take the trash to your home rubbish bins for disposal.
There are however so many things that interfere with my sense of what belongs and where... When we listen to the radio, songs by English and American bands from the 1980's emerge frequently. While at the mall, the stores display a lot of what looks like Asian Fashion. Campbell's tomato soup tastes like it came from an Italian kitchen, and just doesn't hit the old soup-and-grilled-cheese-sandwich spot I was hoping for when I was feeling homesick. NASA videos fill the shelves at the Planetarium. Sushi is considered fast food sold at the mall food court. You can find real home made Indian cuisine in any neighborhood in Auckland central city. So many things we never expected to see....
...like The Unforeseen Cafes
Now this is fun! I really thought NZ was going to be all about tea!
Cafes are everywhere! We counted 6 or 7 in the mall alone, and two just across the street, always busy. Two or three can stand side by side on a strip. Everyone knows now to make espresso. My favorite place to get a "cuppa" is at any garden cafe. Cornwall Park tops the list. The gardening stores all have cafes in them like how the old five and dime stores in the states had diners, only this is not diner coffee.
I can only imagine how many espresso machines have invaded this island country. The added weight alone could shift our altitude to below sea level.
|Wild Roses Cafe|
The Garden Cafe at Kings Garden Center
|Father Paul's favorite coffee stop|
Even outside of Auckland, along the countryside, it is not hard to find a real espresso made with real italian roast beans. We were invited to lunch one day by a nice man from our parish CK, who to my surprise, brought us to our first garden cafe where there was a car from the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo.
A little surreal after visiting the train in Tennessee. Seeing one of its cars in a garden shoppe cafe in New Zealand was lovely, truly charming, but...wait a minute. I tried to wrap my mind around the idea of someone going to the trouble of shipping it here, so that it can attract coffee customers?... in a garden shoppe? You know like where you buy the seedlings that will grow in your veggie garden. It makes me very curious about the other Choo choo cars and where they might be. Nevertheless, the garden cafe's help me to feel more a part of it all.
A More Esoteric kind of Belonging
All this gets me to wonder about how it is that people anywhere understand their own belonging in the church, newcomers especially.
From my humble observation, back in the States, when a person is interested in perhaps joining the Greek Orthodox Church, they visit to see if they really believe what they see and hear there. Perhaps one will read a little theology. Once in a while it happens that one is sort of "raptured" by the Divine Liturgy and feels compelled to be a part of it. Then, they notice a very rich community life there and they try to decide if they like that or if they fit into it. Some spend hours upon hours comparing "theologies" of their previous (or current) beliefs. Then they make a decision. This may go on whether or not they are involved with someone... married or engaged.
In New Zealand I noticed that when people come to the Church it is in many cases that they already feel like they belong. For those who want catechism, it is only to "get with the program" because they would say that they already perceive the Greek Orthodox Church is a home within their home. It is just time to make it official. If they are involved with someone, they come in because they believe that their attachment to that person includes the church.
In Fiji clearly, the order of it all is different. After having encountered the church, those who are interested really want to belong; and they do encounter the church the minute they meet our Archbishop. Because of his humility, faith and hospitality, he makes them feel like they belong. And since there is no peripheral community life attached to distract them, they feel the deepest reality of what it is that they desire to join. Archbishop Amfilochios is a master of the genuine welcome
For the Fijians it is most simple: they belong to Christ and to each other, through the person of His bishop, Archbishop Amfilochios. They belong to each other because of their new and loving leader, and because of the Love of God which has consciously entered their hearts. How else could so many, from so many different backgrounds of people come together as one?
I am certain that when I go there again, the newly baptized people there will be welcoming me with confidence because of the strength with which they understand their own belonging.
This video is of the ordination of the newest priests. They were ordained in Greece, and have returned to Fiji, where His Eminence is meeting them in the weeks to come.
His Eminence has been in Greece for about 3 months. We are all eager to see him. When he is here, we feel not only a part of New Zealand, but a part of the whole world and the whole history of the Church. His prayers have been sustaining us in beautiful ways. On one particularly difficult day, we received a post card from him simply saying that he sends his paternal love. And we felt his support from across the world.
What was so difficult you may ask?
Father Paul was in the States just a couple of weeks ago. It was urgent. His mother's battle with cancer has increased as she was allergic to two different chemotherapy meds. He wanted to see her, to encourage her, and to talk. While he was making his plans, we got a call from our dear friend Sofia that her husband Mike passed from this life. He was one of the people for whom we were asking you to pray. He left behind his wife and teenage son and daughter. We were crushed.
By God's grace, Father Paul made it to Mike's funeral, and also got to see his own parents and family.
|Mike & his Mrs. at the home|
of a mutual friend
Mike, a man of seemingly infinite positive attitude, played a significant role in our coming to New Zealand, because our coming here brought him joy. It was something that he communicated from his heart, and imparted to us with his love, generosity, and undivided attention. Mike wanted to be a part of this mission effort, to see Holy Orthodoxy become available to those who never knew her, in a "strange" land. In us he saw a way that he could be involved from afar. While he encouraged Father Paul in their late night/early morning chats, Father Paul also encouraged him in his love for God. Mike did everything he could to hold onto life for his wife and children (it was brain cancer that took his health). He also wanted deeply to live so that he could participate more fully in this mission with his own visits and support along with his support of other church ministries. Ministry was his focus.
He showed no fear of dying because his love for God wouldn't allow it. Father Paul was amongst the priests who prepared him for his journey into the "unknown" a place Mike knew we all belong, where the love of God is undisturbed, and through his example he became yet another teacher to us of how to live for the love of God, to just belong to Him.
I am deeply grateful to Mike and to Sofia who helped us to understand that for now, we belong in New Zealand.
Please pray for the soul of God's servant Michael, and for the comfort of his family.