Saturday, October 29, 2011

Land of New Rituals (with photos from Rugby World Cup at the end)

There are always things we can't imagine, culturally speaking, and then... there they are.

Customs and rituals are so closely related.  In New Zealand, there is the morning tea, and then there is how one does the morning tea, one being a custom and the other a ritual.  We had a friend over and I served tea the American way, with the tea bag in the cup so that he could regulate the strength.  It was clear soon after I put the cup on the table that there is indeed a better way to serve tea. Now I have a tea pot and we pour hot tea and not hot water.
Raphaela's rendition of my newly acquired tea pot

Another surprise was how Kiwi's expect their offspring to go away when they are still young, to travel the world and see different places.  Adventure in any way shape or form is encouraged.  At Georgios' school camp they repelled (called abseiling here) down a 35m cliff.  This is a rite of passage kind of ritual it seems, done with all the safety precautions anyone can expect, but encouraging adventure all the same...   So many people hike and climb, here that the schools have taken it to be a social responsibility that kids know what to do when out in the wilderness. So at summer camp, they repel.

Compare that to the USA where the Friday night football games at the local high school gives us a leg up on social rituals, and you can see that we have some adjusting to do.  A less social example, could be the listening to the crass radio talk show host that Americans depend on to get to work in a good mood, awake, avoiding early morning road rage by laughing one's way to work. I always thought we had that one backward.  All the bad news comes on the radio once everyone has had a long hard day.

But we all start out so much the same, and here is what inspired this entry:

This one morning I was watching some little children playing in the lawn of the church.  We had recently layed down some new pavement squares in the grass.  It was a simple project, and when it was done, surprisingly, it looked as if they were always there.  Only the children seemed to notice the difference, the newness. I thought was quite significant that the adults saw the change after the little ones began to play.

Early on Sunday mornings our church is rented out to the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox church so that they can have a place to worship.  His Eminence was kind to allow this, with certain canonical provisions. They come at 5:30 am for Orthros, and stay until 8:30 when their Liturgy is over.  Then our Orthros begins at nine.

Negotiating the next steps together

It was the little Ethiopian children who were playing on the pavers that surprised me this one morning however.  Their play looked almost like a game, but it was not quite  Their instinctive interactions made it more real, made the adults notice, made it historical.  One child began until another saw the ceremony with which she jumped from one paver to the next and then a series of children who of course didn't jump all at the same pace and then what happened was so interesting.  The children began respectfully making room for each other, while some of them made small groups and began articulating simple rules for jumping on the pavers.

However natural, they were establishing a little ritual. Whether or not it would stick, only time could tell. I can't help but wonder if all rituals begin in childhood in some way, and if there is a template in our brains that makes it more likely to want to imitate and interact.

Here we are learning about many South Pacific Island customs.  The area where we live has many South Pacific Islanders.  There are three islands mainly from where people come to NZ.  Fiji, Samoa, Tonga.  Not so many are from the Cook Islands, which is a much smaller island.  And then there are also the Maori who are native to New Zealand.  They are recognizably different and they do certain  things because they want to be known that way.. in their own way, but together in their own way. Tattoos are one of those practices that have a cultural meaning and provide distinction.  The fact that singing is important and when to sing is another.  Another fun thing is watching young men, mostly teens walk through the streets playing the ukelele. I don't know where that comes from, but I have seen it only here so far.

One of the more noticeable vehicles of contrast is the Haka.  It is a chant, it is almost a dance. It was designed to prepare men for war much like the sound of the bagpipes in Scotland, designed to bring fear to the enemy. There are other kinds of Hakas I hear, but I just want to show this type for a moment. Having just been through the fabulous days of the Rugby World Cup games, we got to see a lot of Haka.

A Haka is done by the All Blacks Rugby team before every game, and ccording to Wikipedia:

New Zealand All Blacks Piri  Weepu leading

Haka (singular is the same as plural: haka) is a traditional ancestral war cry, dance or challenge from the Māori people of New Zealand, which has become more familiar worldwide because the New Zealand rugby union team All Blacks perform a haka before every rugby game. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment.[1]

A haka is done by the Samoan team before a game
Manu Samoa Rugby
 And a haka is done by the Tongan team before a game.
They stamp their feet and strike at their own chests.  They shout in unison, and sometimes when the camera focuses on the opposing team, you can see that a fear runs through the faces of the men who are in opposition.

The Haka is much accepted here, and respected.  It has come to mark the beginning of a real encounter of antagonism.  The Rugby World Cup Federation honors this ritual. I wondered how that was so, especially once I heard that the Scots were not allowed to bring bagpipes to the field this year...(article link below)

In the final game of the Rugby World Cup, the French stood in defiance of the All Black's Haka, and literally encroached on the All Blacks in a traditional V formation to show that they accepted the challenge: a Maori ritual response.

My daughter wrote a beautiful speech on art and the importance of distinction.  Art is a way for us to provide crucial distinction in this world so that we can avoid chaos, which is defined by the ancient Roman poet Ovid as nature presenting the same aspect the world over. Since her talk, I have been noticing marks of distinction everywhere.....

Man and Nature providing distinction.

It happened that the same week we got to witness another ritual: that of taking children to the flowering trees.  We went to Cornwall Park, for a walk, and we noticed these trees that were all blooming a soft pink flower.  They say it is a plum, but it doesn't produce fruit. The photo below was taken the next day, for on the day of our initial visit, we didn't have a camera with us and there were children playing, very young, and toddlers. Parents were sitting on blankets, on the perimeter. Mostly they were Asian, but Kiwi as well, and they positioned themselves in an orderly way to allow room for people to walk a ritual,

reminding me of the Epitaphios of Good Friday.  We also walked under the flowers and felt a sense of embrace by the beauty that God put in the world.  It was an outing and it was an event.  We wanted to stay for a long time. I personally began to imagine how this tradition began, perhaps the presence of grandparents and picnic baskets eluded to its importance for these people. Being there was a custom it seemed, how they all, strangers to each other behaved there was a ritual, and a mark of distinction, so much like the children and the pavers.

Reading of Homer during an event sponsored by the
Auckland Classical Society
held in the Hellenic Community Social Hall
Art, ritual, dance, war, all have to do with man's desire to provide himself with distinction in ways that are meaningful.  Studying the ancient Greek and Roman classics here in New Zealand is an important way culturally to attain this distinction.  One professor of Classics told me the reading of Homer to her was like reading the Bible.  I believe that she was trying to communicate to me the level of meaning she found in it.  This group has yearly readings and educational games and seminars that they promote and conduct.

There is a need for that eternal distinction.  Perhaps this is the template that gets us going in the realm of rituals in general.

Greek Orthodoxy is indeed a proponent of the value of distinction, but what kind?  If we think in ways worldly, we think that our ethnic cultures are the reason for it.  More often than not, when people ask me to tell them about being Greek Orthodox, they want to hear of the differences between Orthodoxy and the "other" religions, they want to know where the lines are drawn and how we separate ourselves from the rest.  They can't imagine how absurd this sounds to me. I still can't believe how quickly I fall into that leghold, that cluster of thoughts, and I begin to describe differences.....  I don't do that as much as I used to.  I have found it is not so productive.

We tend to think that the distinction of church is like any other... tribe, or team, or nationality, or art or music or food preference.  When some cannot accept the invitation to become Greek Orthodox, I do believe that they are rejecting in the same sense that I would say to a European, I cannot become French because I can't speak the language. Or "I don't want to be seen wearing a Tatoo" ...just because I live in NZ now is not reason enough for that kind of change.

His Eminence with his monastics during the
Baptism Service in the Monastery 

I think that the more I watch the experienced elder our Archbishop Amfilochios in his work, I see how much he relies on prayer and Liturgy to get the job done.  His goal seems to be to add the Liturgy to the lives of those who know only the distinction of separation.  His approach is to build, to join, to include. 
Αρτοκλασiα for Saint Nektarios Feast Day
The Ekklesia does encourage us to make a kind of distinction. It is the distinction of adding the Kingdom of Heaven to us, but not taking us away from the world in which we live.

Waiting for the service to begin

Liturgy, the visible, yet invisible venue.

It is for the Liturgy that we are here.  I can't put enough emphasis on that thought. It is the beacon of our true existance and the vehicle by which we are imbued into the life of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is so many things that it is a type of completion in itself! We came to help as many as possible to have the Liturgy, something that can't be put into words why.  Suffice it to say that without Liturgy, we are distinctly separated from Christ by our own eventual death.  Because of Liturgy, we share in His Holy Resurrection and Life "neither Jew nor Greek", even if we depend on a lot of Greek to get us there intellectually.

It is our understanding that the most important part of mission work is not understanding as in understanding theology and verse, but participation.  Liturgy is the place where we participate in the very thing that provides the differentiation between this world and the one for which we long. This world being the one we know, and the Kingdom of Heaven the one where we are known and loved.  This world where separation is key to identity, and the Kingdom of Heaven where the one Body does not take away who we are, but adds holiness to it.

While the world is looking for ways to divide itself, and  to try to become one within itself independently of its Head, as a mission minded presvytera, I hope I would encourage those around me to access the love of Christ, do what we can to add The Kingdom of Heaven to our very person, and to seek the kind of distinction which truly manifests what God created as distinctly His.

PHOTOS From Rugby World Cup

Eden park The National Rugby Field
Looking like a statue
Fans having a great time before the game
Eden Park
Before the opening Ceremonies last month on our way to support the American team
Downtown Auckland

Thee fans
More fans
Lots more fans
Crowded trains going to the opening ceremonies

With famous French Sports announcer...
but no one knows his name

Even KFC went All Black for the tournament!!!!

Someone tell that kid that there are no Greeks playing Rugby this year.

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