Christianity-and-NZ Christianity comes to NZ

Phil Cody sm, writes from Aotearoa / NZ on his experience of living amongst, and working with Indigenous Māori People and Culture over many years

In our Care for Common Home, Pope Francis calls us to listen to, dialogue with, and learn from the Indigenous Peoples of the world,

"Here are some personal reflections on twenty-five years living with and ministering alongside Māori in Aotearoa/ New Zealand. A lot of that has come from studying at a local Māori University [Te Wānanga o Raukawa] and relating to Māori involved.

How can we engage with Māori Spirituality? What are some of the points of dialogue that emerge.

Frs Phil Cody sm -L, and Peter Healy - R : learning with the Maori

Māori have a spirituality that is integrated with life. Everything from medicine (rongoā) to the design in their buildings (tukutuku); from study of the heavens to the land and garden is all linked with the Wairua / Spirit.

Amusingly, this link of everything with life was illustrated by a radio announcer giving the traffic report. "It's pretty wet out there, so drive safely. A lot are going to the rugby and netball, so be careful. Now I will say a prayer for you all to get there safely and to get home too".

So prayer (inoi or karakia) is linked with everything. A prayer is said, not just before meals, but before travel, before cutting flax for weaving, before meetings, often at set times of the day.

This echoes a deep respect for nature, concern for rivers; concern about pollution; keeping things in right order (tika). Māori could well have written aspects of Laudato Si' and its embracing of Mother Earth as our own. So when going fishing or entering into the bush, all naturally links with the spirit. If you like there is a sense of kinship with all creation.

Prayer in Spirit before Kapuni Falls

Nature and all involved with it is gift, or treasure (taonga).This overflows to persons in a special way. Even those who have died. They are still 'present' and need to be honored as the treasured ones they are. Every formal speech or meeting acknowledges those who have gone before and who now relate to us from 'beyond the curtain'. Once they have been recognized, we turn back to the world of the living, safe in the knowledge our ancestors look lovingly on us.

So the attitude of Māori to earth and all it contains is that of being a guardian (kaitiaki) and steward who cares for things and is responsible for their well-being. This in part to ensure that future generations can enjoy them too.

One common point of dialogue is the importance of love (aroha).One saying is aroha mai – aroha atu. Life depends on giving and receiving love. One elderly gentleman taught me to make sure everything I said and did came 'nā te aroha', done 'out of love'. Another lady told me, "We're not too worried if you can speak well; we can see your heart and if that is right, the rest will follow".

Whanau - Kinship

Another aspect of Māori well-being and spirituality is having a 'place to stand', tūrangawaewae. If you have a basis for your identity, then you can handle most things. Having a home base, a root from which your family comes and which you can link with, will give you the ground to live a healthy life. There is a proverb "Return to your mountain and you will be refreshed by the winds that blow there"['Hoki ki ōu maunga kia purea nei ngā hau o Tāwhirimatea']. If things become unsettled and unsure, go back, either literally or in mind to your family roots, your identity that stems from your local 'mountain'. Sit there for a while and things will fall back into place.

I remember one student sharing with me. He had had rather a mixed life including life on the inside. He was now a student at Te Wānanga (the Māori university).He said to me "with finding my own language and my people's history, I have re-found my identity. This is a new beginning for me".

Ko Kaimatau te Maunga

Another lesson from Māori is the sense of 'te wā' the 'timing' of life and events in general. This is a basic tuning into the present and drawing breath and finding strength from the 'appropriate time'. It is even a farewell greeting, 'Mā te wā', 'See you again (at the appropriate time)'.With this sense of time, things fall into perspective. The rush of life is slowed and centered. All will be well within it's correct time!

A rich aspect of basis for dialogue in this reflection is the idea of 'hospitality', 'manaakitanga'.This is 'filling a place or person with "mana"'. It is ensuring that a person is welcomed and made to be 'at home'. The guest has prime place.

This sense flows over to land and food, relationships and all persons. It starts with God who first shows hospitality to us. Sitting in God's love and gaining our self-worth ('mana') we can then accept others into that love and make them at home too.

Harakeke - Flax - Maori Spirituality

As part of this ritual is eating together. Simple meals and formal meals such as the banquet or hākari that celebrates a special occasion or completes the process of fare-welling someone who has died.

Mānuka Hēnare has a summary or matrix of values in the Māori world which give grounds for dialogue.As he says, "these constitute a Pacific Polynesian view of holism and way of linking humanity and environment in a relationship of reciprocity and respect". [1]

These values are: enlightenment, cosmos, humanity, kinship, spirituality, belonging, change and tradition, authority, generosity, peace, reciprocity, being potentially, life force, guardianship and solidarity.They are set out in the following diagram.


[1] HĒNARE, Mānuka, Tapu, mana, mauri, hau, wairua: a Māori Christian philosophy of vitalism and cosmos, in Living in the Planet Earth. Faith Communities and Ecology. Edited by Neil Darragh.Accent. Auckland. 2016. 65f.Used with permission.


                                   Kaitiakitanga - guardianship

                                 Maori Marae - Meeting House