Monday, March 21, 2011

Heritage Thoughts

I have been silent in this blog for too long. That is arguably one measure of the difficulties the cathedral has been through.

Today is Otago Anniversary Day and the week past has been labelled 'Heritage Week'. The effect on the cathedral was quite dramatic - so many familiar faces were absent as Dunedinites migrated en masse to their cribs to enjoy the long weekend and the colours of Central Otago at this time.

At Evensong the choir sang beautifully and, for the 'sermon', I attempted a meditation on the 'Heritage' theme. For those who may be interested, I began it as follows ...

In my imagination I can see those first ships arriving in Otago. I imagine the John Wickliffe arriving at dawn and drifting into the harbour past Taiaroa Head. For no good reason, I imagine the weather to be fine, and the passengers lining the rails I imagine to be silent. Of course there would not have been silence: the flapping of the canvas, the creak of ropes and wood, the shout of orders, the noises from the animals – the pigs, beef and poultry that had survived the voyage and the passengers’ appetites. The pigs were natural survivors, but their noise when hungry! 'Pandemonium', one record described it. Yet silence nonetheless I do imagine: it is the silence of one who at last sees what has been unseen; who sees what one left home and country to find; the silence of one who at last sees the substance of what has until now been the landscape of his dreams and the implausible Eden of his longing heart.

In that silence (it does not matter they were not silent) what negotiations of mind and heart, realism and dream transpired? Never mind that the rogue John McGlashan had (in Edinburgh) described this place as a land flowing with milk and honey where a settler merely had to stretch out his hand to grasp whatever he needed. After all, what fools had really been daft enough to believe that? And yet ... and yet we have fond hopeful hearts and the dream of Eden dies hard in us.

In that silence, as the John Wickliffe cuts through the green swell and the anchor chain rattles as the pilot’s cutter comes alongside, the words have not yet been said that will dispel the dream and admit the reality. In that silence ... amidst the call of the gulls, the chatter of children, the yap of the pilot’s dog, and the slap of the swell on the bow ... the dream and the longing are forced back into the depths and the settler’s mind turns to the possibilities of lumber, food and shelter.

You will have guessed that what I am probing at here is that spiritual part of our being that drives us into excessive endeavours whether writing a book, completing a triathlon, climbing a mountain – or setting out as settlers to a new land. The impulse that drove the pilgrim fathers was undoubtedly far from spiritual in most respects – these were practical and worldly men with a keen sense of what was needed to get on. Yet spiritual longing and vision was there too ... and there was ample scope for disappointment and disillusion.


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