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Archive for the ‘Rituals & Spirituality’ Category

Ruth & Denny, April 2016

Today the woman who has been my close friend for more than thirty years is dead.  Tears are falling, and I want to pay tribute to Denny Anker who was an amazing and inspiring friend to me and to many others.

Our initial contact was through the Values Party.  Both of us were Values candidates in the 1984 election, and our shared politics gave an extra dimension to our friendship.  We also shared a feminist spirituality which sustained and exhilarated us.

Denny had many challenges throughout her life, particularly in the area of health.   Her various disabilities were often not visible, especially the Multiple Chemical Sensitivities which were believed to be originally caused by exposure to chemicals sprayed for weed control near her Mount Pleasant home in the 1970s.   This illness meant that she could be unknowingly assaulted by people wearing perfume and other cosmetics, and it was often difficult for her to be in public places.  She continually worked to raise awareness of the need for fragrance-free venues and events, so that people in her situation might take part in ordinary, everyday activities in safety.

Denny was passionate about justice, peace, sustainability, and community.  She worked as a Mediator with the Human Rights Commission, for Restorative Justice Services, for Patients Rights, for the Green Party, and for many other causes.

Denny and I have shared so much over the years.  Together we went to political meetings, movies, concerts, on walks and holidays, and enjoyed games of scrabble and cards.  In recent years her physical condition limited her actions, but her mind was always alert, ranging over many subjects, and she was a frequent letter writer to the “Press”.

I will miss Denny, but I’m glad her struggle is now over, and I believe that somewhere she is re-united with her beloved Barry.

 

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This beautifully crafted story is poignant, and at times so personal that reading it feels like an intrusion.  I was particularly interested because I spent a night in Juliet’s bach some thirty years ago, and I was part of her One Hundred Women Project at Te Henga in 1986.  In this book the changing seasons of nature and of Juliet’s life are skilfully woven together.  No reader could fail to be moved by the way Juliet has overcome challenges and developed new ways of being.  This book is a blessing.

“Her life and bach are both transformed
and by this book our hearts are warmed.”

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The most satisfying spiritual expression I have these days is regularly taking part in the Dances of Universal Peace.  I’m part of a group which meets fortnightly to sing and dance together.  We do simple circle dances, where we sing phrases from many different spiritual traditions, including Buddhist, Maori, Christian, Hindu, Islam, and Sufi.  Last week we were joined by two women from America.

Elizabeth from Guatemala led us in a Mayan dance.  The Mayan people, who are the majority ethnic group in Guatemala, lost the words of their sacred songs after the Spanish conquest.  The music was preserved, but the words werer replaced by Christian ones.  Elizabeth is part of a movement to unite words from ancient Mayan texts with the old tunes.

Karima from California led us in a zikr prayer with movements, which comes from the Sufi women of Afghanistan.  Because these women fear they may soon be forbidden to pray in this way, they have sent their prayer out into the world and asked others to share it widely so it will continue.

Both these women said how lovely it was to come to a far away place and find a circle which starts and ends in the same manner as their home circles.  We were pleased to meet and share with them.

Samual Lewis, the founder of the Dances of Universal Peace, believed that if people dance, sing and eat together there can be world peace.  We can surely hope that this is so.

“Together we can sing and dance
and this way we give peace a chance.”

 

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Unusual Union

Today I officiated at a wedding that was unlike any other I’ve been involved with.  I have the couple’s permission to blog about it, and I have a few photos.  It was held at the Ashley Community Church, an attractive Benjamin Mountfort Building.  The couple are known as King Arthur of Ashley, and the Prophetess Lillybeth, and are both involved in local theatricals.  Wedding guests were asked to wear either Edwardian or Storybook costumes.  The groom’s aide-de-camp wore a suit of armour:

Aide de camp awaiting the Groom’s arrival

The best man was dressed as a pirate, complete with a parrot on his shoulder.

Groom’s party waiting in the Church

Many songs were sung, including: “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Witch Doctor”, and “To Know You is to Love You”.

The bride’s outfit was more conventional

After considerable “business”, I was able to continue with the formal ceremony.  When the couple were pronounced husband and wife, there was joyful merriment and the blowing of party whistles.

Wedding Ceremony

They processed out to “The Three Bells”, sung with altered lyrics.  Then it was time for photographs and a high tea.

“This was a very different day
and quite unusual I must say.”

 

 

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Yesterday I participated in a Seder (Passover) meal with a difference.  This was “Yom Tov”, staged by the Positive Deviance Theatre Company from Auckland.  Judged the Best Newcomer at the 2017 Auckland Fringe Festival they offer theatre that is particpatory and immersive.  Entry to this performance was by edible koha, i.e. it was a pot luck kosher meal.    Our hands were ritually washed before we entered the dining room where the table was set with candles and flowers, and a half orange at each place.

We learned the reason for the oranges was because at a feminist Judaism Conference a woman gave a speech asking why women were not allowed to practice as Rabbis.  A man heckled from the audience saying: “Women belong as Rabbis as much as an orange belongs on the Seder plate”.  Thus began the tradition of putting an orange on the Seder plate to acknowledge the inclusion of all genders and sexualities at the Seder table.

The meal began with the breaking of matzah bread.  The three matzah represent the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  During the course of the meal we were served four cups of wine (actually grape juice) which represent the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.  The traditional story of the Jews leaving Egypt was told, with graphic depictions of the plagues.  The young cast members sang, improvised, and made the whole experience great fun.  This was theatre with a difference, modern and edgy.

“A very different kind of meal
served with theatrical appeal.”

 

 

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At the end of April nature is dying in the Southern Hemisphere.  This is our Halloween, traditionally time to remember our beloved dead.  In Aotearoa the focus is on Anzac Day and those who died in war.  The poppies are gone from my garden, but the naked ladies/amaryllis are about to burst into flower – the first sign of spring-to-come.

Naked ladies bursting forth

Months of cold and darkness lie ahead.  We collect the last of the harvest and store it against the leaner times.  I’m going out to spread some compost, and scatter seeds for the coming year.  Recent sunny autumn days have been a golden indication that the seasons change and all is cyclical.

“The wheel is turning through the year
and right now autumn’s gold is here.’

 

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Easter is a spring celebration of fertility and rebirth.  In autumnal Aotearoa, beset by the winds and rain of Cyclone Cook, it’s the wrong time for this festival.  Spring for us is months away, despite pots of daffodils being offered in the supermarket.

In the Southern Hemisphere this is a time of dying.  During the last week I’ve spoken at the funeral of a loved friend, and there have been two other deaths in my wider circle.  The demise of John Clarke/Fred Dagg was a poignant reminder of the Easter death of my brother, who also died while bushwalking in the Grampians.

The rich colours of the trees around me are a sure sign that the wheel of the year is turning, and a poem by Nancy Wood is brought to mind:

“You shall ask
What good are dead leaves
And I will tell you
They nourish the sore earth
You shall ask
What reason is there for winter
And I will tell you
To bring about new leaves
You shall ask
Why are the leaves so green
And I will tell you
Because they are rich with life
You shall ask
Why must summer end
And I will tell you
So that the leaves can die.”

 

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