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Archive for the ‘Rituals & Spirituality’ Category

Spring Equinox this year falls on Friday 23 September at 1.03pm. This is a time of balance when day and night are of equal length as we move from the dark time of winter into the light and warmth of summer. I enjoy winter with its cosiness and invitation to snuggle up inside. I also look forward to summer, when it’s comfortable to sit outside for meals, bare our limbs to the air, and paddle in the sea.

Kōwhai flowers

Locally the kōwhai trees are blooming, a sign that spring is truly here. Some say that the kōwhai symbolises personal growth and helps people to move on from the past with a renewed sense of adventure. Surely that is appropriate for this time of year, especially when we have just witnessed the transition of the British monarchy.

As our world moves from night to day
are new adventures on their way?

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Spiritual Care in Healthcare was the subject addressed by Richard Egan, Associate Professor at the Department of Preventative and Social Medicine at the University of Otago. He has qualifications in Theology, English Literature, Religious Studies, and Public Health. Richard stated that spirituality is implicitly present in healthcare and that it is timely to make it more explicit.

He was raised a Roman Catholic, and spent time in a seminary until he fell in love and needed to leave. These days he says he is more spiritual than religious, and has been teaching medical students about spirituality in the clinic for the past three years. In the past healthcare has often been medicalised and dehumanising, but there is now a movement towards an holistic care approach which is patient- and whanau-centred. The 2018 census showed that 48% of people in Aotearoa had no religion while 37% stated they were Christian. Secularization can be defined as having the choice to believe what you like. These days dying can take a long time, and consideration of spirituality is an important part of the process.

Since 2000 hauora/health in Aotearoa has been based on Te Whare Tapa Whā, the four houses which were developed as a model of wellbeing by Sir Mason Durie. They encompass physical, mental, spiritual, and social wellbeing, with a fifth (land/roots) added more recently.

Interestingly Treasury uses He Ara Waiora, which can be seen as Te Whare Tapa Whā version 2.0.

At this point Richard invited us to share with our neighbours one to three words which describe spirituality to us. My word was connections. We were then told that the most common definitions of spirituality in global research are connectedness and meaning of life/purpose.

Unaddressed spiritual needs can affect the patient’s quality of life, and integration of spirituality may result in more patient-centered care. Meaningful Ageing Australia is an organisation which is working in this area. Spiritual care is about enabling the person to access their own spiritual resources. Sadly in Aotearoa only 0.25% of the health budget is spent on spiritual care. However spirituality is increasingly becoming part of health policy, and healthcare providers are cultivating compassionate presence, which need not take a great deal of time. In pairs we discussed ways in which this policy might be put into practice.

It was acknowledged that many health providers are short of time to simply sit with patients. In Hospices the staff to patient ratio is one to three or four, whereas in hospitals it is one to twenty. Richard acknowledged the importance of having an Advance Care Plan, which is a place where you can specify your spiritual needs. It was noted that continuity of care is important, e.g. having a relationship with a particular G.P. Hospital chaplains are often Christian Ministers, but there is a trend to include non-Christians, and the title of Chaplain could possibly be changed to Spiritual Care Practitioner.

It’s something that needs to be there
the spiritual side of care

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Rain precluded a beach walk today, so we went to the Botanic Gardens instead. The autumn trees there are beautiful and especially so when viewed through misty rain.

We weren’t sure what cafés would be open for morning tea but the one at the Antigua Boatsheds was welcoming. Beside the building there was a large pink rabbit.

Later s/he came inside the café and handed out Easter eggs to the children.

Easter, originally Eostre, is a spring festival, and its story of rebirth always seems out of place in the southern hemisphere. The Easter Bunny predates Christianity and was originally the Moon-hare, sacred to the Goddess in both eastern and western traditions. Seeing the Easter Bunny gives me a gratifying reminder of how pagan traditions have persisted into the present day.

We mark it at wrong time of year
yet Easter Bunnies still appear

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A wonderful new mural on the bunker outside the Art Gallery depicts Māori goddesses/atua wāhine. It’s the work of Kāi Tahu artist Xoë Hall, for whom these Goddesses are super badass ancestors.

Hine-tītama is the flashing red dawn, who becomes Hine-nui-te-pō, the atua of night and receiver of souls in the afterlife.

Hine-tītama

Mahuika, atua of fire, appears with her flaming manicure, shining a light on the past, while being a torch for the future.

Mahuika

The trickster Māui is shown in lizard form, referencing the time he tried to crawl through Hine-nui-te-pō to reverse the cycle of death and she awoke, slamming her thighs shut on that idea, and therefore bringing mortality to all mankind.

Maui and Hine-nui-te-pō

The Goddesses are given form
with colours that are bright and warm

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I’m feeling confused in this festive season. For more than half my life it’s been my practice to celebrate the Summer solstice in preference to Christmas, yet this year the two seem to have conflated into a muddled mixture lacking clarity.

Our long-standing ritual group met socially with minimal acknowledgement of the season. I attended a Solstice ritual with another group who usually fulfill my spiritual needs to mark the turning of the year’s wheel, yet found that ceremony to have more of a Christian focus than I would choose.

Summer Solstice altar

All around me there are symbols of Christmas with carols in many quarters. I know and enjoy those that tell traditional stories such as Good King Wenceslas and We Three Kings, although I long for more mention of Mary and appreciated the Facebook joke that suggested some people wait until Mary’s waters have broken before doing their Christmas shopping.

When I was younger my favourite carol was Te Harinui, because it spoke of a summer Christmas in my own land. Raised consciousness has revealed its colonial prejudices and it’s understandably years since I’ve heard it in public.

Yesterday was the Longest Day, and the hottest at over 30°. I met a friend for an early morning tea, then Stephen and I enjoyed a walk around the central city with lunch at Riverside Market. We chanced to meet an old friend whom I’ve not seen for years. Usually we would have hugged, but in these virus-aware times we refrained. Life is so different now with masks, signing in, and vaccine passes. My immediate circle manages to avoid consumer excesses, with gifts that are kind to the earth.

This is the time to enjoy summer fruits, especially cherries and apricots. Sadly last week’s heavy rain has wrecked many of these crops – climate crisis impacting on our seasonal treats.

Summer Solstice is when we consider what we’ve achieved over the past year. In 2021 it seems the main achievement for all of us has been survival. Stephen and I consider ourselves fortunate to have come through the year with physical and mental health intact and without financial worries. So many others have been less fortunate.

Next year is again uncertain. Omicron will inevitably move into our community and the climate crisis looms ever larger. Meantime, a blackbird is nesting in our banksia rose, and piwakawaka flit about the garden. We sit outside in the warmth, enjoying the shade and breeze, and appreciating the present moment.

Can you identify the reason
we have to celebrate the season?

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Spring Equinox altar

It was pure pleasure to celebrate the Spring Equinox today with the Stone Circle Interfaith Community. Level Two protocols made it a little more difficult but the facilitators took every care to ensure we were all comfortable with the arrangements.

Each person introduced themself and spoke about what spring means to them. I was glad to have the opportunity to mention the fact that today is Suffrage Day.

Many beautiful and inspiring words were said. I just wish I could remember more of them. At one stage we gave “eye hugs”, good practice for when masks need to be worn, and were invited to remember that whenever we look into someone’s eyes we are looking at a person who is loved by the divine spirit.

The many challenges that are being faced around the world were acknowledged and we were led in a meditation to send loving-kindness out across the globe and the universe.

Song, dance, and story were part of this ritual which was spiritually strengthening and sustaining.

We spoke of spring with care and love
which honoured earth and worlds above

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A group of women gathered last weekend to support a friend whose mother had recently died. We were each asked to bring something that reminded us of a woman no longer with us, who had been important in our life, and to share something about her.

Because I’d recently been writing a vignette about my political experiences the woman I chose was Janet McVeagh, Co-Leader of the Values Party during the 1980s. Today at my writing class we were asked to briefly write a paean, a creative work expressing praise, and I again thought of Janet.

She was an empowering inspiration to many of us, a true friend with whom I shared laughter and tears. We never lived in the same city, and we met just a few times each year. Often at Values Party national meetings we shared a room and would talk into the wee small hours. I can remember one gathering at our Auckland home where I abandoned the marital bed for a sleeping bag on the lounge floor so as not to waste any precious moments in her company.

In those pre-email days we kept contact through cards and phone calls. One day during a local body campaign Janet left an answerphone message to say that she was “off to Paris with Adam”. I wondered who this new man could be, and later found she’d gone with a peace group called ATOM, all part of her work to make the world a better place.

Sadly Janet died at the end of 2004, but she is someone I will always remember with fond love. In my garden the Raspberry Ice miniature rose is a lasting memento.

I can’t too highly sing her praise
she raised my life in many ways

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Deepest Day

For me the Winter Solstice today is a day of depth. It’s when we go inside, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

This is the time to let go of what is no longer necessary, and to make room for hope. The autumn leaves have been raked up and spring bulbs are starting to show through the soil.

I have creative ideas bubbling under the surface just waiting for expression.

Yesterday I took part in a beautiful solstice ritual with the Stone Circle Interfaith Community. Today I will meet with my small ritual group to mark the shortest day. Yesterday was dull and rainy, but today the sun is shining. That’s definitely hopeful.

The Solstice is delightfully expressed in this poem by Pelham Swinton Moffat.

When days are darkest
          the earth enshrines
the seeds of summer’s birth

The spirit of love
          is a light that shines
deep in the darkness of earth

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What a pleasure it was today to celebrate the Autumn Equinox with the Stonecircle Interspiritual Community. I’d never before visited this group who embrace the Interfaith vision of oneness, and strive to live this inclusivity in loving and compassionate service to all. They affirm the universal truths that underly all spiritual paths – love and unity – and I was happy to find a number of old friends there.

The altar held an abundant harvest, and on the wall hung flags of many faiths.

Equinox altar
Flags of many faiths

We entered in silence to a circle with music, We are we and we are one, then were gently led through a ritual with opportunities to share personal insights, time for reflection, and a delightful dance.

Followed by a shared lunch, this was a celebration that nourished my pagan soul, and I look forward to being part of this group again.

The Autumn Equinox was shared
within a group who truly cared

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This time of year, Lughnasad, is traditionally the time when maturity moves into ageing. Most of our group have given up the paid work which used to be a significant part of our identity, and today we contemplated what our purpose might be for our remaining years.

We cast the circle by naming our mother and how old she was when she died, or her current age if she is still alive. I suggested this because I recently heard that it’s hard for women to imagine living longer than their mothers.

Then we sat quietly, with eyes closed, and considered each of the four elements. Earth is related to the physical body and we thought about what we need to do to maintain good physical health. Air is related to the intellect and we considered what we each need to do to keep our brain active and working. Fire is related to the spirit and we contemplated what we need to maintain a sense of awe and connection with a higher power. Water symbolises emotions, and we mused on what we need to stay emotionally healthy and maintain good relationships.

Element symbols for planned actions

Each woman then took a small drawstring bag and placed in it symbols of the actions she planned. There was an opportunity to share one thing each hopes to achieve over the next year.

I read On Aging by Maya Angelou:

When you see me sitting quietly,
Like a sack left on the shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering.
I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!
Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it,
Otherwise I’ll do without it!
When my bones are stiff and aching,
And my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor:
Don’t bring me no rocking chair.
When you see me walking, stumbling,
Don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy
And every goodbye ain’t gone.
I’m the same person I was back then,
A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.

Lughnasad is also traditionally the feast of bread, which was long believed to be the one essential food. Salt is identified with the Mother’s primal sea, and is a symbol of rebirth because of its preservative qualities. We each took a piece of bread, dipped it in salt, and while we ate it the group said: “May you be nourished and well-preserved”.

Then we opened the circle and feasted.

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