Sunday, July 16, 2023

Matariki musings

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand we are getting used to a new public holiday - Matariki - a Friday, varying a bit around the mid June to mid July period, offering opportunity to celebrate the (re)appearance of Matariki or, in other language contexts, Pleiades. This is just our second year of having this holiday.

For Maori, this represents the turn of the old year into the new year.

For Christians in our islands, I see a warm embrace of this new interest in an old custom, with opportunities (at least as I have experienced them) for reflecting on the God of creation, Christ the light of the world, and doing so out of respect for our Treaty of Waitangi partners.

Links which may be of interest and edification are here, here, and here. But not all are keen: here.

Matariki is referenced specifically three times in Scripture: Amos 5:8; Job 9:9; and Job 38;31.

This year I also noticed a case advanced for considering the "seven stars" of Revelation (e.g. 1:12-20) as a reference to Pleiades/Matariki. (There is a bit of a challenge here since the count of brighter stars in this cluster often counts up to nine and not just to seven. See further, here.) 

The larger challenge here, noting, for example, the reasonably widespread endorsement of the spirituality of Matariki (e.g. on advertisements on TV), in a manner scarcely similarly endorsed at either Easter or Christmas, is how we as Christians respond to something new (or newly emphasised) in our culture.

Overall - my musing is thus - Christians are seeking to find in Matariki (the stars, the event of their appearance, the talk of their meaning) all that is consistent with the revelation of God the Creator in Jesus Christ the Light of the World.

A different musing this weekend. For service this morning in one of our parishes, where I knew a sermon-with-some-discussion would be appreciated, I responded to the readings, Romans 8:1-11 and Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23, in the following way:

The assertion of the Christian gospel is that humanity can change, that we are able to receive a message from God – the gospel or good news, hear it, receive it, digest it, possibly reject it, or, hopefully work with it and for this message to work within us to change our minds, change our attitudes, change our behaviour and, bit by bit, change the world.

It is an extraordinary claim because it is a claim that something deep within us can be reached by God working within us in a way that cannot be reached by (say) education, or punishment according to a state judicial system.

This is not to say that education or appropriate punishment cannot have good effects – they do and we rightly pay taxes to ensure their benefits are widely shared in society.

But, and we see this being played out in our society today, highlighted by media headlines and spotlighted by politicians seeking election, we have some deep, seemingly intractable problems in society.

Something deeper by way of changing people and fixing social breakdown is needed. Something more powerful to transform us than what is currently on offer by any politician or media pundit.

Our passages today are chalk and cheese in many ways. The gospel reading is an earthy parable about the way crops are planted and successfully grown or otherwise. The epistle reading is very spiritual – literally so because there is a lot of talk about the Holy Spirit.

Yet both passages are about the assertion of the Christian gospel that humanity can change through the receiving into the depths of our being the good news message of God.

The seed in the earthy parable is a word of God which falls into people’s lives. Some are distracted, etc, the word does not take root. Some are not, the word brings good consequences, fruitful change in their lives.

Romans 8 is at the end of a sequence of arguments and proposals by Paul relating to the plight of humanity. Beset by sin, can humanity be made righteous – put into a right relationship with God? Yes, Paul says, because of what Christ has done for humanity, through his sacrificial death and his rising to new life. (Romans 1-4)

Humanity Rightly relating to God, nevertheless is beset by sin: can humanity – more precisely, you and me – overcome the tendency to wrong-doing rather than be overcome by it?

This is the subject of chapters 5-8.

Paul’s answer is guarded. Yes, we can be overcomers – God’s power is available to help us, through the Spirit of God working within us, we can change – but we need to work with God on this, consistently saying Yes to the prompts of the Spirit to live godly lives, and consistently saying No to the prompts of our sin-tending natures.

Chalk and cheese, two very different passages, both seeking to persuade readers/hearers that God’s powerful love seeks to empower us to change for good.


What is our response to be?

A fascinating discussion followed this reflection and concluding question!

Please note that due to travel this week I may not be able to respond to comments, including posting them, with my usual speed.


Anonymous said...

It's pretty bogus - but so too were many of the things we were taught in school about Maori "history" - like 'Kupe', the 'Great Fleet', 'Aotearoa' etc. The nice folkloric stories collected by William Pember Reeves and mediated to generations of schoolkids by the NZ School Journal.
It would take the work of a real historian like Michael King to clear away some of these myths about myths, although people still dislike what he said, because they saw him as undermining the political uses of folk anthropology.
Even so, a few truths about the realities of pre-European Maori life could still slip out in class (negatively, internecine tribal warfare, slavery, cannibalism to gain your enemy's mana - along with positive appreciation of culture).
The story is the same the world over of the painful encounter of "primitive" hunter-gatherer cultures (without literacy, wheels, metal casting or livestock farming) with the advanced cultures of Europe, Asia and the Middle East - think of the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, Mayans and Incans, for example. At least New Zealand's story was a happier and more Christian one, thanks chiefly to the Church Missionary Society. Now there's something to celebrate!
As for the Pleiades, as a regular reader of Homer as well as the OT, I am glad they are getting some attention in NZ again, even if most people will struggle to find them. The Pleiades have a long history across many cultures in Europe and Asia in mythology, as well as astrology and astronomy.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi (I presume) William,
From memory you are not resident in NZ … a couple of things about Matariki are noticeable to me:
- embrace is occurring across Pakeha and Maori. I wonder if that is because we are turning as a nation away from imported celebrations from the northern hemisphere (e.g. Queen’s/King’s Birthday weekend, to say nothing of Christian festival holidays) towards that which is authentically indigenous to the South Pacific. (Though, I must haste to acknowledge that we are also increasingly keen on the Chinese New Year!).
- we seem willing as a nation to turn from Pakeha dominance of Maori in all respects of life, to recognising, in real deeds, that Maori might have preeminence - a kind of righting of nearly two centuries of imbalance since 1840.

Mark Murphy said...

If I were still a Roman Catholic, I'd be very taken with the Matariki liturgies. How inviting.

Great web links, Peter. Thanks.

I wonder if the popularity of Matariki is an acknowledgement of the urgent need/call to pay attention to the presence of the Spirit in the 'natural' world.

Jean said...

A very good message +Peter and a continual challenge to allow God through the spirit to shape us as opposed to giving in to ‘seemingly easier’ ways…

There does seem to be two aspects to Matariki the sense of a cultural celebration alongside a more spiritual aspect such as offering food to the stars (ancestors). The latter is of course practiced in many cultures. For New Zealanders I think the sense of creation and families/people residing together resonates and in terms of Christianity has many links. I feel comfortable acknowledging Matariki without participating in or adhering too spiritual aspects…

Not just Chinese New Year but Diwali too…. And the latter is especially religious in Hinduism. The question arises as to why Christmas and Easter are often pushed out even though Christianity is the heritage of Pakeha (in case they offend other people from other faiths to the point of using happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas) and the other festivals have been embraced especially by corporates to the degree of having a Happy Diwali greeting come up on eftpos machines. I do not believe it is driven by proponents of other faiths as many friends I have had both Buddhist and Hindu were quite at ease with the Christian celebrations.