Matariki: a time to tell our stories (Reflection)

Matariki isn’t just a time to learn the legends of the stars, fascinating as they are. Learning about family and whakapapa is also important.

What’s your story? Do you know your own story, your birth story, your life story? Did someone tell it to you, or have you made it up from memory and experience?

It’s worth keeping in mind that there are different Matariki stories, different meanings depending on the location of the tribe who tells them: in some, Matariki is a time for planting; in others, that’s not the case at all. There are many variations of the calendar and many ways the different tribes used stellar guides for their own specific environment.

So, Matariki isn’t just a time to learn the legends of the stars, fascinating as they are. Learning about family and whakapapa is also important. Around Matariki the harvests such as kumara were in, and this cold part of the year was a time for hui, for korero, to exchange stories, learn about ancestors who have passed from this world to the next, and hand down knowledge and practices to ensure the culture is preserved.

Memories, good and bad, are powerful.

I was moved by the quote in the final part of our contemporary reading¹ in which the first time mother says of memories, “Whether or not they’re good or bad they’re still powerful. It’s how you build an affinity with [your children]”—or with those who come after us.

In some ways, these intangible things are the most important bequests we can leave.

If you could tell, or if you could leave, only one story—what would it be? It might be in words, but perhaps you’d tell it in photographs, or represent it by a piece of music or something you’ve made. And—is it your story alone, or did you inherit parts of it to pass on?

I wonder, when Luke wrote the story of Jesus healing a widow’s son, did he have the Elijah story in mind²? The oil and flour that didn’t run out… the loaves and fishes, enough to share and to spare… the response to, “Look, your son is alive” of, “Surely you are God’s prophet!”

I wonder if even then, the listeners were meant to realise that the prophetic task is not just to decry the unfair systems of politics and social structures, but to heal, to bring to life a new way of being. A new way, that grows out of our past. For these are resurrection stories, as well as creation ones. People restored to their former status, before everything is stripped away by death, physical, spiritual, even cultural.

Have a look, if you will, at the words of the Lord’s Prayer which we sang in Maori¹. This is a particularly thoughtful translation which invests the words with meaning and memories which may well have grown from a tradition more like that of Jesus’ time than of ours. We’ll look at just a few of the phrases:

“Our Parent in the spirit world, sacred is your Name.”

Matua is a much bigger word than Father. It means parent—female as well as a male—and suggests the caring, loving, disciplining, helping, protecting aspect of what God is. Many people regard tapu as meaning forbidden, but it’s also descriptive of reverence, respect, and honour.

“Strip us of our sins, give us back what we have lost.” 

Muru recalls an ancient Māori practice where, on a person’s death, his or her contemporaries would descend on the deceased’s house and strip it of everything it contained. In effect the prayer says Come muru us; seize us and take away everything bad; our sins, all that has gone wrong; so we can be with you, God.

“Do not lead us into temptation; may we be whole, away from things evil.” 

The prayer-line has been expanded in the Māori version. Whaka-ora-ngia includes life, health, wellbeing, happiness, and it suggests peace, salvation and wholeness.

And then there’s the concept with which the prayer both begins and ends:

Loving spiritual parent, bring us your rangatiratanga. The power and the glory are through your rangatiratanga.  

Rangatira can mean the chief, the boss, the big one, as for example, in hoa rangatira which means partner, spouse: chief friend. But rangatiratanga also implies responsible leadership, guidance, education and nurture of the people. “Good government, the desire for beauty, the care for others.” Rangatiratanga suggests a God who cares and protects, and to whom consequently there is loyalty as part of a relationship. A Covenant or Treaty relationship, perhaps?

Is this what the prophetic way looks like? A new covenant. A re-creation story, a resurrection story of new ways of being, where there are resources for all and to spare; where people are restored to their former status, their dignity, their health, their ways of learning and leading.

In these stories, we hear the energies of the Spirit, stimulus to creation of the world. We hear the gifts of the spirit re-framed in terms of quantum physics. We hear indigenous people’s ideas of the Great Spirit—loving parent in the spirit world—the Spirit that Lives in the world of breathing and inspiration and creativity.

We hear stories of the past, told and retold, altered to suit the current ethos, to make sense over generations.

We hear, we see, the weaving: niho taniwha—the saw-edged pattern of tukutuku panels and in the tāniko weaving on the hems of cloaks, representing the realm of mythology… and symbolising family houses within the tribe.

At Matariki, and often in this faith community, we weave the stories of the past into the present, as harakeke, flax, is woven into a mat for sleeping, for birth, for protection. Nga pā harakeke, a metaphor used to represent the gene pools inherited by children and the passing of attributes down the generations.

As the new year dawns on Aotearoa, as the seven sisters dance and the little eyes of god look down on us, what stories will represent our heritage, our gift to the future?

May our story be—continue to be—a resurrection story, of a whare karakia where everyone is welcome; where all are respected and restored to dignity and health; a story of whaka-ora-ngia, where treaty and covenant are honoured; a story of re-creation—for all of us, together.

Tātou tātou e.

¹ Link to The Lord’s Prayer sung in Māori  on YouTube

² Upload a document with The Word in Texts (aka Scripture Readings) for the day, which are referred to in the Reflection: KŌRERO PŪMAHARA (Words of Wisdom)

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He Waiata mō Aotearoa (Song for Aotearoa)

Telling our stories

Ngā mihi o te tau hou (Happy New Year)!

Lights of the world