People remember where they were when Martin Luther King and John Kennedy were shot. From here on in, Kiwis will know where they were on the 15th March 2019. The day a man opened fire in two sacred spaces killing 49 of our Muslim brothers and sisters and injuring others. A day now imprinted on our collective memory. The day when we were overwhelmed with loss, grief, pain, and helplessness in the face of cold-hearted violence.
That afternoon I was in a sacred space singing the Gloria, an ancient prayer that tries to lead people into a state of awe and wonder. As I reflect on that experience, I realise how important the connection is between it and the terrorist act.
Singing through the Easter season is one of the things I’m doing to liberate my spirituality that runs deep, but has got tangled up with institutions. Chanting is a time-honoured way of moving past the literal and into a more open, unbounded space so, I asked for help from a priest colleague who is experienced in this form.
We’ve been at it for some weeks now and it’s not easy. I struggle, sometimes becoming mute. I stumble over words, intellect on the prowl, tangling with theology, ready to argue the toss. But my colleague is getting wise to me. He kept me focused to get me past how I thought the prayer was meant to be chanted, to get beyond what any expert said, to inhabit it and let my own voice rise up from within. ‘Just eat the words,’ he said.
I laughed, remembering a beloved singing teacher who one day announced that I was never again to sing with music and words in front of me. Her point was that the music must be as much a part of me as my breath. It needed to flow, without engaging in some convoluted conversation with my brain before it reached the front of my face. She was right.
Inhabiting the chant, rather than reading it, took me beyond the words and the proscribed ritual. Beyond the institution, way beyond theology to the unnamed, unknown space where the holy calls in a way that only I can hear because it resonates with the unique being that I am. Just like you will have a way of hearing the holy that I will not understand.
In Aotearoa, we’re all struggling to understand this incomprehensible act of violence in a holy space, but intellectual understanding is not the point. In order to cope through tragedy, humans need ways to go beyond thinking that take them into soul space.
Kiwis are already operating in that territory. Calling out in a language of love that comes from a deep soulfulness and coming together in compassion filled rituals. Acknowledging the incredible spiritual and religious diversity that we have in our beautiful land, and recognising how important it is to protect and nurture that.
In some ways we are doing what all religions do when trying to open doorways to the sacred and holy. When they are at their best, as we are right now, they are fluid and liberating, like rivers that flow from many sources into a much greater ocean where we can all find some form of connection.
May we keep at it. Drawing from our rich sources, honouring what is holy and sacred for each other, whilst continuing to sing songs of love that bind us together to break down the walls that divide. Always remembering that Aotearoa’s love can overcome hate.