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Soul Mending

By Yvonne Zarowny


“Jesus often slipped away to the wilderness to pray.” Luke 5:16
Have you ever noticed how many passages there are in our sacred Scripture of Jesus slipping off to the desert, mountain, garden ... to be alone with God to pray?

In the part of Canada where I live, signs of spring are all about me — in my garden, the nearby forests and the sea.

That and the annual May March for Life prompted my reflection on this practice of Jesus going to Creation to be close to God to pray.

Do you ever do that? I do.

I particularly did it this February and March when I had the good fortune to realize a dream since Grade 3.

I had the opportunity to visit Aotearoa/New Zealand on a program that included numerous “cultural immersion” experiences with various iwi (extended families) descended from the first human earthlings to occupy these islands.

What I learned and experienced gives me great hope for us, our church and our capacity together with Spirit to transform our dominant culture of death into a variety of cultures of life.

Because of the isolation of the islands, the fact there were no mammal predators, and the abundance of available food — once they got to these islands — over millennia many birds stopped growing wings. They became ground dwellers.

They also developed the tendency to lay only one egg each reproduction cycle so as not to over-populate their isolated island home.

One such bird was the moa . . . a much bigger relative of the ostrich.

The first human occupants of these physically “isolated” islands were Polynesian migrants who arrived around 1100 – 1300 CE.

Because they were not accustomed to mammal predators, the moa had no fear of the Polynesian migrants and no means of protecting itself.

One moa could feed an iwi for approximately a week. In a little over a century the Polynesians had feasted on moa — to extinction.

The Haast eagle, a giant eagle much larger than anything we have in Canada, then began to die. 

The moa was its main food source. It too became extinct.

Another mammal had come with these Polynesian migrants . . . the rat.

It feasted on the eggs of the slow reproducing wingless birds. To this day, they and other mammal predators are a threat to a much smaller wingless bird — the kiwi.

The Polynesian migrants to Aotearoa observed what was going on. They observed how inter-connected and interdependent God’s web of life is and that they are a part of this web.

They changed their dominant story and culture to reflect these observations.

Respect and thanksgiving for all life became a core operating tenet upon which the unique Maori culture of Aotearoa was based.

Taking care of the land and giving thanks for all it provides to enable the land to keep taking care of them became integral aspects of how the Maori of Aotearoa lived.

A different “choice” was made by their Polynesian cousins who, along with a few rats, migrated at approximately the same time to Rapa Nui/Easter Island.

Like Aotearoa, Rapa Nui was lush at the time of the arrival of its first human occupants.

There, again, a unique and sophisticated culture developed over the years.

The human and rat population rapidly grew.

Unlike the Maori, the Polynesians on Rapa Nui put their faith in a socio-economic/religious elite who ignored the numerous signs from Creation they were destroying Rapa Nui’s capacity to support them.

They continued the deforestation, which lead to the desertification of the island, in order to construct religious artifacts called “moai.”

Meantime, the rats ate the stores of seed the people had collected for planting ...  

The people were told by their elite the gods would save them.

They didn’t.

By the time Europeans arrived in 1722, the Rapa Nui civilization had collapsed. Most of the rat and human populations had died from starvation, warfare over scarce resources and disease.

We are currently on the same path, except on an unprecedented global scale, as the Rapa Nui.

They, unlike Jesus and the Maori, did not go to God’s own Creation to be close to the Divine, to pray and to listen.

Both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have made repeated statements basically stating we have freedom of choice.

If we choose to self-destruct as the Rapa Nui did by not listening to God’s revelation through Creation . . . they state nothing is going to stop us from self-destructing.

However, we could choose to be like the Maori and change our stories to change our culture that flows from them.

Unfortunately, too many of our socio-economic and religious elite persist with a story about what constitutes “pro-life” that does not include what the Divine is screaming at us through Creation and wars.  

Which brings me to the annual May March for Life.

How much longer will it promote a version of “pro-life” which perpetuates our culture of death?

When will we, as church, follow Jesus into the wilderness to be close to and hear God?

How might we be transformed, as individuals and as church, so we can better facilitate transforming of our cultures to ones of life?

An educator, writer and engaged citizen living in Qualicum Beach, B.C., Zarowny is also on the leadership team for her parish’s Justice and Life Ministry.