This Thursday we hear from our Pagan Faith Representative, Eve Salthouse, who is currently stuck in New Zealand in this crisis. It is so good having modern technology as Eve has provided us with a prayer and a native story told to children in New Zealand. Eve tells the story as follows:
As I write this, through the window I can see pukekos, comical with their raptor faces and big swamp-dweller feet, running in the wetland beyond the fence. I’m currently in New Zealand, unable to return home, but in this current pandemic, the world seems smaller, united in the same fears for our families and ourselves. We think particularly of those essential workers who are putting their own safety, and that of their families, on the line by continuing to go to work and provide food, health and social care and other essential services. They risk themselves for people they don’t know. Love shown to strangers, a marvelous thing.
The pukekos remind me of a story told here to children, a tale about the true nature of love.
Long, long ago, Tanemahuta, God of the Trees, walked among His children. To His great distress He found many of them were ill and dying. Tiny bugs were gnawing and burrowing and eating away at them. Many had already fallen, dead.
Tanemahuta went to His brother Tanehokahoka, God of the Birds, and asked to speak to His children, who at that time all lived in the forest canopy. All were beautiful, gorgeously appareled in feathers, but none more so than Kiwi, who was the most beautiful, the most skilful flyer, the most melodious singer.
O birds, Tanemahuta said, my children, the trees of the forest, are dying. One of you must go down to live on the forest floor to eat these bugs and save the trees, and by doing so, save your home. Which of you will do this thing?
Not I, said Pukeko. Pukeko would not go down to the forest floor because he did not wish to get his feet wet and muddy.
Not I, said Pipiwharauroa. Pipiwharauroa said he was too busy building his nest.
Not I said Tui. Tui would not go down because he was too afraid of the dark of the forest floor.
But then Kiwi spoke up. “I will go, Tanemahuta. To save the forest and all the birds that live here, I will go”.
Tanehokahoka looked at Kiwi and He grieved, for Kiwi was His most beautiful child. “If you go, I must take from you those beautiful feathers, your keen eyes, your beautiful voice and give you instead serviceable tiny feathers to repel the mud, keen smell and hearing instead of a voice and sight. Most of all, I will take from you your wings and give you instead strong legs and great clawed feet, the better to dig out and destroy the bugs. You will live forever in the dark and the mud, near sightless, and voiceless, and never fly again. Knowing this, will you still go?”
Kiwi looked around at the beautiful forest canopy, and felt the warmth of the sun on his face. He recalled the glory of flight, the beauty of song, his friends the other birds, and in his heart he said a final goodbye to all. “Great Tane”, he said, “Knowing this, I will still go”.
And so Tanehokahoka, with a sorrowing heart, did all that He had said, and sent Kiwi to live forever in the dark of the forest floor, flightless, silent, and alone. The forest and all the birds were saved.
Tane is not a God to be crossed, so He punished the other birds.
He decreed that Pukeko and his kind would live forever in swamps, always with their feet wet. Tui and all his kind should forever wear the mark of a coward and hide trembling in the shadows. Pipi and all his kind should never build another nest, but lay eggs in the nest of other birds, who would hate them for it.
But Kiwi became the Chief, the best beloved and the most honoured of all creatures in the Land. His feathers are worn by only the greatest chiefs of the Maori. In his actions he showed the true nature of Love.
Sometimes great Love means doing the dirty or disregarded or even dangerous work, separation from family and friends, and great personal risk or sacrifice. It might simply mean, for most of us at the moment, thinking of others – strangers – and staying home and staying at a distance.
In facing this pandemic, let us honour those toiling, like Kiwi, unseen. Let us remember the delivery drivers, the shelf-stackers, the rubbish collectors, the bus drivers, the plumbers and electricians, the porters, the cleaners.
May the Gods of Place and the Gods of our Ancestors watch over these brave people. May They hear our voices and watch over us all.
Eve closes with the United Nations International Peace Prayer:
Lead me from death to life,
from falsehood to truth,
Lead me from despair to hope,
from fear to trust,
Lead me from hate to love,
from war to peace,
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.
Peace, Peace, Peace.