The Return of the Kākā - Part 2
Ecospirituality, and why I make religions up
Of course, all those kākā recolonising Thorndon reminds me of our trip to Mt Bruce, and later visits to Zealandia itself. Here’s how a founder of Zealandia describes seeing for the first time the sanctuary’s future site:
I can still remember the feeling of awe as we walked out onto the dam into this amazing valley … It was then that I knew we would have to do something very special with this place one day.
Again this heightened experience seems to exist on a continuum with the spiritual—that sense of awe, that awareness of specialness.
Reading this history, watching sanctuary staff and volunteers at work, even just listening to Wellingtonians talk about that place, it’s hard not to think of Lloyd Geering’s books, and his concept of the ‘ecological ethic’. In Tomorrow’s God he charts a shift in the spiritual focus of most people from the Christian heavens above—and some better life we might have once hoped for there—to our short and ‘earthy life’ on the planet’s crust. Now that we’ve fully realised our life is limited to the earth, he says, and how miraculous yet fragile that organism is, protecting and enhancing it becomes an important project, one that has a spiritual dimension.
John Bluck, once the Dean of Christchurch Cathedral and author of Long, White, and Cloudy, echoes Geering in suggesting how democratic that spirituality can be, because it’s in the suburbs and backyards that it’s played out. In someone’s weekend work at Karori, for example, or in their decision to plant some natives out the back, or to take the train to work and not the car, or to ride a bike instead.
Or in their work in the vege garden, as Bluck sees it, that heroic little theatre of struggle and crushing disappointment. Here Bluck sees issues of Treaty and ecology and Pākehā settler myths played out. Alongside the spuds and silver beet a local and ‘resilient spirituality’ is grown, he says, one that can
… give us the strength to acknowledge the mistakes we have made as a people, and show us new and better ways to be caretakers of the earth, partners in God’s clean and green creation. To keep it clean and green is as much a spiritual as an economic and political discipline. Kiwis in future are going to need green souls as well as green thumbs.
Such ideas of ecospirituality existing now, and growing into the future, keep finding their way into my work. I keep making up religions. There’s a kind of eco-religion in the novel I’m writing now. Yet I’m not religious, I don’t think. It’s only recently I’ve understood what this is about, at least in part. When spirituality becomes religion it generates imperatives. It asks people—characters—to decide what’s important, and in some way, to fight for it. You can normally make a good story out of that.