Same rituals, different space
Leading up to this weekend I have spent a few moments thinking about the Rev Peter Beck and how different his world will be this Easter and this Anzac Day.
For many years now, he has conducted the rituals of Easter in the Christchurch Cathedral and, come April 25, we are also used to the dawn remembrance ceremony taking place in the Square. This year, as everything will have to occur elsewhere, it is simply another reminder that life in Christchurch city is vastly different than it was a few short months ago.
But all of those citizens, like Peter Beck, who manage, or simply attend, such important community rituals will no doubt be making the point that the location of these events is not the important issue. In fact, the most important thing is that those who wish to engage with their community, their faith, their god and their ancestors in these significant New Zealand ceremonies, are able to do so. And it will not be lost on the many that there are those who are no longer able to participate - and they shall be remembered.
Therefore, without any doubt, for many Christchurch people, this weekend will be a time of reflection in a manner most will not have experienced before.
The essence of Easter is, of course, rebirth and resurrection, which is a theme that will clearly resonate across Christchurch providing plenty of material for the weekend's sermon makers. From a distance, there is not yet that sense of ecclesiastical resurrection when it comes to the idea of rebuilding the city. There is much more a feeling of business and industry and, dare I say it, a brooding cynicism. It is no doubt abundantly clear to those on the ground that this rebirth will not be divine. It will be a temporal blood, sweat and tears exercise battling bureaucracy, insurance dilemmas, financial insecurity and the ongoing fear of another big one rolling in tomorrow.
But, that said, the people of Christchurch appear determined and are doing all they can to grow hope and faith. It is these things that are captured in the key rituals of religion and it is also what provides strength in times of adversity.
A study released last month suggested that New Zealand was one of nine countries that showed a steady rise in those claiming no religious affiliation whatsoever. Alongside countries such as Australia, Finland and Switzerland it was suggested that religion may become extinct here in the near future. This may be true but equally the adage, "There are no atheists in foxholes," has some relevance here.
A nation three or four generations from the last bout of extreme collective trauma may be a nation that grows away from an irrational appeal to a god that can't be seen. But when circumstances become overwhelming, affecting large masses of the population and events are beyond human control, then who knows what help one may plead for.
Our Anzac ceremonies, although not directly a religious event, have engendered a huge following over the past 10 years as a spiritual event. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why but I think it is connected to a perceived sense of the loss of what past generations enjoyed. For a brief moment we yearn to be transported back to a time when life was simpler and values were more recognisable. Yes, we can appreciate the horror of war and the grief of such devastating loss, but we were capable of that empathy 25 years ago as well. Our absolute distance, in time and space, from the events of war has meant that imagined nostalgia is the dominant experience for the majority of those gathered at dawn ceremonies. Yes, there is respect for those who were involved, grief for the losses experienced, spirituality for the memories of dead ancestors and attraction to the military rituals of remembrance, but there is not the deep sorrow about loss of comrades and the haunting battle memories that earlier generations brought to every Anzac Day. But, perhaps this year in Christchurch, the collective experience of surviving a catastrophic event that claimed lives and left entire communities in ruin means that there will be a different empathic response. As opposed to simply walking through the rituals of Easter and Anzac Day in the routine manner that has been observed year after year there will perhaps be a new depth to those participating.
As such, Christchurch could have no better spiritual leader than Peter Beck, who has always sought to make the rituals and ceremonies of the church integrated and relevant to his community.
I am confident that this year he will read the people well and bring all that church and spirituality can do for the community at this time.