And the second time the cock crew.” (St. Mark 14:72)
Dawn on the Otago Peninsula and we awake to the clarion call of a cockerel, heralding the blessing of a golden Autumn day. Jonathan Livingston Seagull shares wisdom in the blue sky. White feathered kotuku-ngutupapa or Royal Spoonbills, sweep the low tide line of the harbour for a breakfast of shellfish. In the court of heaven on earth, four Royal Albatross or toroa, glide through the air, with what Herman Melville in Moby Dick, describes as “vast archangel wings”.
It was Lance Richdale, OBE, DSc , who, in the 1930's, protected the Royal albatross from predators and human cruelty, by camping out for 81 days on the tip of the peninsula at Taiaroa Head, so that one lone egg, which he had discovered, could be saved from destruction. His legacy of loving respect for these majestic creatures is the creation of the only mainland breeding colony in the Southern Hemisphere where fledgling birds can grow to maturity in safety.
William Wales, tutor to the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the astronomer on HMS Resolution, voyaged with Captain James Cook to “the land of ice”, the southernmost continent we now call, Antarctica. Inspired by hearing stories of the sea and a fabled land, Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an epic tale about an albatross and the sailor who kills it with a crossbow. The poem is wondrously replete with imagery, allegory, superstition and allusion. The punishment and reminder of the sailor's wicked deed is to wear the dead bird around his neck and the rest of his life becomes one of penance as he wanders the earth, telling his salutary tale. He learns wisdom along the way - that God's creation is a beautiful gift, to be cherished.
“He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.”
On Palm Sunday, as we attend a very fine Choral Eucharist in St. Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin and sing the familiar hymn, “Ride on! Ride on in majesty!”, one line stands out for me,
“Ride on! Ride on in majesty! The wingèd squadrons of the sky look down with sad and wondering eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.”
In my imagining, I wonder if an albatross with archangel wings is amongst the company of heaven.
As we drive along the coast on our return to Marlborough, a dusting of snow caps the Kaikoura mountains, foretelling the harshness of the season to come. The evening sky, though, is colour-washed with lavender and the Pacific Ocean is more still than I have ever seen it. It makes me think somehow that in this week we call 'Holy', amidst pain and fear, abandonment, uncertainty, betrayal and death, the gentleness of Love, born of power, not weakness, is made known.
I am reminded of Mary caressing the feet of Jesus with her long hair and extravagantly scented perfume, each of them preparing themselves for what lies ahead. Jesus washes the dust from the feet of his disciples in another act of intimacy, humility and oneness. Later, wholeness in earth's gifts of food and wine is shared with these frightened followers, as the mystery of the memory and substance of Jesus' presence with them, each time they eat and drink together, is gifted. At the same table, John, the disciple, whom Jesus especially loves, is thought to have placed his head below Jesus' shoulder in closeness, affection and love. He hears the heartbeat of God.
The beautiful farewell words of Jesus offer reassurance,
“l will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also…the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (St. John 14: 18-19, 25,26).
Along the Via Dolorosa, it is Veronica, who, bravely and tenderly, wipes the blood and sweat from Jesus' face with her veil - his likeness forever imprinted on her heart. The life of Simon of Cyrene is changed forever, forced as he is, to carry the cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem because Jesus can no longer bear the weight of it. Jesus' mother Mary, John the Beloved and all the other faithful women, stay with Jesus unto death and hear his loving words of familial care and loyalty. Even nailed to the cross, his self-giving love and grace is shared with one of the thieves crucified alongside him,
“...Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (St. Luke 23:42-43)
As dawn breaks on Easter Day, the clarion call of the cockerel on the Otago Peninsula will reconnect us to the heart of Being. The wing è d squadrons of the sky will sing songs of renewed hope and peace, justice and joy. The Church will tell a story with the power to transform the world and as we listen to the sound of God's presence within all life, we will rediscover our true nature and a gentleness of heart and soul.
Ngā mihi o te Aranga
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Part VII, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, www.poetryfoundation.org
The Holy Bible, King James and Revised Standard Versions
The Sunrise Rooster No. 2, Delilah Smith, www.dailypainters.com