The In-Between Land: Psalms, Poems and Haiku By Mark Gibson
Published by Philip Garside Publishing 2015
Review by John Thornley
This is a resource for church and community groups seeking reflections grounded in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The author is a sixth generation Cantabrian and Methodist parish minister serving the east Christchurch area, where the 2010/2011 earthquakes inflicted severe damage.
The kaupapa of this book is clearly stated in the opening paragraph of the back-cover blurb:
‘Severe earthquakes struck Christchurch in 2010-2011 and caused obvious damage to buildings, the land and waterways. The emotional impact of these events on the people who lived through them is harder to see. For many people, the city and life they knew has gone, but they are not yet able to move forward – they are stuck in-between. In this moving collection, Mark Gibson tells their story.’
The collection contains 15 Psalms, 54 poems, and 60 haiku.
The language and imagery of the writings move between the colloquial and the rhetorical, reflecting the conversational idioms of the streets and the visionary declamations from the pulpit:
Your earth has spoken
and is speaking, Creative Spirit,
but are we listening?
Attune us to your life-givingness
in the wounded ground of this place
in the desolation may we hear
a new song.
what the heck
I wake with stiff neck!
what a joy it is
to worship you with friends
in this flimsy, tagged,
gaping tent of grace
here in the heart
of the buckled,
but brave communities
of the east.
The writings convey a vivid sense of place, not flashing past the car window, but experienced daily by walking or biking, and climbing the hills above the seaside suburbs.
The native birds and fish, the fauna and flora of ground plants and tree life are icons to the presence of the divine in every day and ordinary life.
Equally vivid are the people, whose fears and hopes, frustrations and grim humour are heard in the voices of the poetry:
OMG, this is a BIG one!
Not AGAIN! Not another one!
Look at the trees, and the fence,
and the house swaying!
I can only just stay standing!
The day the letterbox danced
Save us from religious charlatans
who declare our calamity is the will of God!
Save us from talkback callers
who always have an opinion, but offer us nothing!
Save us from judgmental outsiders
who crucify us in social media!
Save us from rubber neckers
who drive through our crisis with no intention to stop!
Save us from spin-doctors!
a new state religion
key to success
laid back kiwi
thing of the past
‘pull up our sleeves
nose to the grind!’
real world pithy proverbs
to stick to the mast.
no more farting around
on your timetable,
you get the picture!
The bicultural journey is present in the use of Maori words. There is also an awareness of a pervading indigenous spirituality that predates the coming of the European. Some examples from the haiku:
birdsong cracks open
the lasting vigil of night
to karanga dawn
enter the grove
of towering kahikatea
ancient prayer meeting
Waitangi Day tells of gathering kutai/mussels at Ballon Rock, in the Abel Tasman national park, for a shared hangi on the beach, a rich sensual experience of water, rock pool, handling the flesh of the kutai, and finally, the tasting. In this ritual of hospitality, the poet as priest, invokes a blessing:
a few minutes after the water boils
and the shells have opened
I deftly remove the fleshy mussel
then nestle them one by one
into a small bowl, and cover them
with a marinade of raw garlic
and freshly squeezed lemon juice
as we gather around the wooden table
I offer a karakia , bless the kai
give thanks for the gifts
of the ocean and land
the sense of whanau
that is bigger than our own.
Mark’s writings arose from his active involvement in community-based pilgrimages combining education and conservation work to restore the health of estuaries, rivers and lakes. In 2007 he led a Lenten pilgrimage from Rakiura Stewart Island to Wellington, to raise awareness of climate change and environmental degradation in the South Island. The Seven Rivers, Seven Weeks journey along Canterbury rivers culminated in the video feature documentary Seven Rivers Walking. This year, 2019, he launched a new book Two Lakes Healing, arising out of a journey made along the shores of lakes Wairewa/ Forsyth and Te Waihora/Ellesmere. Five creative workshop sessions were held on marae and by each lake, where participants used the arts of poetry, photography and drawing to express their inner journey and conversation.
If the future of religion and spiritual life lie in the rediscovery of the mystic and meditative experiences, then the ministry of Mark Gibson is a key guide for church and community. It is a positive and hopeful journey, leaving behind the outworn and dangerous language of sin and atonement teachings. Central to the new journey is the inclusive church and community with partnerships between men and women, Pakeha and Maori, old and young, past and future, settlers and migrants, people and nature, hearts and minds, and the individual and the collective – all at work together in the present time and space.
Purchase of Mark Gibson books: Philip Garside/Epworth Books website: pgpl.co.nz