Tag Archives: New Zealand

sound of cemeteries

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The Lord knows what we need, when we need it. He knew I needed to visit a cemetery on a hill on a brisk New Zealand spring to find closure, grieve and celebrate a life well lived.

*note, this post was written in October 2014

I’m in Akaroa today. It was a French colony and has a beautiful bay. The weather was excellent—bright, blue skies and brisk spring weather.

I hiked with a friend to an Anglican cemetery on a hill overlooking the city’s lighthouse and bay.
Home at Last
I wandered past tombstones with names of old and dates even older. We then made our way to the Catholic and “Dissenters” cemetery. The Anglican cemetery housed the remains of men and women with English last names. The Catholic cemetery’s stones had French last names, for the many French settlers in the colony, as well as Irish last names. Earlier today, I met a fifth-generation French woman who owns a dolphin tour company.

The Dissenters were English men and men who broke from the Church of England. They advocated for a separation of church and state and called for a Protestant Reformation of sorts in England.

I loved the Dissenters cemetery. On the tombstones are quarter-length ‘tweet testaments’ to God’s grace and their departure to their eternal home.

“Thy will be done” and “in a better place” were etched in tombstones.

With Christ, which is far better

With Christ, which is far better

My grandmother passed away this week. I wasn’t able to return for the funeral. It was really hard for me. Had I been in my city, I could have made it. After exhausting options, I accepted the fact that I’d have to miss remembering the matriarch of my mom’s side of the family.

A year and a half ago I lost my grandfather on my dad’s side. I was thankful I was in the U.S. to grieve, remember and celebrate his life well lived.

But God allowed me to remember my grandmother –not in the way I’d imagined. As I strolled up and down the rows of stone memorials, I realized the Lord was allowing me a chance to remember and grieve. I wasn’t in the cemetery where my maternal grandfather and uncle are buried and where my grandmother was being laid to rest. But I was in a cemetery, and as I read the last testaments and memories that family members chose to forever etch on tombstones, I was able to mentally write ones for Grandmomma.

“Peace, perfect peace,” and “until the day breaks and the shadows flee away,” are two of my favorites.”

Reading these on the tombstones reminded me that she’s in her eternal home. I could imagine I was there in the Lowcountry graveyard.

I didn’t know the people buried there, but I know the bonds of family, the love and the grief.

Some of the dates I saw on the stones were similar to my grandmother’s birth date.

Tombstone in the Dissenter's cemetery

Peace, perfect peace

On the walk down the graveyard hill, I crunched on a carpet of browned pine needles. I realized this was my chance to be in South Carolina—in a “Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” sort of way. The path behind my grandmother’s house is carpeted with fallen pine needles. Pine needles cushioned the back yard of the home she lived in for her entire married life.

Cemeteries aren’t what you initially think of when you think of a peaceful and serene location. Perhaps an even stranger thought is of a cemetery being a vacation attraction.

But for me, I could celebrate the life of a woman who is now at ‘peace, perfect peace,’ and no longer has to wait ‘till the day breaks’ to find eternal healing and eclipsing joy. I was thousands of miles away—on the shores of “Middle Earth,” but the Lord granted me a window into the time of remembrance that I’d of otherwise missed.

The Lord knows what we need. He knew I’d be at the base of a glacier named after an Austrian leader when I returned the missed calls with a lump in my throat—knowing what words would soon leave my father’s lips and travel invisibly over the ocean to the ‘glow worm cottage’ I was staying in. He knew I wouldn’t be able to make it back to South Carolina. He knew I needed to travel to Austria through the songs of the Von Trapp family in Auckland’s Civic Theater.

Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away

Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away

Grandmomma loved songs. Her Alzheimer’s and dementia claimed a lot of memories – but hymns and Scripture were rooted deep in her mind in areas that disease could not claim.

I remember clearly the afternoon a preacher came by to visit my grandmother. I think I remember that she had had a hard week and her sentences didn’t always fit together and her memory was fading. The preacher made rounds, visiting the elderly and aging in the country.

We sat at the kitchen table, with a view of the carpet of pine needles, and I remember him saying something to the effect of, “Well, Miss Grace, shall we sing?” He started singing a hymn in a soulful and bluesy voice and my grandmother sang along—remembering all of the lyrics perfectly.

The day of the funeral, I went to see The Sound of Music live. The musical is a favorite of mine – my dad would substitute “Tessa Lyn” for “Eidelweiss” in the Austrian ballad. I couldn’t be with my family but through another Aslan-like plan, God closed a door, but like Maria sang, he opened a window. There’s something healing about music. It’s invigorating and the hills in New Zealand are really alive with the Sound of Music. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is a powerful song, the soprano singer who played Sister Abbess did a phenomenal job, her powerful voice gave me chills and I closed my eyes during part of it to absorb it. My grandmother was a woman who climbed every mountain and forded every stream.

I was able to watch part of the funeral, via streaming live feed, and I loved the hymns my family chose and I could imagine my grandmother sitting in her pew, singing for memory the songs of the Baptist hymnal. I watched online along with my cousin who lives in Germany.

Carpet of pine needles

Carpet of pine needles leading out to the bay in Akaroa, New Zealand

He donned a tux. I wore last night’s make up—the funeral was at 4:30 a.m. New Zealand time.

As I was watching, my phone data ran out and the hostel’s Wi-Fi refused to wake up from its intoxicated state. Frantically, I ran first to the front desk and then jogged down the dusky dawn streets of Auckland, looking for Wifi.

Starbucks. Must make it, I thought.

I jogged past an abandoned pair of black pumps and was cat-called in an alley. I passed people who’d been out all night. I realized this wasn’t the safest decision—running on a downtown, dark street in an unfamiliar megacity.

Starbucks was still a sleeping giant. I hesitate and pause on the street and start to turn to return to the hostel.

“Are you OK ma’am?” a Samoan security guard in a bright orange vest asked. He was on late-night patrolling the streets after Diwali festivities. Diwali is a South Asian holiday.

I explained my failed mission while holding back tears. He offered to let me use his phone as a hotspot. By the time we had it active, I’d missed the funeral’s finale.

I found a kind Samoan soul who sympathized and let a stranger use his data to connect to South Carolina. I told him he was an answer to prayer. I told him I’d prayed for help, and God sent help.

“God bless you,” I told him.

If anything, my mad dash was a chance to, in a small way, be a witness. If it was a song title, I’d say it was One Direction’s “Midnight Memories—” well, a gospel one, anyway.

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I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness

Thanks to another wardrobe, more commonly known as the Internet, I was able to be at my grandmother’s funeral, even if it was only for a short part. Thanks also to technology, I was able to watch the remainder of the service later on YouTube – an interconnected web of wardrobes. I’m thankful for the maze of mirrors, windows and wardrobes that connected me, in Middle Earth, to a small town with a street name with a Tolkien-sounding name if there ever was one.

God’s plans are not our own. Like Maria found—things turn out differently than we expected. I’ll see you on the other side, Grandmomma.

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On faith and fairy stories, part 4

This is the fourth and final installment in a series on faith, myth and allegory. If you’re just landing here, read post No. 1 here.

What is it about myths that make them so engrossing and entrancing? Charlie W. Starr wrote an essay titled, “The Silver Chair and the Silver Screen: C.S. Lewis on Myth, Fairy Tale and Film.” Starr opens his essay with a description of Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” and how it describes the “real world” and how mankind lives in a life of illusions, a life viewing shadows on a cave wall.[1] They are imperfect pictures of a reality that does exist outside of the cave. Lewis wrote about the difference between abstraction and experience. He described it as the difference between thinking and experiencing. Lewis believed that experiencing enables us to understand things concretely instead of simply knowing of something but never experiencing it.[2] One can know or believe that New Zealand is beautiful, but until a visit is made, it is a beauty that lives in abstraction. Breaking a bone hurts, but until an individual actually breaks a bone, the knowledge of this is second-hand. Someone can know poverty exists, but until he or she meets someone who lives in utter poverty, the deep-seated compassion that comes with seeing firsthand did not exist. Starr uses the example of Eustace, a character in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace was an example of someone who was all thought and no experience. Eustace needed to experience reality – he was too far in the abstract. “He needs a higher reality, a world of the fantastic far more real than his own,“ Starr wrote. At the end of the book, Eustace realizes what he had been missing.[3] Myths draw the reader in to another world where experiences abound and lessons are learned alongside the story’s characters.

Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” describes how there is no abstraction in heaven. Everything there is truly, life in color, but here in the Shadowlands, life is still lived in abstraction.[4] Lewis would say that myth helps with this. Myth is the abstraction realized into the reader’s experience. It is a story of experience that one can engage in. It is the tale of something bigger than an individual but it is something everyone can relate to and relates truth to the individual in an experiential way.[5] In Lewis’ The Last Battle, the characters of the former books come in to Aslan’s country. Aslan’s country was similar to Narnia, but it was different, better, more beautiful and perfect. It was what Narnia was striving to be. “The heroes of Narnia have entered Lewis’ version of Plato’s most real world. Digory explains that the old Narnia was not the real one and so will pass away. It was only a copy of the real Narnia which never had a beginning and will never see an end,” Starr writes.[6] Christians have glimpses of heaven; yet, he or she is not currently residing there. There are glimpses of this ‘more real world’ similar to the glimpse Alice gets through the looking glass in Wonderland. Brochures frame things and make them look different than they are in real life.[7] This happens sometimes with travel photography. One can look at a photo and think, “I’ve been there, wow, that looks … different … from what I remembered…” When individuals watch movies, everything is magnified and amplified into something that looks more meaningful than the drudgery of everyday life. The world is projected onscreen and mirrored. Everything seems to look deeper and better on screen.[8] Scenes that happen on screen often happen in everyday life – weddings, or hikes in the woods, or airplane rides — but somehow they are more exciting on the silver screen than they are in real life. Lewis would say this is because we live in the Shadowlands.[9]

Images on TV and in these “mirrors” seem to mean more. Starr asks, what is meaning? Meaning comes from more than just words; it is in the seeing and experiencing. “Lewis believed that imagining was as important as reasoning. We don’t normally associate imagination with a practical search for knowledge, but Lewis did,” Starr writes.[10]  Imagination needs to take form, for true meaning and understanding to happen. Imagination takes its form, many times, in myth. When reading a great myth, the reader needs to experience meaning and truth instead of simply knowing it exists.[11] However, one must be careful not to simply read myths, scouring the pages looking for abstract meanings.

It would stop being a myth to us and become nothing more than an allegory …. You were not knowing, but tasting; but what you were tasting turns out to be a universal principle. The moment we state this principle, we are admittedly back in the world of abstraction. It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely.[12]

When the meaning is pulled from the myth, it is turned it into an abstract idea. This might be the reason why Tolkien moved away from calling The Lord of the Rings trilogy a mirror of the Bible. He did not want the story became an abstraction or simple allegory and the entirety of the myth be lost. “When we leave the meaning in the myth and do not try to turn it into language statements, the meaning remains a concrete experience.”[13] Starr uses hobbits to illustrate this. When someone says hobbit; an image forms and the individual thinks about and experiences hobbits at the exact same time. “When we receive myth as story, we are experiencing a principle concretely. Only when we put the experience into words does the principle become abstract.”[14] An individual can hear a song for the first time and it resonates with him or her. There are feelings that are not easily communicated. After reading the lyrics, the reader comes to understand the meaning behind the words.[15] Before this the reader knew what the song was about or the meaning behind it, but they had not really matched words to it yet. “The analysis of the lyrics was your reasoning self becoming aware of abstract, propositional meanings that your experiential self had not encountered … To use Lewis’ terminology, you first tasted the song, then you came to know it.” [16] A similar effect happens when reading the Bible, the reader might encounter the text as a child, and as he or she grows into maturity and reads and analyzes the verses, the meaning comes alive in their current circumstances and he or she find what the verses truly mean. The meaning from Bible stories needs to be applied to an individual’s life, not simply thought of in abstraction. “Fairy tales are like that; they’re like the songs we hear that break out hearts with joy, the sunsets that make us cry happy tears, the mountains and canyons that fill us with wonder.”[17] Even more so, the Gospel is like that. The story of Christ’s sacrifice hits to the core—that God would die for man is a concept not many can comprehend. That the entire narrative of the Bible is God’s redemption of man causes happy tears. The beauty of creation leaves man and woman in wonder of the God who created everything for His glory. In reading myths like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, mankind is reminded of the truths that unite, the truths found in the Bible.[18]

The characters from Narnia and Middle Earth are seen differently from the characters in the Bible, but these characters, the Lucy’s and Frodo’s, could be the very reader who reads them. Reepicheep, who “seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” should be everyone one of us.[19] Edmund represents every man and woman who Christ died for. In reading about Sarumon, we see how good was corrupted similar to the manner in which Lucifer was corrupted. Reading about Gollum, the reader finds that even the most sinful creature can find forgiveness. In Frodo, the reader see a tainted character who is obedient to a higher calling. In these stories, we are reminded of Adam, or Eve, of Lucifer, of Paul. We are reminded of who we are, who we could be and who we should not be. The ultimate myth, the original myth, is the Bible, and nothing else compares.

Thanks for reading!

[1] Starr, 4.
[2] Lewis, 2-4.
[3] Starr, 9.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 9-10.
[6] Starr, 6.
[7] Ibid., 5.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid., 7
[12] Lewis, 3.
[13] Starr, 10-11.
[14] Ibid., 12.
[15] Ibid., 12-13
[16] Ibid., 13.
[17] Starr, 13.
[18] Ibid., 14-16.
[19] Montgomery, 111.

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