Sunday, July 15, 2012

Travel Story #7: Monks, Monasteries and Urban Monastics.

Greetings all. After finishing the semester at Laidlaw, I  finally had the chance to get out of Auckland. I set out at about 10am Saturday the 7th for Norsewood, NZ to spend a weekend away in a Cistercian Monastery in a town originally settled by Norwegians. After 3 hours of attempting to get a ride out of the city (I’m currently 0 for 2 hitching out of major cities) I caved in and got a ride with the parents of a friend who where heading to Hamilton, about an hour and a half south of Auckland. Pat and Karen were from the United States originally but have been living in NZ for 16+ years as God called them here as missionaries to teach. Pat is the current principle of EastWest and it was a great opportunity to pick his brain as he showed me around the campus upon my arrival. He and his wife can be seen here: There just so happened to be a 10:30pm bus to Palmerston North from Hamilton, so opted to take the easy way out, called the monks to tell them I wouldn’t be arriving Saturday, then had dinner with this lovely couple. I caught the bus, and arrived in Palmy at 5:30am where it was below freezing. Not willing to shiver to death, I walked to the other end of town where I found shelter in a gas station. I bought a hot chocolate, then talked about life and Christ with the attendant at the station until the sun came up an hour later. I then set out for the Monastery in Norsewood. This time around though, hitching was successful. It took 10 minutes to get picked up by an electrician that I would later find out had asked the gas station attendant if I was an alright dude as he normally didn’t pick up hikers. Grant dropped me off on the monastery road where I walked about 4.5 miles to get to mass on time. 

Above: Entrance to monastery.

Upon arrival I was warmly greeted by the monks, who all knew my name. I felt like a rockstar; as much like a rockstar as you can possibly feel like at a monastery that is. I discovered that the accommodation was very warm and inviting in a stunning setting.

Above: My room at Kapua Monastery

The monks would cook the guests 3 meals a day as they believed in practicing hospitality among other monastic ventures. Prayers started at 4am (I went to one 4am session but opted out the other 3 days to sleep in, attending the 6am prayers) centered around the Psalms. The monks would pray 7 times a day communally and would read aloud the entire book of Psalms on a weekly to 10 day basis. I was struck with a overwhelming sense of peace and calm as I meditated, prayed, journalled and read the Bible as well as Augustines Confessions cover to cover. The caretakers of the monastery were impressed by my knowledge of Catholic, Latin American Liberation theologians Gustavo Gutierrez and Archbishop Romero (This was thanks to my professor Gordon Stewart who introduced me to various liberation theologies and their impact). My views on Catholicism have softened over the years, still noting theological differences though, but keenly aware that they are my brothers and sisters as much as any protestant. There is something hugely beneficial and counter cultural about being still+meditating, in a modern/post-modern enlightened culture that values people in relation to what they produce. I was able to meet with Father Nico who had been a monk at this monastery for 47 years. He is an incredibly warm man of God with shining eyes and big heart. I was able to discuss with him some things that had been troubling me, and he responded in great wisdom. We even shared a few laughs. On Wednesday morning I left the monastery at 7:30 am in high spirits. My next stop was Wellington, a 3 and a half hour journey driving non-stop. I made it there in 5 hours, hitching with 4 different people. The first was a friendly farmer, the second- an electrician, the third a Jehovahs Witness who couldn’t understand why I believed that Jesus was God ….then finally, a man name Tim. While the other rides were brief, Tim and I spent 2 hours together. He was a successful bright guy, in his early 30’s and a new dad. He had grown up around Christianity but didn’t understand what the Bible was about or what God wanted of him and his life. As a new dad to a 3 month old son, he had been contemplating what he and his partner Susie* (name changed) would teach their newborn about the world. When he told me that I was the first hitch-hiker he had ever picked up, I knew God wanted me to speak to him so I cut loose, not holding much back. As we arrived in Wellington he invited me to his home where we had lunch together. Shortly afterwards he dropped me in the heart of the city where I met up with a friend from Laidlaw that calls Wellington home.

Above: A stunning Wellington day. Wellington is a beautiful city, the Music/Art capital of NZ. My camera betrays the fact it was completely sunny; it couldn't handle taking a picture into direct sunlight hence the dark haze.  

At 6pm, I bid James farewell to join up with a friend from Urban Vision , a group of people that voluntarily relocate to the roughest, poorest areas of Wellington to be Jesus hands and feet. Over the last 4 years God has been shaping my view of what church should or could be and this was hugely formational in my journey. I have seen what church and hospitality looks like in Guatemala and Honduras, China etc, then I was able to live that out that ministry in Port Angeles for a season. Now I have seen inclusive hospitality based ministries on the north and south island of NZ and I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this is what it looks like to live out the Gospel in the 21st century. This is of course could completely fill another blog… moving on. The first stop upon meeting up with my friend Gemma and her friend Lizzie (apart of the UV community) was to an apartment full of addicts and mental patients. It was messy, let me tell you. Not in the sense that the apartment was dirty (it was that as well) but that I was witnessing the very broken lives of mentally unstable addicts, cutters and the like. 

Above: James and I on the waterfront before we visited Te Papa Museum.

Lizzie began to cook dinner in this place as I heard life stories. One of the women in this apartment was quite taken with me, and (semi) jokingly offering to wait for marriage before having sex as that’s what good Christians do. I laughed, telling her that that would be for the best as my mother also wouldn’t approve of that premarital activity. Kathy and Caleb from UV showed up shortly thereafter and we were able to share food and a few laughs even though my heart was heavy for the occupants of this apartment. After talking with Caleb, I found out that he was friends with James, the guy I had just met up with. After we left the house Caleb and I hung out, going on a night mission to trap possums for a possible future meal up in the woods. It was there he picked my brain about different biblical issues he was working through. For me, it was hugely encouraging to be able to encourage a brother that was living so full on for Christ in this setting about theological matters. I know that the hours of study were hugely worthwhile and that God has called me to study in this time- but that the essays and reflection I had done on various issues would now directly help shape practice. Liberation Theology was a wide topic that came up in conversation frequently with different people and I feel God had prepared me for this trip by choosing to do projects at Laidlaw this last semester on it. I was able to discuss strengths and shortcomings (like any theology will have, and I do mean ANY) encouraging and challenging.

Above: A quick trip with new friends out of Wellington to go check out the red rocks. There were at least a hundred seals about. Smelled terrible. 

In Newtown, a suburb of Wellington there are 4 UV houses. The ministry is Anglican, so each day prayers would start for all of the people living in this ministry at 6:30am. The ministry is made up of tent-makers. Everyone works a part time job near Newtown to support themselves so they can focus on ministry. One of the people loosely associated with it though owned a fair-trade coffee roasting shop called Peoples Coffee ( and I was fortunate enough to meet the owner, have a cup of the good stuff along with a personalized tour. The people in this covenant community designate money that is put into an account so that the group can buy food and support street people that are invited to come live with the people at UV. I experienced two types of Monasteries in the same week. One was based on retreat and prayer, providing space for (worn out/tired?) ministry workers of any denomination to be refreshed; the other where the so called ‘neo-monastics’ that sought to bring Christ message into the dark areas of Wellington, providing spaces of hope for those who had none. I was challenged to live out the gospel in a more radical way. God has allowed me to realize that I’m a very selfish person in this last week (so I’m sharing that online for everyone to see… get it! Selfish and now I’m Sharing that with everyone- that’s good comedy I reckon!) and I have been making steps to repent of that. Painful and so good at the same time.

Above: Monkey!

On the final day of my visit to Wellington, I met up with Gemma and we took the teenage girls from her house on a “trip to the Zoo.” No one had money so we walked around the outskirts of Wellingtons Zoo, taking pictures of the creatures that were visible from the outside. All in all it was a creative, brilliant time talking with the group of kids she works with. I spent the rest of the evening with Gemma who then dropped me off at a truck station to meet up with a trucker (who nearly forgot me!) who was going all the way back to Auckland. He was friends with people in the community and has since offered to take me to and from Wellington whenever I’m keen to go. Tim and I left at 8:30pm, arriving in Auckland at 6am listening to the blues and talking life while he puffed away like a chimney.

I arrived back to Auckland completely exhausted- I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was only a 7 day trip, but one to remember. I thank God for the things he allowed me to see and experience. I consider myself blessed. Thanks y'all for journeying with me!


P.S. Please continue to ask God to provide my Laidlaw finances for next semester. It starts in under a week.

 Above: View of the sun rising over the icy fields from where I ate breakfast at Kapua Monastery.
 Above: 7:30 Am, on the main road away from the monastery as I hitched to Wellington.

Above: Sunrise over Norsewood.

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