[Anglican Communion News Service] As the shadows lengthened on a brilliant spring Auckland afternoon, and a gentle breeze sighed through the new leaves of the pin oak trees at St. John’s College, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams paid homage to one of the greatest sons of the church in New Zealand.
Sir Paul Reeves – who was bishop, archbishop, governor general of New Zealand, diplomat and advocate for his people – died in August 2011.
Maori tikanga, or custom, requires that whanau (family) and friends return to their loved one’s gravesite at the end of a year of mourning to unveil a headstone, and to mark a new beginning for those left behind.
In this case, that year became a year and a bit – so that the archbishop of Canterbury could be present at St. John’s College, where Reeves is buried, to attend the unveiling of his kohatu, or headstone, and to pay tribute to a man he has described as a personal hero.
This was a sweet and poignant service – which seemed to blend the best that Anglicanism can bring, with the longing and dignity of tikanga Maori, or Maori culture.
Because those are the worlds that Reeves – a prince of the church who belonged to the Te Atiawa tribe – had occupied.
And in a mark of almost extraordinary empathy, this Welsh-born archbishop of Canterbury began his homily by quoting from the modern Maori poet, Glenn Colquhoun:
The art of walking upright here,
Is the art of using both feet.
One is for holding on.
One is for letting go.
He then proceeded to give a brief and poignant meditation on how God has ordained ‘doubleness’ in life – “two eyes, two ears, two hands, two feet, two heart valves – things come in two’s” – and how Reeves had mastered the necessary art of living “a holy and double life.”
Reeves had had to master the art of living double to an extraordinary level, Williams said: true to his Maori roots, yet representing “the establishment.”
“Somebody whose mission and calling was all about taking people seriously…
“And somebody who, miraculously failed to take himself at all seriously.
“That wonderful doubleness of life is part of what we are celebrating today.”
That doubleness of life, the archbishop reflected, “takes us right to the heart of creation and redemption.”
He spoke of the “miraculous duality by which God works in us… inhabiting our humanity – and bringing to it the utter strangeness of divinity.”
“The ultimate double life,” he said, “is that of Christ himself. So as we give thanks, with great joy, for Paul Reeves’ life, his calling, his witness, his service and his gift to this community, we pray for God to give us the grace of double life.”
“The grace of being serious and not serious. The grace of being human and open to the divine. The grace of inhabiting heaven and earth, our own cultures and the stranger’s life,” he added. “Standing upright. And Paul was nothing, if not an upright man. Standing upright on both feet. Holding on, and letting go.”
The archbishop’s kauwhau, or sermon, clearly struck a chord with those gathered.
Three Maori kaumatua, or elders, spoke after the homily – and each picked up on the challenges of living in a bicultural world: of being true to their Maoritanga, or heritage, while navigating through the Western world.
Archbishop David Moxon, senior bishop of the New Zealand dioceses, later spoke of being moved by the simplicity of the unveiling service – it was less than 60 minutes – and how in tune he felt that was with the latter days of Reeves’ life.
Reeves had told Moxon that the older he got, the simpler and less complicated his faith had become – and the stronger he held to those simple truths.
And Moxon mused too about how a man who is Welsh, and a fluent speaker of the Welsh language, could speak so perceptively of the life and challenges of another bicultural man, born on the other side of the world.