On Tuesday evening many in our church attended the events that were held, one in Garema Place and the other in Nara Park, to remember those killed in Christchurch last Friday. Our family went to Nara Park with hundreds of others to express our grief for the people of New Zealand, especially the Muslim community, and the Muslim community here.
It was an opportunity to express all those things, but it was also an extraordinary experience of public prayer, in English and Maori and Arabic, one I don’t think I’ve experienced before, led by people of faith and wholeheartedly shared by people of different faiths and people who wanted to demonstrate their respect and care.
Organised by the ANU New Zealand club and the NZ High Commission, the ringing of the peace bell for each of those who died was followed by a group of Maori leaders singing ‘How great thou art’ in Maori and English.
Then we heard from ANU anthropology student, Hajid Daoud, how he found out that his friend had died in the attack. And Imam Mohammad Atae Rabbi Hadi, from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of Australia, urged us not to allow media stereotypes to stop us seeing the humanity of others.
I was reminded of the rabbi who asks his students at what point night turns into day. One said, “It’s when you can look into the distance and tell the difference between a sheep and a dog.” Another said, “No, it’s when you can look into the distance and tell the difference between a fig tree and a peach tree.” “It neither of those,” said the rabbi, “It is dawn when you can look into the face of another human being and recognise him as your brother, her as your sister. Then you know the night is over.”
The imam then said he would pray the ‘call to prayer’ for Friday worship; the prayer those in the mosque would have been about to hear. It was a powerful moment, but as he followed this by reading the English translation, there was a shock of recognition; that these words, in a foreign form and language to my own, were words that I could pray.
To close, the Maori leaders invited us to say the Lord’s Prayer. “We’re going to say it in Maori and English,” they said, “So you’ll know it in one language, perhaps both!” Looking around I wondered how many people there would know it – in any language. But as we said the words together, they broke open with fresh intensity. “…Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That is the world I want to be part of praying for and making… “Forgive us our sins and forgive those who sin against us…” But, oh God, I need you, because I cannot show this kind of love and help make this kind of world in my own power.
Then came the benediction; Te Aroha (The Love), Te Whakapono (the Faith), Me te Rangimarie (and the Peace), Tatou, tatou e (be with all of us, each and every one of us.) Amen.