Mike Crowl, writing in the Dunedin Star Midweek and wondering why our newspapers devote space to sport rather than religion, said, 'this tells us a lot about ourselves as a nation; we're focused on the physical, the material, the tangible. We shy away from the aesthetic, the spiritual, the things that endure, or the things with a sense of the eternal about them.'
But I'm finding by the day that Mr Crowl was posing a false choice as the so-called physical things start to speak more loudly of mystery and possibility than the so-called spiritual things. A walk on the beach, a shared meal, a hand held tightly, a newly mown lawn, an old hat badge my great-grandfather wore have all, for me, taken on a spiritual meaning richer and deeper than many inherited symbols of faith.
There is a New Testament passage where Jesus tells some not very clever disciples that even the stones of the street cry out when people who ought to understand cannot see or hear. The passage haunts me because it is the story of my own journey in faith - a progress from believing that the best images of faith were borrowed and inherited, to finding that there are more telling images all around me, close to home.
But that seemingly obvious shift in location couldn't happen without the insight that the divine is to be found in ordinary, everyday things, here and now. An unholy alliance has been formed in our Pakeha religious experience between the otherworldly and the other side of the world - spirituality and geography fused to confuse us.
Rather than theologians it has been poets such as Richard Wilbur who have helped me untangle that confusion. In a poem entitled 'Love calls us to the things of this world,' Wilbur writes of a man awakening to the sounds and smell of laundry being hung to dry in the sun:
Outside the open windowThat way of seeing the washing, and the world, makes it infinitely easier to look for and expect to find a spirituality of this time and place, anchored in the ordinary things that happen, even in the trees you drive past on the road.
The morning air is awash
From chapter 10 of Long, White & Cloudy, published by Hazard Press 1998