Because we’re a family who’ve moved a lot, I’ve learned that there’s different types of home: there’s the home that we create and that we adapt according to wherever we may be. And then there’s ūkaipō, the origin or the source of sustenance—your real home (it can also mean mother). For me, that’s Tūrangi. I have other places that I whakapapa to, but this is the place that sustains me. I’ve lived overseas, my kids have lived in different places, and we’ve been able to create home wherever we have been. But that sits alongside ūkaipō for us, and I sometimes wonder if the strength of knowing what our ūkaipō is, and where it is, and who we are in relation to it, enables us to do that, moving around a bit more easily.
Ūkaipō anchors me here. You know attachment theory, right? It’s between parent and child, and then, later in life, spouse and spouse. For Māori, it’s not just the human relationships that matter in terms of attachment, it’s place—it’s whenua. We’re grounded and we’re anchored, and that enables us to go out from and go back to. I was urban Māori my whole life until I came home eight years ago—that’s the only place I’d ever lived. But there was still that part of me that knew there was somewhere else to return to. And so, if there was an encouragement that I could make—in addition to the thing about practices and bringing life—it would be to respond to that yearning. If you feel that yearning that there’s a place to return to, then do that. I did that in January; it was the first time I went to where my koro was from—didn’t really know anybody, and people were looking out their windows and saying, “Who’s this?”. It’s nerve-wracking! And it was scary coming home [to Tūrangi] ‘cause hardly any of my immediate family live here. But it just touches something in you that God put there. And it comes to life when you respond to it.
Scripture presents us with a complex picture of home: exodus and promised land, exile, and the expectation that God will dwell with his people. How does Scripture speak to your experience of home and the task of making a home?
Growing up, that verse from Jeremiah was a big one in our household—seek the welfare of the city in which you dwell [see Jer 29:7]. And as I got older, the part that stood out to me the most was to plant gardens because that was like “Oh, you [God] mean this for a long period of time!” For example, if it was he māra kai—a vegetable garden—you plant something now anticipating growth months ahead or, if you’re planting trees, you’d anticipate growth years ahead. And then it might not necessarily be something that you would enjoy yourself. You know, it’s like that saying, “You plant an oak tree for the future generations to sit under its shade”—that’s always stood out to me. What happens to you as a person when you plant a garden? It means that you have to get to know the soil; you have to get to know the whenua and how the seasons work; you have to understand the climate; you have to toil; and you have to nurture it. And the sense of kaitiakitanga that you adopt, you know, when you garden. It also speaks to presence: you’re presencing yourself in a place; you’re beautifying a place. For me, beauty is such a core way that God has revealed God’s self to me through beauty. That’s such a key element of the nature of God. And we can do that with gardens. It just was really profound for me. And so, when I’ve moved around, if I couldn’t have a garden, I’d have pots outside the door or something, recognising that God values the connection between us as people and the whenua that is sustaining us—that reciprocal relationship that we have a responsibility to. That’s been a big one for me.
And it’s been interesting to think about that whole story of being in exile. Now we’re finally back here on our whenua, but there’s still a sense of exile in terms of how we want to live here. We can’t just go and live on our land. We can’t be kaitiaki of our land. The Crown still hasn’t given it back 24 years after it was settled. And I have to engage councils, and DOC, and [the] Crown, and Fish and Game. There are so many stakeholders related to our whenua and our awa that there’s a sense of exile from it. But then, what does it mean for me to seek the welfare of those who also live here and who also call it home? This isn’t just my family whenua. It’s enjoyed by thousands of people who come here and who have called this place home. And, so, the sacrifice of that, I’ve taken that on and have a responsibility to that.
I also think about exile in terms of my Mum’s family leaving Dublin post-World War II. I could see very much how they were home to each other. It wasn’t about a place; it was about being together—so it was this really different expression of home. When my Poppa passed away, I wrote a song about that, Home is Where the Heart Is: “Wherever I may roam / you, my darling, Dublin girl will be forever home” because that’s who they were to each other. And they could go and live anywhere—like, in their 60s, they went back to live in the East End of London and serve in ministry there. So yeah, I’m really fortunate that I’ve had these different experiences of what it means to have home, and to be at home, and to create home. And all of those experiences have been spoken to by that passage to “seek the welfare of the city.”