Spiritual Outlook for 3 August 2014 - Facing Death

From Spiritual Outlook, 5:05 pm on 3 August 2014

Jonathan and Ian Scott lithography containing McCahon imagery cRNZ crop
Jonathan and an Ian Scott lithograph containing McCahon imagery.

I think of God in more abstract terms.

Seventy year-old Professor Jonathan Mane-Wheoki is terminally ill with pancreatic cancer. He has been told he’ll be dead before Christmas.

Jonathan's Requiem booklet cover by Jonathan Mane-Wheoki

Jonathan's Requiem booklet cover Photo: Jonathan Mane-Wheoki

So Jonathan is organising his own Requiem Mass at Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, before his body is taken for its tangi and burial in Northland.

Jonathan is Professor at Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts, and was made a Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. He says he has completed his “four score years and ten”, and is quite serene about his own death.

Born to a Pakeha mother and Maori father, Jonathan Mane-Wheoki says he had to negotiate a tricky path between two completely different world views. His mother was Presbyterian and the daughter of a biblical scholar, while his dad was a member of the Ratana Church and would disappear on annual pilgrimages to the Ratana Pa.

Jonathan used to go to church with his mother, but as a teenager he cast about for some place where he felt completely at home, and discovered the Anglo-Catholic St Paul’s Church in Auckland. Ever since then he has loved what he calls structured religion and worship.

In answer to the question “Is there a God?” Jonathan chuckles.

“Many people have an image of a God. I think of God in much more abstract terms”.

He doesn’t hold with a literal reading of the Bible which he believes contains a great deal of mythology and what he terms ‘fancy’, but intermingled with history and with truth. He reveres the Bible but he does not worship it.

As a child Jonathan was friends with the children of artist Colin McCahon, a man he says who was steeped in biblical knowledge but one who struggled with his beliefs. Jonathan says some of McCahon’s paintings exhibit a strong fear of death.

That’s a fear he doesn’t share.

Jonathan has had help putting together his requiem mass from his long-time partner, and a priest-friend. He says the occasion will not be so much about himself but about Life and Love.

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki says the one truth about God is that Love is the key.

Jonathan in action before a McCahon painting.

Jonathan in action before a McCahon painting. Photo: Jonathan Mane-Wheoki