The Hongi of God
the law of first mentions
First impressions last. In a way that's how you could describe what the Hebrews call the law of first mentions. It's the idea that the first time something is mentioned in the scriptures it becomes a prototype for understanding it in every other instance further down the track. It becomes a definition of sorts.
Last Sunday I was asked to share in our community on our value of intimacy, both with God and with one another. It got me thinking about how I would go about proving that Christian spirituality, before anything else, is about being intimate with God. If we're honest with ourselves I think many of us have a high degree of cynicism to the notion. It's great to know about God, to serve him, to understand him and to share his values, but to put the majority of our energy behind being intimate with him can seem vague and tiring.
To make matters worse, as life goes by disappointments and hurts can cause callouses on our hearts. These callouses if left unattended can harden and settle, living as reminders that God didn't come through in that moment as we'd hoped and is now no longer worthy of our trust. We also now live in a world where intimacy is lost on social media, abuse, and broken communities. We've probably never been more starved of intimacy as a culture and yet it can often seem like our spiritual communities look no different in that respect.
It's hard to come back from a vacuum with God. It's hard to convince ourselves afresh that the reason for our existence is not primarily to prove our self-worth.. Bizarrely, I think we as a people need to convince ourselves again that this was the crescendo of the Christ, the entire point of his coming to us in the first place.
But before we arrive at the Passion we must return to our law of first mentions. Back to that very important first moment we found ourselves engaging with the Father of our existence.
"God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul!"
Yes, I know, we've heard this one many times before. But take a moment to imagine what this event must have felt like. This was our moment of first awareness, it was our first encounter with life as a whole and our introduction to our Creator and what he was like. Just prior to this existence awakening event we were a humble clump of clay fashioned into a human body, made totally from the elements of the created order. Then, after fashioning for himself a vessel of beauty I imagine God walking up beside us before lying flat against our bodies. His chest against our chest, his forehead against our forehead, his nose and lips against ours. He must have been extremely close to give his very own breath to us to make us alive. Of course God is not a man and doesn't have a body, but poetically, in this moment we were face to face with the master of our souls.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, our indigenous people have carried the tradition of the hongi for hundreds of years. In the hongi one presses their forehead against the other, nose against nose as a form of welcoming that person both into their community and onto their marae. The tradition is that the ha, the breath of life, is transferred and intermingled with the other and in that moment the receiver goes from being manuhiri (a visitor) to tangata whenua (a person of the land). The act of the hongi changes the fabric of the relationship between the two people, the community and the land they abide on through the transference of their very own breath of life.
In this moment in Genesis - our waking moment - our very first experience of our Creator was this kind of intimacy. God's breath intermingling with ours, moving us from cosmic orphan to the tangata whenua of his kingdom. He connected us with him while simultaneously connecting us to the land he placed us in. He welcomed us in not with word or ceremony but with a kiss, with his face pressed up against ours, with his very own life giving breath.
He welcomed us in with a hongi.
Later, after his magnificent work of the reconciliation of creation through the cross, Jesus mirrored this same tradition with his own disciples.
"Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said."
It's hard not to miss the beautiful harkening back here to that original intent. After thousands of years of war, dislocation, death and suffering here is Jesus making the point of the cross even more personal. After his resurrection and before Pentecost he hongi's us again. As if to say, "the first Adam and all his children found themselves as manuhiri, but I, the second Adam have restored you again to the place of tangata whenua in my Fathers kingdom."
It was precisely to restore this original intention of intimacy that Jesus came.
Something I love about this image is that it brings God so up close and personal to us that it is impossible to be with him without receiving who he his. Intimacy in the realm of christian spirituality is more than just proximity to one another, it's more than just a belief system or code of conduct, it's the giving of the very breath of God to one another from within us.
We have a kind of intimacy the world longs for, one that runs far deeper than emotions, ideas or behavior. It's an intimacy that shares the very essence of life and existence itself and it is to be offered to every one of God's created as it was to us. The image of the hongi transforms our concept of sharing God to those who don't know him yet from trying to convince them of our beliefs to simply inviting them into the family.
This kind of spirituality is more about giving away than it is about convincing or winning.
Now thats the kind of love that may just change the world.