Can I picture this? Do I see what you’re talking about? No! An aphantasia Q&A

Scientists have come up with a word for the inability to mentally picture things. Aphantasia is the new term for having a blind mind’s eye. I’m very excited that I have a word to describe my experience, because it now means I can look up information about it, connect with others who have similar experiences, and point people to articles and interviews to help them understand what it is like for me to not be able to visualise. Kim Hill recently interviewed Adam Zeman, one of those who coined the term and has begun researching aphantasia. I wasn’t quite satisfied by some of his responses, so here are some of my answers to questions from that interview, as well as some questions that friends have asked me.

  1. When did you realise you couldn’t visualise?

I was sitting in a friends living room, with a few people who were talking about what came up in their minds when someone said the word “lake.” I started to think about lakes, the way I always think, in a soundless inner monologue. “Lake. Hmm. Which lake? I suppose the lake I have spent the most time around is Rotorua, but my favourite lake might be Waikareiti, I really enjoyed walking around it.” I wasn’t analysing my thought process, because I didn’t realise it was unusual. My description of thinking would be “it’s like you’re talking to yourself, but you don’t actually hear your voice with any quality of sound, it’s just, well, thoughts.”

Then someone said “I can see the word, and it’s blue.”

What? Huh? Wait, what… you actually see?!

Other people there said they could see a picture of a lake, rather than seeing the letters. Some had other sensory experiences, such as a sense of wetness. I was amazed! Until then, when people talked about picturing things, I thought they were just using an abstract metaphor. I think it was only hearing my friends compare their experiences of text versus pictorial images that I finally clicked that they were literally seeing something. In their minds.

After that conversation, I tried searching the internet to find out more about different mental experiences, but it is very hard to find answers on the internet when you don’t know what words to search for. I’m very grateful to those who came up with a term for my way of thinking.

  1. Can you picture your loved ones?

No, not at all. Now that I know that other people can do this, it makes me feel a slight sense of loss. Photographs of loved ones are very important to me, because without them I cannot see my grandparents or friends who have died. I know things about how they looked, but I couldn’t draw a realistic portrait of them – partly because I have not studied how to draw portraits, but also because the details are too complicated to describe and memorise. A face is more complicated and unique than a novel, and I couldn’t recite a whole novel accurately even if I had read it many times.

Please don’t be offended if I don’t notice you have had your hair trimmed – I have nothing to mentally compare it to.

  1. How do you recognise people or places?

Because they look familiar! It is hard to describe, but I know when I have seen someone or something before. Details of their appearance must be stored away as knowledge rather than as pictures in my mind. However I do struggle to recognise people I have only met briefly, or to recognise people if I see them in a different context. My partner has often teased me about how unobservant I am. I think it is hard for me to store visual information. If we go for a walk and talk to each other, I will struggle to remember what we passed by on the walk, unless I actively thought something about it at the time, but I will be able to remember a lot more about what was said.

I would be a hopeless police witness, as I could only recall details I had mentally noted, for example if I had thought that someone had funky hair, or noticed that their nose was unusually large. It would be hard to describe the exact shape of their nose. However, because I do recognise people and things when I see them again, so I would probably recognise them from a photo – although maybe not as easily as someone who had also formed a mental image.

  1. Could you tell me whether the green of pine tree is darker than the green of grass?

When I look at the world I can see differences in colour and lightness. I have noticed how bright the green of grass is, and how pine trees appear dark and gloomy even on a sunny day, so I know that the green of pine trees is darker. If you gave me 50 shades of green paint, I could look at them and recognise which colours were closest to the green of pine and the green of grass.

  1. Could you paint a picture of something if it wasn’t in front of you?

When I see things in the world, I notice details, and have thoughts and emotional responses to what I am seeing, which I can later recall. I can draw something well if I have noted enough details about it. For example, I could draw a fuchsia flower, because they are one of my favourite flowers (hence my blog name) and I have paid them a lot of attention. Since childhood I have thought they look like flower fairies, and I have noticed the way the outer petals curl up like a skirt and the stamens dangle like slender legs. I have not taken in as many details about the leaves, so I would probably need to erase and redraw them until they looked “right” or recognisable to me. I have not noted anything about the pattern in which the leaves grow on the branches, so I could take a guess or look at a tree or a picture of one before I could draw that accurately. Here, I’ll have a go:


(I drew the first picture on the train, after hearing the interview on the radio and trying to figure out how to explain my artistic process. I hadn’t logged in to my blog and seen my cover image for a while!)

I quite like creating artworks which are imaginary scenes, or symbolic representations, rather than realistic images. I often include words in my paintings.

  1. How did you answer exam questions when you studied art history?

I recalled facts I had memorised about paintings. My inner monologue would recite facts I had read in books or written in my notes. It wasn’t my best subject in school, but I passed!

  1. Could you tell me how many letters of the alphabet have low-hanging tails?

Within my head I mentally sense the movement of holding a pen and writing the letters, going through the alphabet.

  1. Could you tell me how many windows are in your house?

Yes. In my head I mentally move through our house, and I mentally stop in each room and think about how many windows there are. I know where they are because I remember standing at the window or pulling the blinds.

  1. Could you decide what to wear if you weren’t standing in front of your wardrobe?

Yes, because I know what clothes I have. For example, I know that I recently bought some pants because I liked the mossy shade of green. I was a bit less certain about the pantaloon style, but the fabric felt nice and light for summer. When I bought them, it was hard to know whether they would go with the clothes I already owned. When I got home I held them up against my shirts, so that I could see how they looked together. Now I have retained the knowledge of which shirts looked good with the pants.

  1. Could you be an architect/designer/illustrator…

I studied at architecture school for two years. When I was designing something, I would have ideas about what I wanted, e.g. that I wanted it to be curvy, or to have grass on the roof. I could be inspired by other designers and architects and want to do something which resonated with their work. When I actually started on a project, I wouldn’t be able to visualise the final work. I would start by doing a sketch, which I would then erase and redraw until it looked good, or sometimes I would cut out pictures and arrange them into a collage and then draw something based on that. Aphantasia may caused me some disadvantage, but I managed to pass my papers. I got higher marks in physics, English literature and politics, which is one of a number of reasons I left architecture school.

  1. Do you enjoy reading books?

Yes! I love reading, and I enjoy writing poetry. The way I think about the world is in words – I guess the word pictures in books invoke emotions and memories, and sometimes I think “yes, that sounds exactly right… that resonates with my experience… that’s an interesting way of describing it.” Just as I can describe a scene using language, I can enjoy someone’s artful description of a scene.

  1. So, you wouldn’t ever get annoyed when the movie based on a book didn’t match up with what you had imagined when you read it?

No. I would only be annoyed if things in the movie actually contradicted what was written in the book.

  1. So you can’t fantasise about someone else when you’re (having sex/masturbating)…

No! OMG, do people do that? That’s seriously disturbing!

  1. Do you ever have any mental pictures?

Many people with aphantasia have involuntary mental imagery as they fall asleep, in dreams, when using drugs, or even just random flashes of images during the day. I think I am at the extreme end of the visualisation spectrum. Occasionally (maybe once a month?) an image involuntarily flashes in front of me as I fall asleep, but it is only ever very dim and impossible to focus on. Sometimes this is of something I have been looking at something for a long time, e.g. weeding a particular plant for an afternoon. Sometimes it is something random and slightly frightening, like a goulish face which wouldn’t look out of place in a Buffy scene… but weirdly not actually something I remember from Buffy (or anywhere else). My brain just seems to have invented it. Anyway, this gives me a vague sense of what visualising is like. Since finding out more about aphantasia I have been trying to catch myself in those moments and hold onto the image, but I haven’t succeeded yet.

I don’t think that I have visual dreams; I wake up with knowledge about what has happened in my dreams, very strong emotions, and sometimes a sense of movements. I don’t usually remember visual details.

So, that’s a little bit about my experience – others with aphantasia may answer the questions differently, so feel free to contribute in the comments. For those of you who don’t have aphantasia, it is as hard for me to get my head around your experience as it is for you to imagine what it is like for me. So I have some questions for you. I would love to know how you think! Leave your responses in the comments.

What is it like to not have aphantasia?

A. If you are reading a novel set in a country you have never been to, how do you visualise a landscape you have never seen? Or if a person is described in a book, how do you fill in the details which have not been described?

B. How can you keep reading the words if you keep having pictures appear in your head?

C. Do you have times when you are not mentally picturing anything?

D. If you are visualising something while your eyes are open (as I am told some people do), what happens to the things which are actually in front of you? Do they disappear behind your visualisation, or is the mental image transparent?

E. If you are visualising something you don’t remember well, is the image blurry or dim, or are there bits missing from the picture, or do you just make a picture up and later realise it was inaccurate?

F. If you played imaginary games as a child, could you see the things you were pretending to play with? E.g. if you were pretending to have a tea party, could you see the food? Could you actually see imaginary friends?

G. How is visualising different from hallucinating

H. When did you first become aware you were mentally picturing things?

You can listen to Kim Hill’s interview of Adam Zeman here:

You can find out more about aphantasia here:

From the outside

(Part one of two on the 2014 General Assembly)

These are my reflections, from outside and far away from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ). I have so many thoughts and feelings I have separated them into two posts. This one is about the process stuff. The next one is my reaction to another decision which excludes.

This year, there were several proposals to ban ministers from marrying same-sex couples, and a couple of proposals to remove the existing  leadership rule (banning people in same-sex and de facto or civil union relationships*) The official report states:

The Rev Hamish Galloway spoke during debate saying that there had to be a better way forward for the Church to discuss what is a complicated issue. He ended his speech by laying down his voting cards and leaving the Assembly floor. Approximately 100 commissioners subsequently also abstained from voting by leaving the floor. People returned to the voting floor once voting on all sexuality and marriage matters was complete.

With a third of commissioners absent from the floor, the marriage rule passed easily. As Tim Watkin points out, it is a deeply un-Presbyterian rule. Traditionally, diverse views are recognised and ministers have liberty of conscious on matters that are not fundamental to our faith (and the learned people of the “Doctrine Core Group” have advised that this is not a matter of the substance of the reformed faith).

From unofficial reports I have heard that many people left in tears, that the moderator was in tears, that debate was curtailed on the next motion. I have heard that people saw signs of hope, that they felt something incredible happened, that there was some movement at last…

I am glad that people I like and respect saw signs of hope. I have been hoping for years that someone would come up with some sort of dramatic symbolic action. I have been advocating for a different sort of conversation, outside of the Assembly debates…

And yet I cannot bring myself to celebrate people walking out of the debate.

The national Church has been shutting me out for years. It has ruled, Assembly after Assembly, that I am not acceptable, that I am not welcome to participate in the full life of the church.

The Church has been literally shutting LGBTIQ people out of the debates about our future. General Assemblies are made up of ministers and elders (and a few youth reps). These are the decision makers in our church… and people like me are no longer allowed to become ministers or elders. While there is a lifeboat clause for existing ministers, the number of out gay, lesbian or bisexual ministers in our church has dropped. There were only a few to begin with, and with some leaving the country, or leaving ministry roles, or leaving the church all together… I only know of a couple who are left and I don’t know if there were any out LGBTIQ voices at this General Assembly. If the leadership rule is upheld, one day there will be none. We will have been silenced in the courts of the church. Despite the church’s attempts to exclude us, some of us are sticking with the church.

I want those who can speak to stay part of the Assembly, to speak for us. Our stories need to be told. I know that some allies did stay, and I am grateful for those who spoke. I know that some who walked out are allies. I am trying to understand their action as a sign of support.

I also feel frustrated at the walkout, because last Assembly the marriage ban lost by one vote. We will never know how it would have gone this time if all the commissioners had voted. Now we have another rule which excludes us.

I have heard a lot of people saying that they are sick of the debating. That it is getting us nowhere. I’ve heard that people are being “wounded” by the debates. I struggle to see how they can feel as wounded as those who are directly affected, whose lives are being debated.

As I’ve said before, the “sides” of this debate are not equal. The debates started because a group within the church decided we should have rules so that the whole church must abide by their views. Some of us keep debating because we want to create space for our views. We want space to live faithfully to God’s call in our lives. We are not saying that the whole church should abide by our views. We are not saying that all congregations should have an LGBTI minster. We are not arguing that all ministers should be obliged to marry same-sex couples. (Weird, anyway, to think that a couple would insist someone who did not support same-sex marriage would be ideal to lead their marriage.) The state recognises a diversity of views and gives ministers the right to discriminate if that is what their faith calls them to do. This church is not leaving ministers the right to NOT discriminate.

As Rob at St Ninian’s sums it up, the issue is not about marriage. “The issue is whether the PCANZ is a church that means what it says when it says all are welcome.  Whether the church is able to allow a diversity of deeply held views alongside each other or whether there can be only one point of view acceptable.”

Walking away from the debate does not leave us in a neutral position. The current situation is one where there is space for only one point of view.

So yeah, I’m glad that there is a desire to do things differently… But I wish a dramatic stand had been taken before Assembly. Or I wish that a symbolic action, a disruption, could have happened without walking out. I think only a different sort of conversation will help us move forward, but it needs to happen alongside Assembly processes, because that is where decisions are made. For a diversity of views to be respected, General Assembly will need to vote to change the rules.

Rob reminds us (after Edward Hayes) to associate with the hopeful.

I am trying to understand the signs of hope some saw at Assembly. I am wondering how the signs of hope are going to be shared. I have had several conversations with people who had similar reactions to me when they heard about people walking out, but they had not heard anyone say that there were signs of hope. I am trying to feel hopeful that the walk out will inspire people to take action, to make meaningful conversations happen, to find a way for us to move forward.

I also am glad that at General Assembly there were people who stayed, who raised their voices speaking out for justice. Their voices give me hope.

So, these are my thoughts about the events of General Assembly. They won’t match up with the experiences of people who were there, but the PCANZ has said this is all I can have: General Assembly from the outside. The church from the margins. This is my point of view.

The rule bans anyone “in a relationship outside of a faithful marriage between a man and a woman” from holding leadership positions in the church. A cynical person might think that it was carefully worded so that those who supported could argue that it’s not discriminating against people. But it is. Only some of us are being told that we have to choose: we can choose to be with the love of our life; that means choosing not to be accepted by the church.

Help us O God, achieve peace.

Two unspeakable tragedies. Two stories of senseless loss of innocent lives. One is all over our news websites. Probably on all our minds. It could have been us. Most of us having travelled by plane for work or holidays. We feel connected to the loss through the photos and stories of people who share some small link with us – people who have lived in our city, perhaps, or whose families resemble our own in some way. We who are free, we are shocked by how suddenly our lives could be destroyed.

To read about the other story you have to scroll down to the bottom half of the Stuff or Herald websites for an update. The death toll is rising rapidly. The UN says one-fifth of those dying are children.

“I knew that my friend and neighbours had been killed, my dad told me to get up and help them! We ran to the site together, among the rubble and dust I could see body parts. I wanted to run away, but I couldn’t. I have to be strong for this is not the first time that I witness such chaos. This is my third war in Gaza and I’m only 12. How many more wars will I see? How many air strikes can we survive? When is it all going to end? When can I enjoy my childhood and play in the streets like other boys of my age?”
– Mohammad (quote from the Caritas blog)

They are just children, like our children. Playing, learning, exploring the world around them…

What can we do, from so far away?

CWS and Caritas have partner organisations in Palestine and have emergency relief appeals. We can donate to support their work.

We can teach our children compassion and empathy. We can teach them to see things from other perspectives, to see the people behind labels, to talk to one another, to hope.

We can pray for peace.


Help us O God, achieve
the peace that cares for the wellbeing of the people;
the peace that rebukes injustice and violence;
the peace that seeks freedom for all;
the peace that heals the hurts of the past;
the peace that enables for today
and releases the potential for tomorrow;
the peace that is new life in Christ.

(from Alternative Ecumenical Service prepared by Middle East churches:

Parihaka Sunday – reflection and liturgy

Perched here on a hilltop, on 5 November we had a good view of fireworks bursting forth around the valley. I always find it strange, the visual sign that so many people all around the country are doing the same thing at the same time. It’s even weirder when you start to explain to visitors from overseas why so many people are united in this pyrotechnic display. Basically, the celebration is about a failed terrorist attack on the other side of the world. Whether it’s a celebration of the plot being foiled, or of Guy Fawkes as an anti-authoritarian hero, is debated.

At our church, in the words of our minister, “we believe that remembering Parihaka is a lot more illuminating for our lives and our society, than remembering Guy Fawkes.” Here is the reflection I gave in the service I led on Sunday. I’ve also included the liturgy at the end of this post.

The Challenge of Parihaka – Reflection for a service remembering the invasion of Parihaka.

[I began with a mihi which I have not included here, partly because I want to keep this blog semi-anonymous]

The bird is singing, morning has broken, behold, there is life! I have greeted our dead, those who have become stars, who have gone to the guardian of the night. And greetings to you, people from many mountains, people of the four winds, who have come here on many different waka. Warm greetings to all of you.

In my mihi I mentioned the clan I identify with, the M* clan. The first of my ancestors, Thomas M*, arrived in Petone in January 1840. I trace my family back to him because he was the first to come to Aotearoa, and because I feel a strong connection to the M* line. Even more so now that I have joined this church, the congregation that Thomas and his wife Margaret were part of from our first gathering on Petone beach.

A few days later more settlers arrived, including a boy of seven, John Bryce. He was another great-great-great grandfather of mine who would go on to become the minister of Native affairs. He played a central role in the events which unfolded in November 1881.

It had been a time of great tension in Taranaki, since an influx of settlers had arrived demanding land in the 1840s. The worst period of armed conflict in the region broke out in 1860 and continued for nine long years. 1869 marked the end of Māori armed aggression in Taranaki.

Many Māori in the region, including infamous warriors, became followers of the prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, who preached a message of peace.

 After the wars, the government promised that land would be returned to Māori, but in Taranaki, land continued to be confiscated, broken up and distributed among settlers. After 12 years of waiting for the promises of land to be fulfilled, Taranaki Māori began to protest again. This time, instead of taking up weapons they took up symbols of peace: ploughshares. The men went out and ploughed their own lands, the lands that settlers were occupying. In response, the government arrested the ploughmen.

Land confiscations continued. Even the land that Māori had planted with crops for their own sustenance were targeted, with fences which protected the crops from animals being broken down to make way for roads. Again, Māori protested, by rebuilding the fences and taking out survey pegs. Then the fencers were arrested, until there were hundreds of men being imprisoned indefinitely without trial. Some died in captivity, in cold conditions as far away from home as Dunedin.

The peaceful protests of Māori and their continued assertion that they had the right to land was intolerable to the majority of settlers. A newspaper article referred to “a great and constant evil… a constant menace and danger to the colony.” That was how some perceived the movement at Parihaka.

And so, the government, and settlers took action. The fact that a thousand men leapt at the opportunity to enlist as volunteers for an armed assault gives some indication of the support there was for breaking up Parihaka.

And so, on 5 November, 1600 soldiers and volunteers descended on Parihaka, led by Bryce on a white charger. They were met by lines of children skipping, singing and chanting. Hundreds of loaves of bread had been baked for Bryce’s men. The adults of the village sat quietly, taking the lead from their prophets.

Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested and taken away that day. Over the days of occupation which followed, the people of Parihaka did not fight back while their homes were burned, crops were destroyed, women were raped, and treasures were looted.

The story of the non-violence resistance movement at Parihaka is inspirational. The vision of Te Whiti and Tohu and the courage of their followers holding strong to it while under attack is something the world should know of and honour, as Ghandi and King’s non-violent protests are known and honoured.

The story of how Pakeha responded is disturbing and unsettling… but it, too, must be told.

My connection to the story has at times made me feel deeply uncomfortable. The easiest way of dealing with this would be to view Bryce as an evil villain and distance myself from him. But by portraying Bryce as evil and as “other” I would be letting myself off the hook.

Instead I have attempted to recognise him as a person, as part of my whakapapa. As well as perpetrating racism and violence he was a father and was seen as honest and reliable to his settler friends.

By doing so I am forced to recognise that humans have the capacity to commit terrible acts and to do great harm. I believe Bryce’s actions were fuelled by ignorance, prejudice and a refusal to see things from the perspective of those who were “other” to him. By relating to him I feel compelled to examine my own heart and mind for signs of ignorance and prejudice and closed-mindedness.

At first, I had a lot of ignorance. Ignorance of te reo Māori, of Māori culture, of the history of this country. I was startled to find out the extent of the injustice in our history. I was surprised to learn that the version of Te Tiriti o Waitangi that the vast majority of chiefs signed was very different from the treaty I had learned about in school.

I also found signs of prejudice in my own thinking. I realised that there were stereotypes that I come to believe. I realised that at times part of me felt threatened by Māori cries for justice. I seem to have inherited at least a little of the anxiety my settler ancestors felt. This has not been a journey to towards feeling guilty, but towards actively seeking to respond differently.

Today we may not have anyone who is charging in on a white horse with his armed men, but Māori are still marginalised in our society. Some people talk about poverty and inequality as forms of violence, and Māori are suffering these forms of injustice more than non-Māori.

Ruakere Hond, from Parihaka, says ‘The war hasn’t finished. People aren’t falling from muskets. They are falling from youth suicide, alcohol, drug abuse, chronic poverty, intergenerational poverty. There is still a long way to go.’

Taranaki Māori are still alienated from their land. When reserves were finally created they were given over to administrators and then leased to settlers with perpetually renewing leases. The Waitangi Tribunal concluded that “If war is the absence of peace, the war has never ended in Taranaki, because that essential prerequisite for peace among peoples, that each should be able to live with dignity on their own lands, is still absent and the protest over land rights continues to be made.”

A few weeks ago the government commenced a consultation on next year’s release of blocks of land and sea for petroleum exploration. The people of Parihaka, descendants, morehu and followers of Te Whiti and Tohu, are strongly opposed to oil exploration in their tribal area.

They have said that “While there may be short term benefits from petroleum for some, the long-term effects are detrimental to local communities and the world as a whole.” In the past decade petroleum extraction has caused oil spills in Taranaki which have meant that Māori are not able to gather kaimoana in their rohe. Not only has exploration gone ahead previously despite clear opposition, outrageously, Todd Energy named two of the blocks Parihaka and Tohu. They have now changed the names after complaints, but they have changed them to other te reo names.

If you’d like to support the people of Parihaka, one way to do so would be to write to Simon Bridges urging him not to go ahead with plans for exploration in their rohe.

I want to look beyond Aotearoa for a moment, to acknowledge that there are still places where land is being taken at gunpoint and independence is being suppressed by force. In our Pacific neighbourhood the indigenous people of West Papua face circumstances which would be familiar to Taranaki Māori.

West Papuans have had their land rights disregarded, are dealing with the impact of a huge influx of migrants and have been under attack from the police and military, both of which have been involved in human rights abuses and torture. As was the case in Parihaka in November 1881, the media are banned from West Papua. Human rights organisations are also banned.

The Asian Human Rights Commission recently released a harrowing report into the killing of thousands of West Papuans 1977-78, including children and elderly. The Commission argues that according to the UN’s definition this amounts to genocide and many of the perpetrators are walking free. 

Not only are West Papuans in our neighbourhood, we have other connections with them. We have military and policing ties and until last year the NZ Super fund invested in the notorious Freeport McMoran mine in West Papua. Fortunately the super fund has divested in this due to evidence of human rights abuses.

The Green party have recently criticised the government for recommencing a community policing programme in West Papua, after a review of the previous programme found that there was no evidence that human rights and respect for the rule of law were enhanced, and West Papuans have reported that the police have been involved in shootings, torture, attacks on communities and have made arrests for peaceful protests and even for praying for peace.

A West Papua solidarity gathering in Tamaki Makaurau called on the United Nations Secretary General to appoint a Special Representative to investigate the situation in West Papua; and on The New Zealand government to play a role in mediating peaceful dialogue between West Papuan representatives and the Indonesian government, as well as ceasing military ties with Indonesia until the human rights of West Papuans are respected. This statement has been supported by Christian World Service, Caritas, Peace Movement Aotearoa and many other New Zealand and Australian NGOs.

A few weeks ago the Prime Minister of Vanuatu spoke up for West Papua, calling for a UN investigation, but the New Zealand government continues to stand by in silence while the people of West Papua suffer.

It is hard to be faced with the reality of oppression, whether in it’s extreme violent form in West Papua, or it’s more insidious form here. The issues can sometimes be overwhelming and we can feel helpless.

This is when paying attention to the signs of hope can be helpful. For me, the super fund pulling out of the mine in West Papua, the courage of Vanuatu’s PM speaking out on the world stage are hopeful signs.

The growing awareness of the story of Parihaka also gives me hope. I think by being part of telling the story, and passing it on to our children, we help ensure it won’t be repeated here. Learning about my great-great-great grandfather Bryce’s actions has motivated me to educate myself and to seek to understand different perspectives on contemporary issues.

The story of the invasion of Parihaka also helps us to understand what is happening now in other lands. 

If we choose to be part of challenging oppression, we need stories to give us strength and inspiration.

As Christians, we can draw on stories from the bible. The scriptures remind us that our God is a God of liberation, and our prophets called out for freedom for the oppressed.

As people of Aotearoa, we can also learn from the story of non-violent resistance at Parihaka.

It is the story of a community united in their hope for peace. A community that showed incredible strength and courage even in the face of an armed invasion. A community that stayed true to their values under immense pressure and continued to cry for justice, even in their darkest hour.

Te Whiti said “Though the lions rage still I am for peace . . . Though I be killed I yet shall live; though dead, I shall live in peace which will be the accomplishment of my aim. The future is mine, and little children, when asked hereafter as to the author of peace, shall say ‘Te Whiti’, and I will bless them.”

We are blessed to have the story of Te Whiti and Tohu and their legacy as a light of hope for us as we seek to live out a way of peace and justice.

E te Ariki, ko koe to matou nohoanga i nga whakatupuranga katoa. Ka ara nei o matou wairua ki a koe e Ihowa hei runga i a matou tau mahi tohu, kia rite hoki ta matou tumanako ki a koe. Amene.

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.


The Hon John Bryce (New Zealand Herald, 12 November 1881) 

Taranaki Report (Waitangi Tribunal)

Response from Parihaka to Oil and Gas Industry 

The Invasion of Parihaka, 5 November 1881: An Eyewitness Account (The Meeting Place)

Remembering Parihaka resource (Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand) 

Indonesia: ‘The Neglected Genocide’ – a report detailing series of abuses in 1977–1978 (Asian Human Rights Commission) 

West Papua Solidarity Gathering Statement, Tamaki Makaurau, 2011


A Liturgy for Parihaka Sunday


“Those who are bent by the wind shall rise again when the wind softens.” – Te Whiti o Rongomai

This is a time to honour those who walked before us,
To hear the voice of God in the story of those who resisted oppression,
To understand our place in the continuing story.
Let us celebrate God’s passion for justice.
Let us keep alive the vision of peace. 

PROCESSIONAL HYMN  AA 155 Where mountains rise to open skies

OPENING RESPONSES    (Caritas Aotearoa)

E te Atua o te rangimārie,
Kia whakapaingia ngā uri o Parihaka.
We look to the past to provide lessons for our future.
The present is a place to check our past.
Parihaka speaks to us of peace,
A new way of seeking justice,
It opens up the horizon of hope.
Peace on earth and goodwill to all people.
How can we be instruments of peace? What do we need to do?
Come together, talk together, walk together, work together.
When our peace is challenged, the message keeps us true.
Keep ploughing the land, keep honouring mana whenua.
E ngā manu e rua, Te Whiti o Rongomai kōrua ko Tohu Kākahi,
Nga mihi, tēnā kōrua.
Korōia ki te Atua ki runga rawa, maungārongo ki te whenua,
Whakaaro pai ki ngā tangata katoa.            
Mō āke āke, Āmene.









 Hebrew Scripture: Isaiah 11: 6-7,9  

 Gospel: Luke 6: 20-31

 Words of Te Whiti o Rongomai

“Though some, in darkness of heart, seeing their land ravished, might wish to take arms and kill the aggressors, I say it must not be. Let not the Pakehas think to succeed by reason of their guns. I want not war, but they do. The flashes of their guns have singed our eyelashes, and yet they say they do not want war. The government come not hither to reason, but go to out-of-the-way places. They work secretly, but I speak in public so that all may hear.”

Contemporary reading: Parihaka (Apirana Taylor)


HYMN           AA 31 E Te Atua



“The challenge of Parihaka”


MUSIC           From “An Offering for Parihaka” – David Hamilton

HYMN           AA85 Let Justice Roll down




COMMUNION HYMN       Walls mark our boundaries


HYMN           AA 115 Purea nei e te hau



Go now with the stories of Parihaka echoing in your hearts.
May the God of liberation give you courage to challenge oppression,
May the spirit inspire you with hope for change,
May prophets guide you on the way of peace,
And may the strength of community support you on the journey.


Windhorse is one!

It seems like only yesterday that we were walking on the beach on a wintry day, excited and nervous and wondering about her arrival.

Now she is here and she is one and she crawls quickly down the hallway after me, with her hands going slap slap slap on the wooden floor of our new house. She can pull herself to stand with her knees slightly bent and her legs wide apart and wobbling, and she is briefly amused by walking behind her wooden trolley, but she shows little interest in walking independently. Why walk when you can crawl anywhere?

She can say “da” for duck (or any bird), “toh” for bottle and “mo” for more, and do signs for each. Her signs for duck and bottle are hard to distinguish except with context. She says “teddy”, “hi” and “yay”. She says “uh uh” with a cheeky smile as she touches something she knows she is not meant to touch, and she says “nanananana” when she wants us to stop doing something. She has not yet said my name or called L “mama”, but when she reaches up for a cuddle or leans in for a hongi it makes my heart sing.

She loves broccoli, cheese, carrots, peas, yoghurt and weetbix. She loves mandarins so much that sometimes just saying “do you want a mandarin?” is enough to make her giggle with excitement.

Her Impossi Bear is a close companion. When they are reunited in the morning or after an outing she squeaks and chatters with delight. I have fun placing Impossi Bear in unexpected places to be found again.

Windhorse is very sociable and loves meeting up with our friends or her baby friends. For a long time she has seemed very independent and confident and has enjoyed herself with friends when we’ve had the occasional afternoon or evening away, but since we moved house eleven days ago she has needed extra cuddles and attention. She has a couple of stripy onesies that she has started carrying around the house and cuddling. She is still obstinate at times.

She growls “Raaarrrrrrr!” when she sees a toy or a picture of a dog or a lion. She growled at the real lions at the zoo. Come to think of it, sometimes she growls when she sees a sheep or a horse or anything on four legs. When she sees cats she crawls after them squeaking excitedly – which usually scares them away.

She likes reading books almost as much as she enjoys eating them. I love the look of deep concentration she has when exploring a new book or a new object.

When we play pat-a-cake or round and round the garden she bursts into peals of delicious laughter.

I love the snuffles and sighs she makes in her sleep.

I love the way she scrunches up her nose when she smiles.

I love watching her make sense of the world.

It feels like she has been with us forever; I can’t imagine life without her.