From chapter 3 of Looking into the Depths, by Nancy Burgess, published by ColCom Press, 1996 (includes colour photographs).
The quest to reveal dimensions of spirituality in New Zealand short stories will now be pursued through thematic studies. Compassionate, selfless love offered without discrimination is the understanding of neighbourliness presented in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The word ‘compassion’ is derived from the Latin words ‘pati’ and ‘cum’ which together mean to ‘suffer with.’ The selection of stories written by Frank Sargeson and Joy Cowley present pragmatic situations calling for compassion. These authors offer attitudes to neighbourliness, and readers are left to measure these against the derivation of ‘compassion’ and the teaching of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
In these stories neighbourliness is presented in different contexts, within different historic times and different climates of societal morality. In addition, each author has a different relationship with established religion. The Sargeson stories use a theme of neighbourliness to express the author’s conviction that the church is inadequate when it stands apart from human need and social justice. This dualism of proclaimed faith and faithless praxis is exposed for evaluation in a variety of ways. Cowley, on the other hand, addresses more directly the norms of societal and cultural perception which stultify the fullness of neighbourliness in any relationship.
Commonality of these authors is found in their understanding that the natural world is expressive of spirituality. Within his personal spiritual pilgrimage, Sargeson rejected established religion as the locus of spirituality. Grounded in early years in puritanical teachings of human-God relationships, Sargeson by his teens was unquestioning in his evangelical zeal and beliefs until he encountered his uncle’s vital spirituality centred in nature. Sargeson’s autobiographical writing reveals that nature became important to him: the bush of the Kaimai Ranges near Te Aroha, and trees stark on the horizon of the Mamaku Ranges, became symbolic for him in his own spiritual journeying.
Spirituality centred in nature for Cowley is conveyed as another exciting dimension with her Christian belief. As Fitzimmons’ states ‘there is no spiritual escapism’ in Cowley’s relationship with nature. Nature speaks in many ways to many people, and frequently nature draws a response from beholders as it speaks to their feelings, to their inner being. In the writings of these authors the importance of nature can be sensed. As implied above, spirituality centred in nature lies in the mind of Sargeson as he presents situations of human impoverishment. Nature, explicitly cited or implicitly present, offers parables of creation spirituality that contribute to reader understanding of the beauty and restorative power of neighbourliness in human relationships.