This striking image of an airborne Christ is by New Zealand painter Brett A’Court. It is part of his visual research into how to bring together the spiritual insights of the indigenous culture of the Maori people and those of Christianity.
In cultural terms it is a hybrid image, something that occurs when two cultures are in a process of mutual re-assessment. It is an exploration that has the potential to be offensive to either culture, but one that also carries the potential for new forms to arise that express the insights of both traditions.
Such imagery also responds to the colonial suppression of local cultures, allowing for innovations to arise from outside the usual orthodox channels. A Christ figure flying in the sky like a kite is such a form. It is a new thing, a potential aberration, but one full of potential for new insight.
The ‘Manu-Kahu’ in Maori culture refers to the Harrier Hawk, a bird considered to provide a spiritual connection to the divine. It also refers to the Maori cultural practice of making kites, which is a common recreational practice but has traditional religious meaning. Historically, massive kites were produced for significant ritual occasions. These could carry the weight of a human person, and in their ritual role were flown with up to a kilometre of rope to command vast terrains. These kites were considered in Maori beliefs to access the supernatural life force associated with animals, birds, and the dream of flight. For the artist, this provides an appropriate connection to a Christ figure who 'holds' the land with benevolence and grace.
This new and surprising iconography dislodges any colonial mentality that considers a European way of seeing things to be the only authoritative one. A’Court’s is a thoroughly contextual Christ for New Zealand, the land where birds have become the dominant species. Here we do not encounter an introduced species, carrying a foreign spirituality. This is Christ at home in the physical landscape of the Pacific.
For viewers in other contexts, it serves to expand our sense of encounter with a God at home in the world, an incarnation that honours the material world we inhabit, and that raises up the viewer’s gaze towards a spiritual horizon.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-saʹida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. 23And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. 24Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; 32and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33He said this to show by what death he was to die. 34The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?” 35Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”