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Vahanoa:A Space for opportunities.
By Siosifa Pole in All Sorts
The ocean is a metaphor for the unknown future and the risks and opportuities it brings.Vahanoa: A Space of Opportunities
Vahanoa is made out of two words, 'vaha', meaning 'space', and 'noa', meaning 'empty or zero'. The notion of
'noa' in this context is not about void but is about the unknown. When these two words of 'vaha' and 'noa' are joined together, they become 'vahanoa', meaning 'unknown or uncertain space'. When we speak of 'vahanoa' we refer to the deep ocean, a space of unknown and uncertainty - but at the same a space that can provide new opportunities. On Monday, I went to St Clair beach for a walk as I usually do on my day off. It was a fine day but it was very windy, which causes a rough sea. The big waves rolled down and crashed on the seawall of the Esplanade causing excitement for the passers-by. I decided to sit down on one of the seats. I looked to the deep ocean with fear and wonder. I felt fear because of the big waves and strong winds which can damage boats and cost lives. I was immediately reminded about the Lampedusa Cross and what it represents, remembering the danger of crossing the deep ocean. There are unknown obstacles that voyagers unexpectedly face as they navigate their way in the deep ocean. It prompts everyone to prepare for those moments. But I was also looking with awe to the vast space that the deep ocean provides for voyagers and explorers who are searching for new opportunities on the far end of the world. That reminded me of the courage and determination that my ancestors had as they travelled from Southeast Asia on rough seas, searching for lands of opportunities as historians told us.
Vahanoa can also refer to unknown land space and unknown territories where people migrate to and settle. Because they have moved from
the familiar and the known to the unfamiliar and the unknown, they are regarded as people who are settled on the vahanoa, an unfamiliar space. Obviously, every migrant who settles in a new land will face the reality of the unknown and unfamiliar challenges. These challenges can pose a threat to any migrant's integrity and cultural identity. Yet, settling in a new land space can offer new opportunities to pursue and utilise for the betterment of life. I believe that to be the experience of most of the refugees who settled in our city recently. The new destination where they have now settled, offers them hope and a better future for their children.
Although vahanoa can pose a threat to those who travel across it, we cannot deny the opportunities that it provides for those who have the courage and vision of a better future. It is that kind of hope which gives travellers the mindset to stay positive during hardship. We are all travellers in one way or the other and we are always in the middle of a vahanoa experience. Sometimes, when we are in that sphere of life, we give up hope and optimism rather than tracking on with courage and expectation for opportunities. John O'Donohue in his book, enititled, To Bless the Space Between Us, writes, "Consequently, when we stand before crucial thresholds in our lives, we have no rituals to protect, encourage, and guide us as we cross over into the unknown. For such crossings we need to find new words." But I believe finding new words is not good enough without finding new actions and new meanings.
I am always impressed with the "calling story" of the first disciple - as the author of Luke's gospel wrote in Luke 5:1-11. Jesus said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." The result of letting down their nets in the middle of uncertainty and the unknown was that they caught so many fish, their nets were almost destroyed. This story portrays a picture of those who are in the vahanoa experience. They are frustrated and stressed, for there is no positive outcome of their hard work for the whole night. It is understandable that they were inclined to give up hope altogether. Yet, the words of Jesus stirred them to maintain their hope, and helped them to realise that there were still opportunities yet to discover in the midst of their chaos. Furthermore, it was his failure that gave Simon another opportunity to embrace a new action and to find new a meaning for his life and his career.
It feels to me that our Parish is, in some ways, going through a vahanoa experience since the closing celebration of our Wesley Methodist Church last Sunday. Like Simon Peter, we are all frustrated and stressed because we have worked so hard, with apparently little result. To add to our frustration, our membership is declining and our congregations are ageing. We are obviously at a crossroad. Can we still have hope in the midst of our uncertainty? Can we still find opportunities for growth, in the midst of our frustration? Our Methodist Church President, Rev Prince Devanandan reminded us last Sunday that we must look beyond the four walls of our church buildings for opportunities for mission. His words reiterate the well- known saying of John Wesley, "The world is my parish." Vahanoa reminds us the challenges which we face in our journey in the unknown space, but it also reminds us of the hope we are still yet to discover in our explorations. Advent Season reminds us that we must be hopeful in our waiting for the coming of Christ to be with us, as our Emmanuel (God is with us). We are not alone.
So, every time you go to St Clair beach, I hope you will enjoy looking toward the deep ocean (vahanoa). Deep oceans provide vast opportunities and challenges for explorers and navigators. Let's ask God, and each other, where best to "cast our nets" in the midst of all our uncertainties.