Oceans as a tool in theology: Moana Methodology
by Anglican Archbishop of Polynesia Winston Halapua,
from the island of Tonga
Moana Methodology, as a way of promoting leadership, is the result of a two-year process of weaving together different strands of my deep observations and thinking on the Moana (Ocean) as a presence and metaphor used as a theological tool.
Moana methodology emerged from Theo-moana - an Oceanic way of doing theology. The paper introduces Theomoana, which is contextual in that it relates to Oceania but is potentially more than a contextual theology. The dynamic energies of Moana methodology are explored to assist a vision of prophetic leadership.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus walks and talks with
two of his unsuspecting followers.
What is the shape of prophetic leadership in the challenges and crises of the twenty- first century?
In this paper, Moana Methodology, as a way of promoting leadership, is the result of a two-year process of weaving together different strands of my deep observations and thinking on the Moana (Ocean) as a presence and metaphor used as a theological tool.
In order to address the question of relevant leadership in depth, this paper explores the story of how Moana methodology has emerged from Theomoana - an Oceanic way of doing theology. The paper introduces Theomoana, which is contextual in that it relates to Oceania but is potentially more than a contextual theology. The dynamic energies of Moana Methodology are explored to assist a vision of prophetic leadership.
Rising Water and Waves - Responding to the Challenge of our Times
Rising water and waves - to me this is a fundamental challenge to speak out and to spur people to action. The real stories of the threat of climate change to the peoples of Tuvalu, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and of Tonga, the country of my birth, have brought home to me the extent of the crises and the growing awareness that some islands in the Pacific Ocean face extinction. Oceania, our ancestral home and identity, faces unprecedented threats to the wellbeing of its people and to its environment. Because of this, a deep sense of call has emerged within me. I will elaborate on my inner transformation later in this paper. The vulnerability to human life and to the environment caused by the rising sea levels resulting from the new phenomenon of climate change impacts not only on Oceania but on the whole planet earth.
The threat from the rising ocean levels in the low-lying Island states in the Pacific has energized a new commitment in my journey in life. It has become imperative for me to find a way of doing theology which is relevant to my reality in Oceania but also globally. At the beginning of 2007, I began in-depth theological reflection and writing papers to do with climate change and with particular reference to the context of Tuvalu. This allowed me to address theologians and community and church leaders in New Zealand. I first presented a paper in the Environment Colloquium, Auckland, May 2007 with the title 'Is there a place for Tuvalu in New Zealand? I raised the issues facing Tuvalu and other low-lying islands in the Pacific in relation to our theological responsibility from a New Zealand context. Feedback indicated that the issues raised needed further exploration from different angles.
n the following months, I extended the scope of the paper to make it relevant to the context of Australia. The new title of the paper was: 'The Care of Creation: A Theological Perspective from Oceania.' This paper was presented in two separate theological conferences around the theme of climate change. The first conference was in Sydney and the other in Canberra. The aim of my presentations was to address issues of the rising sea level and its impact on the low-lying islands of Oceania. The focus was to promote in-depth theological reflection and action. Feedback from New Zealand and Australia acknowledged that attitudes which neglected to look beyond those countries' immediate shores which should be strongly challenged – the vulnerability of Tuvalu and other low-lying island states to the threat of climate change should not be seen just as "something out there."
In September, I attended the five-yearly Conference of Pacific Churches and moved a motion on the rising ocean levels. In partnership with other churches represented, it was adopted to be the voice of Oceania. The motion was substantiated by powerful stories from the victims from Tuvalu and Kiribati. The essence of the motion was for all villages and churches in the Pacific to take responsibility for the moana, our identity, home and gift from God. The call was for Churches to work in partnership with respective Pacific Governments and the Non-Governmental Organizations to address the injustice of what is happening to our home, the ocean and its life. The motion provoked and energized the claim that we are indeed custodians of our home of Oceania and that our identity is formed by the ocean gifted by God.
At the beginning of 2008, I wrote a chapter on spirit possession from an Oceanic perspective for a book to be published in 2009. I explored the possibility of a moana methodology in an attempt to promote for those regarded as "spirit possessed". In July, I presented a paper 'Moana Methodology' in the 2008 International Congress hosted by Society of Biblical Literature University of Auckland. At the end of the same month, I reduced my papers and insights on climate change over the previous eighteen months to a short address which was delivered in the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion. My new book was launched at Canterbury University at the Lambeth Conference. The title is Waves of God's Embrace: Sacred Perspectives from the Ocean. This book introduces theomoana, an alternative way of doing oceanic theology in dialogue with other theologies (I will say more about this later).
The Conch - A Voice from the Deep
The conch is found in the depths of the ocean. The conch draws its life and shape from its exposure to the interconnectedness of life beneath the waves – the interacting currents, habitats and life forms of the ocean. The shell of the triton conch is striking with a large mouth and long pointed apex. In different parts of the world and at different times conch shells have been used as trumpets. The conch has been used in Oceania for thousands of years and it is still used today on significant occasions. It has called people together for religious rites and to mark births and deaths. It has announced success in fishing and in tribal wars. In New Caledonia conch blowing has marked the beginning and end of harvest.
The call of the conch, a voice from the ocean depths, is a voice from the deep calling the community together. It is a voice connected to the ancestors but also to the environment. It speaks of life, death and renewal of life, of the profundity of human experience and of togetherness with and within creation. The conch, a voice from the deep, in this paper heralds the birth of the Moana Methodology, for the theomoana - a way of doing theology which flows from the context of Oceania. Theomoana is a pathway to an embracing theology which is contextual in that it has developed out of the Polynesian context of the moana, but it is also potentially more than a contextual theology, in the sense that relationship with the moana which comprises the five oceans, the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic and Antarctic, is part of our common humanity on planet earth.
In the word theomoana the first part of the word theology, "theo", from the Greek word for God, is retained, but "logy" is replaced with moana. The use of – moana helps us move towards an understanding of the God of flowing energy and unity, whose being is ever life-giving and embracing. The use of moana with theo provides a new way of expressing the dynamic, creative being and nature of God whom we experience as God the Creator, God the Son and God the life-giving Spirit. Theomoana provides an approach to an understanding the God of dynamic relationship, in other words the doctrine of the Trinity.
Definition of Moana
Moana is an ancient Oceanic word for the ocean. It is a word which is widely used from Hawaii in the north to French Polynesia in the east, New Zealand in the south and some parts of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in the west. Moana is home.
Moana as a window into a world view is about depth and mystery. There is much about the ocean which is unknown. At the same time, so much of the life of the ocean shapes each island and continent. The moana through its waves and currents touches all the coastal waters which connect the life on the land with the ocean depths. On one hand the life of the moana is a mystery, but on the other, moana embraces and impacts closely on life on land.
Moana is about a powerful living presence. In many parts of Oceania, Tangaloa was revered as the god of the moana. A reverence for Tangaloa meant respect for the abundant resources of the moana and the harvesting of the resources, so that fishing of certain species was restricted to certain seasons to allow the breeding and growth of fish. Before a tribe departed on a journey, for warfare or on a fishing expedition for the wellbeing of the community, the name of Tangaloa was evoked. When the tribe returned safely and victoriously, the conch heralded good news.
The Moana has been regarded as a pathway to eternity. Ancient people of the moana believed the spirit lives after death. In Tonga and some other parts of Oceania, Pulotu, a haven for the spirits, was thought to be found in the eastern part of Oceania - the east relating to the sunrise. In New Zealand, Maori people have believed that the spirits of the dead leapt off Cape Reinga at the tip of the North Island on their way to their home in Hawaiki.
The pioneering Polynesians who between 3-4,000 years ago set out in their vaka – double-hulled canoes - across the vast ocean were enormously courageous and skillful. They navigated the vast tracts of water which we now know as the Pacific Ocean. This was the ocean they knew and which shaped their thinking, their culture, and their beliefs. The Moana was the ocean and so in this presentation, moana is used for all the oceans of this world - the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Antarctic and Arctic Oceans - which we know cover more than seventy percent of the surface of planet earth .
A brief picture of the distinctiveness of each ocean and the interconnectedness of the oceans of the world is important for the purpose of this paper. The Pacific Ocean constitutes nearly half of the ocean water on this planet. It is the deepest. It was named Pacific because of its perceived peacefulness. At the same time, the Pacific Ocean, as we know, experiences the turbulence of cyclones, tsunami and active volcanoes. The Atlantic Ocean is younger than the Pacific. The vast continental shelf is an extension of the surrounding nations and huge rivers flowing into the Atlantic provide rich nutrients for many species from within and from different oceans. Mineral resources are abundant. The Indian Ocean with its diverse currents contributes powerfully to the rhythm of the flowing movement and inter-connecting of one ocean to another. The Antarctic Ocean is known for its gusty winds and high seas and as a polar region, it provides a home for certain species that live nowhere else. The Arctic Ocean is exposed to six months of darkness and six of sunlight and also provides a home for some living species. The Pacific Ocean, which is the largest ocean, is not independent of the Arctic Ocean, the smallest. Each ocean has unique contributions to complement the life of other oceans. Each flows freely into other oceans and together they provide a home for the majority of species on this planet earth and produce half of the oxygen living beings need, and they interact powerfully with the sun and moon and the stars. They gift the climate and water for life and growth of all.
Moana as an identity for people in Oceania is an expression of an important and conscious shift of emphasis. The name Pacific as an identity for our region was coined by outsiders and is synonymous with the scattered small islands, helplessness, isolation and dependence. As a result of this same mindset, our region has been transformed into a tourist heaven, a romanticized perpetuation of dependence on the multi-national corporations now under the umbrella of globalization. Moana in terms of theology is an attempt by our own people to take ownership of our own life, struggles and hope. The change of name from Pacific to Moana is a shift with a sacramental emphasis. The multi-island states of Moana (Oceania) are unique not in terms of smallness and scatteredness, but rather in their interconnectedness. The Moana is the great source of our interconnectedness.
In Oceania the word Moana is closely associated with words which suggest depth of feeling, thought, or experience. Moana suggests mystery. When linked with words such a love and wisdom the word is intensified in its meaning. Moana has been used as a metaphor for God. Oceania is unique in using the ocean as picture language for God.
The Birthing of Theo-moana
Over the last forty years my journey as a Tongan in theological education has exposed me to studies in Fiji, England, Israel and other parts of the world. I have represented our people from Oceania in theological education in the World Council of Churches in my capacity as the General Secretary of the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools. I continue my work for the Anglican Communion which has extended over many years. For over a decade, I have been engaged in teaching at the School of Theology at Auckland University. As one of the current leaders in Oceania engaged in doing practical theology, I hear and encourage others to hear the haunting sound of the conch which today announces both warning and hope.
There is threat to the peoples of Oceania (as we see in the islands of Tuvalu and Kiribati) and also to other peoples of the planet from the impact of climate change. There are also other grave threats to the life of the planet and the wellbeing of its creatures. But there is also profound hope in the God who made the oceans. There are rainbows above the Pacific and above our planet. God cares for us and for creation.
Western paradigms in doing theology have been dominant and have arguably proved limited in their approach to huge and life-threatening problems. There have been great strengths for particular contexts but there has been failure to engage with the stories of people and the reality of creation and our interaction with creation. I acknowledge the emergence of eco-theology and eco-justice which are predominantly land-locked with the emphasis on the earth perspective. However, as I continue to engage in theomoana and witness the disconnection of theology from humanity and the environment, I am urged to make a redemptive stand and to offer a theological pathway which is not merely an intellectual way but takes seriously with deep passion the gift of the moana which constitutes over seventy percent of the area of this planet earth.
New ways forward are to be found in the uncharted complexity of the current crises. Our pioneer forebears reached the end of the land and set out on courageous voyages across the moana. Common life was shaped by the mystery of the moana, the winds, the flowing waves and the stars of the heavens. Deep strands of spirituality and culture were formed by journeys and encounters with the environment. Like our forebears we too are called to set out courageously on the uncharted waters of the future. I have looked deeply into my own heart and I know that as human beings we need to be deeper in our thinking and wider in our wisdom - more open to the immense love which flows from the heart of the God revealed to us by Jesus Christ. We need to be more deeply in touch with our humanity, more embracing of the otherness in the human family, more deeply aware of the creation of which we are part.
Theomoana is put forward as a new way of doing theology in dialogue with other theologies. It is also an old way as it relates to deeply human experience of our ancestors who set out across the moana at a parallel time to the setting out of Abram and Sarah from Ur of the Chaldees. Theomoana is an oceanic gift to ongoing discourses in theology. Central to a moana world view is the embracing of complexity, mystery and diversity. Moana is the word for ocean without division into five oceans with different names (see above, top of page 4). Moana embraces diversity – the five oceans have different aspects but at the same time they are one moana. No one ocean is complete without the other oceans. The oceans gift each other and together the oceans gift the rest of the planet earth.
In the theomoana way of doing theology, the experience of God in daily life, in the environment, in worship, is conceptualised using the imagery of the moana. The experience of God like the moana is flowing and embracing, powerful yet serene, eternal yet touching the finite and the now. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of "God-the Moana" and embodies the interconnectedness of the whole of creation. Theomoana provides a way of expressing the dynamics of the immensity of God's grace.
Moana methodology is oceanic in world view, a construction for doing theomoana. Theomoana is not a land-locked approach to theology. The first Polynesians were a people who found themselves with no more land available for settlement. The first ocean-going vaka - large twin-hulled canoes - were carefully constructed by pioneering Polynesians who invoked gods. The creating of vaka was the result of painstaking observation of the oceanic elements, trial and error, commitment and creative innovation. The original vaka were the realization of deep vision and courage – the end of land could be a new beginning. By means of the vaka, they were able to launch out and travel beyond the horizons.
Today we are called to courageously forge new ways forward. Our forebears constructed the twin-hulled canoes – but now as pioneers in our own times we draw inspiration from our past to launch into the future with new ways of thinking and new ways to approach the huge challenges that confront us and that will demand the best of all our energies and will be a deeply authentic way to journey forward.
Moana methodology is put forward as a vaka - a creative way of moving forward and addressing contemporary human and environmental realities and crises. It is a way of promoting justice, peace and hope. Intrinsic to the vision and the whole construction of the vaka is a whole paradigm shift which is distinct from a land-locked approach. The whole world view embodied by the vaka is the interconnectedness of the oceanic context with the planet earth. Moana methodology is a way, or vaka, designed to be in rhythm with the diverse interconnected energies of the moana.
Moana Methodology would encourage openness to the metaphor of Moana for God – a metaphor that may speak with enormously deep resonances. The God who put the rainbow in the sky has also put rainbows in myriad ocean shells. Moana Methodology would encourage us to explore an understanding of a God of hope who is in the depth of our experience and is deeply with us in creation.
In the flowing together of oceans, in the embracing love of the waves, we encounter with new vision the life of the Trinity of Love - the Creator Jesus Christ who taught his followers in and around Galilee, and the life-giving Spirit. Christ is the human face of our Triune God in whom embracing love is expressed and in whom we are called to engage in mission. In Christ, we are able to connect to the mind and heart of God. Moana Methodology is about our interconnectedness in the love of God to each other, to the environment and to God.
The Dynamics that Shape Moana Methodology/ Vaka
Essential to the process of constructing the vaka - moana methodology are the dynamics of the ocean. The moana is deep, mysterious and yet so beautiful, present and accessible. Amongst Oceanic people there is a strong sense of the ocean and its connection to the ancestors. There is a sense of sacredness experienced in Oceania in the ongoing pervading mystery of the ocean. The pioneering Polynesians in response to their own needs and their confrontation with the mystery of the moana found innovation and creativity. They found themselves engaged with sacred energies or sense of call as they followed a sacred pathway.
Call and Identity
Grudem, from the perspective of a systematic theologian, defines "call" as both an internal and an external calling and links "calling" to the grace of God (1994:693).
Ferguson and Wright and Packer in the New Dictionary of Theology view calling as a process of being in God's love (1988:119). The author would affirm, in line with the Christian tradition, that a sense of call is linked to the nature of the unconditional love of God.
A call, in an Oceania, happens when a person is deeply moved to take leadership in a crisis situation. An awareness of being embraced by the ancestors may contribute to stirring and energizing of a particular role in leadership. The call would be understood to being set apart by the ancestors and the community for a specific responsibility. Within this context in Oceania, the charismatic power or mana of leadership is located.
The Tongan word for call is monu - a word which implies that in the calling a person is trusted. Monu is a concept that a person is chosen for unique leadership in a particular time and context. It is this understanding of the concept of monu that forms the basis of fatongia; the privilege of serving of others. Monu acknowledges an individual person's gifts and skill. It embraces accountability in the sense of honoring of the trust of the people. Calling and the responsibility entailed are gifts to be honored.
A strong sense of being called is intrinsic to identity. Deep within the Oceanic world view is life relationship with the ancestors. Identity links with a sense of belonging, home, integrity, destination and hope. One's identity is expressed in being connected to the whole interconnectedness of people, environment and with the community's ancestors. Moana as an identity is God's gift which was known in the past and is a present experience throughout the ages.
In response to sea level rising, climate change and the impact of globalization on planet earth raise fundamental questions about the identity and integrity of theology. The call for a new way of doing theology, a venture which expresses God's identity of justice is imperative.
Theomoana has emerged as I have reflected on my Oceanic roots – the ancient history and culture of Polynesian ancestors and the life of Oceania in the present. I argue that an aspect of Theomoana's uniqueness is that it is not merely anthropologic in its approach to doing theology. Theomoana is energized from the dynamics and interconnectedness of the life of the moana and our oceanic identity. Other peoples may relate to a theological methodology which draws patterns from humans' encounter with the ocean. I am claiming this method as an Oceanic perspective. It is contextual to Oceania. However, Theomoana and Moana Methodology/ Vaka have potentially wider significance because humankind on planet earth and other creatures and life forms have always related and continue to relate to the life of the oceans.
Talanoa: Recognising Diversity and Interconnectedness
The moana comprises five oceans. This immense expanse of water which forms the oceans of the world or moana has the characteristics of constant motion - ever changing and flowing with life. Through the currents and waves, one ocean relates to another. Within this enormous life rhythm of movement, the embracing life of the moana connects and interacts with energies from the heavens, the atmosphere and the land. Such interconnectedness gifts the whole life of planet earth.
The oceans of the world have distinct characteristics – space, size, depths, temperatures, resources, life forms and currents vary. Yet the oceans together gift the planet. The oceans together with their volume of water and life and flowing interconnectedness contribute to the planet in a way that could not be achieved by one ocean alone.
Moana methodology/ Vaka recognizes and celebrates that in the interconnectedness and flow of the oceans there is an encouragement towards plumbing the depths of our encounter with God, encouragement towards creative and courageous exploration of current issues, encouragement towards a sharing of ideas and resources allowing for space for diverse contributions.
A tiny insect kakalu in Tonga has a distinct voice as it sings its heart out on a fine day. People often take this distinct voice for granted. I remember the first cyclone our family encountered in Suva, Fiji, when I was appointed to be Principal of our Theological College. The cyclone hit with little warning. In the midst of the wild winds of devastation, I heard the distinct song of the kakalu. The song sounded through the fading away of the hurricane. The kakalu in a very small way has a voice to contribute – a voice to be heard. There is a great need to hear the voices of creation and of its different people. Every voice, however small, has a significance.
Talanoa is an oceanic word for telling stories. The emphasis in talanoa lies in the depth of the art of listening. Communication and dialogue in the context of talanoa become sacramental when quality listening is honored. Talanoa at its best ensures that voices are heeded, honored and celebrated.
The Moana has space. Moana Methodology/ Vaka advocates the allowing of space – space for diversity, space for listening, space for generosity and sharing. It would provide the theological and theoretical framework of what is known in Oceania as talanoa. The word talanoa comprises two words. Tala to many of the oceanic people is storytelling. Noa is space. Talanoa is part of oceanic culture but it will be universally recognized and honored as a deeply human activity. Telling stories and listening to different voices are life giving to gatherings. When there are deadlocks and differences, talanoa is a pathway for finding ways forward by a process of presence and conversation in which there is an emphasis on the importance of relationship (Manu'atu 2000; Mahina 2006; Ka'ili 2008; Prescott 2008; Halapua 2008). Talanoa promotes a holistic approach to the doing of practical theology. It involves the sharing of diverse stories from the heart and from life experience. It underlines interconnectedness of the mind, heart, body and the environment. It includes and empowers the marginalized. Talanoa has value in engagement with the community, with institutions, with people of other faiths. Talanoa allows for the flow of life and energy promised in the metaphor of currents flowing from one ocean to another. Talanoa encourages a listening to the distinct, unique and diverse voices of creation. Talanoa is a dynamic process of discovery which requires safe and spacious time for other voices. There is an African proverb: "If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to go far, walk together with others".
This paper would advocate that leadership today is a call by a living God to engage with the realities of our world. Leadership requires a clear understanding of one's own identity. It is a working out of the trust given by communities to individuals. Leadership requires an approach which is open to listening deeply and to sharing insights and visions with others. Theomoana would promote a style of leadership empowered by a depth of reflection. Theomoana would call for leadership which is deeply in touch with where people are and which is deeply aware of the environment. Theomoana would further an understanding of the immense and flowing love of God and an understanding that leadership is called to reflect that love.
I conclude with the words of Jesus. Jesus speaks from the shore to Simon, the frustrated fisherman: "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5:4b).
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 Halapua, Winston (2008), Waves of God's Embrace: Sacred Perspectives from the Ocean. Norwich: Canterbury Press.
 In my formative years, I grew up in Tonga. I worked in Fiji when Fiji became independent. In order to continue with my work in the Diocese of Polynesia in Fiji after independence, I complied with the immigration policy of the government which encouraged non-locals to become Fiji citizens. I still hold my Fiji passport and now work and live in New Zealand. I was appointed to my present work in 1996.
 Read further in Bevans, Stephen B. (1992), Models of contextual theology, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. "G8 Summit, BBC News 10th July 2008. The G8 Summit on Climate Change ended yesterday; leaders from the industrial nations acknowledged that climate change affects all the world. However, they did not reach any consensus at the end. They will continue meeting in the future and follow up".
 Habel, Norman C. (2000), "The Challenge of Ecojustice Readings for Christian Theology" in Pacifica: Journal of the Melbourne College of Divinity. Vol. 13, No 2, June 2000, pp 125-141
 Halapua, Winston (2008), Waves of God's Embrace: Sacred Perspectives from the Ocean. Norwich: Canterbury Press.
 Koser, Khalid (2007), International migration: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 Hart, John (2004) pp 1-5
 Halapua, Winston (2008), Waves of God's Embrace: Sacred Perspectives from the Ocean. Norwich: Canterbury Press.
 Pacific Conference of Churches, Pago. Tofaeono, A. (2000), World Mission Scripts, Eco-Theology: AIGA – The Household of Life, ISBN 3-87214-327-1. Erlangen: World Mission Script 7.
Thaman, Konai Helu (2006), "Making Places and Spaces" in Dreadlocks Vaka Vuku, Proceedings of the Pacific Epistemologies Conference 2006. Suva: University of the South Pacific, pp 10-18.
Hau'ofa, E. 'Our Sea of Islands', Waddel, E. V. Naidu (eds), 1993. A new Oceania: Rediscovering our sea of islands, ISBN 982-01-0200-6. Suva: University of the South Pacific in association with Beake House.
 Northcott, Michael S. (2007), A moral climate: the ethics of global warming. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, pp 285. Boff, Leonardo (1995), Ecology and Liberation: A new paradigm. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
 Willis, David (2005), Clues to the Nicene Creed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, pp 1-18.