Journeying to God through a life and death crisis

Rangiwhiua Ngatai found herself at a crisis point when her partner, now husband, Rob Hewitt, went missing in the ocean off Mana Island in February 2006.

Crisis plays a crucial role in the spiritual journey because it often serves to shock us into letting go of firmly held ideas.

Rangiwhiua Ngatai found herself at a crisis point when her partner, now husband, Rob Hewitt, went missing in the ocean off Mana Island in February 2006. This series looked at Rob’s spiritual journey through this experience in last month’s Wel-com. This chapter in the series explores Rangiwhiua’s parallel journey into a deeper knowledge of self and of the spirituality she experiences daily of the natural world.

Journeying to God through a life and death crisis Archdiocese of Wellington Rangiwhiua grew up with a deep respect for the spiritual world nourished by her Māori upbringing and association with her ‘strong-headed’ aunts and her grandfather who told her that if ever she was feeling depressed to ‘go and hug a tree’.
It wasn’t until ‘five or six years ago’ that Rangiwhiua realised the meaning behind this advice, that trees connect with the earth, Papatuanuku, or Earth Mother.

Gathered with Rob’s family and friends in Upper Hutt after it became apparent that Rob was missing at sea, Rangiwhiua had a longing to go to Te Horo. So in the early hours of Monday morning she and her friend Tracey and some family members went north. At Te Horo Rangiwhiua waded into the surf crying and praying. She vented her frustration at God.
‘Why are you doing this to us? You know we’ve been through hell as it is. We have just come to a point in our lives where we can start again and now you’re taking him away. You can’t do this to me ….’ (Rob Hewitt: Treading Water Huia Publishers, 2007. 71).
Rob had recently moved from the Devonport Naval Base to a job in Wellington to be closer to Rangiwhiua and his family.

Listening to Rangiwhiua reminded me of Mary feeling that Jesus had abandoned them by not coming earlier when her brother Lazarus died (Jn 11:32).
She talks of her frustration at not being able to do anything to find Rob made all the stronger because of her role in the army where she was used to making things happen.

For the initial period of Rob’s disappearance Rangiwhiua was with Rob’s family and friends at his brother’s place in Upper Hutt. But she felt herself being unclear and no longer able to think about what she herself really felt. So to clear her head she moved to the Takupuwahia marae of her great aunt with family members.

She was certain that Rob would come back to them—‘We’re very much connected spiritually so I knew deep down inside that he was still alive’—until about half an hour before Rob was found when she felt him slipping away.
At this point her self-emptying or letting go of the past was complete and she fell asleep. She had made her peace with God on the morning of the day he was found in a visit to Whitireia Park Reserve in Titahi Bay where there was a poupou erected in honour of her uncle.
‘As I was talking a rainbow came out of the water and made an arc over Mana Island … I knew he was coming home alive’ (Hewitt 111).

With Rob home safely and reformed by his experience, they were asked to reconstruct their journeys for a television documentary. This, she said, was ‘the hardest thing’ but she knew it was an important healing tool.
‘Some people unfortunately don’t want to go back to some traumatic experience they’ve been through that’s impacted their life but they have to in order to get over it.’

Rangiwhiua looks back over the two-and-a-bit years since the incident and realises that they have come as far in their relationship and faced more ‘mountains’ than many who’ve been married for twice as long.
She has always seen time as precious. Family is paramount for the pair and she has a dream of being able to help young children who are struggling through life and vulnerable to being influenced in a negative way.

Her spiritual journey continues through her relationships with Rob—with whom she works continually on the self-emptying needed to let go of past ‘baggage’—with her children and her whanau and with te ao M%u0101ori which she is coming to know more through her study of te reo.
Picture: Rangiwhiua and Rob Hewitt with daughter Kiriana.