Apologies, to anyone who might have noticed and been disappointed about it, for not posting anything last week. I have been working on a more ambitiously contemplative piece on “othering” while at the same time attempting to get some “real academic work” done, so I didn’t end up getting anything finished enough to publish here. I’ll be putting that essay up when I’m satisfied with it, Meanwhile I thought I’d put up a quick random stream of consciousness piece about my afternoon walk in the autumn air today.
I went to the morning mass at my local Lutheran church this morning, which I don’t actually do that often. It’s a quiet local parish with a pretty, relatively modern chapel less than five minutes from my house by bicycle. This morning I just happened to wake up at an hour where it was easy enough to get there, and I just decided that I’d like to go to a Eucharistic worship service today, so I got on my bicycle and went.
I actually got there about 5 minutes late, and was surprised to see an old lady outside the church selling long-stemmed roses from white plastic buckets in front of the door. Inside the chapel was surprisingly full for a regular autumn Sunday morning, and soon I realized that the reason was a confirmation celebration for 20 of the local young people. It’s a bit late in the season for those, but why not.
This made the ritual significantly different from the normal routine. It would be longer than usual, and more oriented towards providing a rite of passage for the families in question than a worship experience for outsiders like myself. I slipped into the back and settled in to observe and marginally take part anyway. There were a number of neo-cliché efforts at being hip with Finnish church camp style worship choruses accompanied by violin, guitar, piano and drums. There was a much larger than usual delegation of families with young children, who were just familiar enough with the setting to be bored by it. And besides those being confirmed there were a number of other teenagers present trying to be both ceremonially formal and “edgy” in their own way. Two rows in front of me there was a teenage couple consisting of a boy in a formal black blazer with a hot pink shirt underneath, accompanied by his heavily made-up girlfriend, who looked like she got a lot more sun than he did, and who kept adjusting her short, strapless cream colored dress to keep it in the tiny strategic area where it would not entirely expose either her top cleavage or her bottom cleavage. Every now and again she would turn to talk to her boyfriend, showing her conspicuous false eyelashes to the back rows. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of that show for me was to find myself viewing it with something resembling Buddhist detachment.
The epistle reading was one of the portions where Paul talks about circumcision not being that important. The decidedly un-hip female priest who gave the sermon didn’t seem to notice that she wasn’t speaking into the pulpit microphone, so it was rather hard to hear her over the restless children in the back third of the chapel, but I don’t think I missed much. She was trying to provide some basic life lessons for teenagers who are rather unlikely to darken a church door again within the next few years. There was one part about the dangers of excessive computer gaming; the rest pretty much went past me. No one was there to hear an inspirational sermon anyway. Most were just there to celebrate these young people, none of whom I happened to know this time, officially becoming adults in the eyes of the church. And other than the acne scars on most of the boys, they did actually look quite adult already.
I didn’t bother to stay for the “third sacrament” –– church coffee hour. Instead I headed home to try to get some writing done, but I was struck by a few beautiful images along the way, so I took a walk around with my camera before settling into my little home work station.
Autumn has definitely arrived. The birches and maples still have some green leaves, but they’ve also lost quite a few of their yellow and orange ones already. Most of the bushes on the sides of the road and along the paths through the woods are in one way or another making their last ditch efforts to get their seeds into places where they’ll have reasonably good chances of forming new plants in the spring. The aronia bushes are bent over with the weight of their fruit that no one other than me seems to have a use for, begging for birds to come and gorge themselves on the berries so their seeds can be shat out into new growth frontiers for the plant. The fireweed stalks, meanwhile, have gone entirely greyish brown, having blown out the last of their wind-born seeds weeks ago. Rose hips are starting to shrivel and drop to the ground, with their seeds ready to endure being deep frozen close to the mother bush. We haven’t had any frosts yet, but all around there is this glorious swan song of nature starting to shut down for the year.
But in wandering around capturing this sort of visual magic I noticed something out of place: Some plants seem not to have gotten the message that it’s time to shut down. Some wild rose hedges are still trying to flower, and among the falling leaves there are still pink and white flowers trying to lure in bees to help them pollinate. I feel like telling them, “You’re running a bit late, aren’t you?” But they seemingly reply, “Hey, why not? We’ve still got the energy, the bees can use the late season nectar, and we gave you a smile, didn’t we? Besides, who knows; we might still get an extra seed or two out of this process.” To that all I can say is, “Respect!”
Maybe that is also what was happening in the church this morning. There are plenty of indications that the season for growth in that sort of traditional church is pretty much over, and that these young people are no longer particularly interested in the beliefs behind the traditional rituals, and the rituals themselves are fading in importance. Yet there they go, attempting in this late season to somehow blossom – to put on the sort of display that would make you think they think it’s spring. Well… why not?
I’m not sure how far this analogy applies to my personal life, as I move beyond the age where I would seriously consider fathering more children yet continue to search for what satisfactions I can find in single life. How much effort should I put into “blossoming” at this point? Should I just realistically accept that it’s no longer spring for me and avoid looking like a fool in pretending otherwise? Yet on the other hand, what else should I do with my remaining energy in life than to continue trying to find ways of somehow being beautiful and hopeful, albeit in more subtle ways as my autumn deepens? Something for me to keep contemplating.
Just some random thoughts on a partially cloudy September Sunday afternoon. Take them for what their worth. Enjoy the accompanying pictures. And beyond that I guess I would say, dare to be beautiful, even if you can’t really expect to get much in return for your efforts and even if you have to break with the expectations of your environment in doing so.