I was born in Sweden 1955, hence I became a member of the Lutheran Church of Sweden ‘automatically’. Up until the end of 1999 church and state were together, and if your parents weren’t of any other persuation, this was what happened. Sweden is a very secularized country but not all that many people have taken time out to fill in a little form and leave the church, me included. I’ve always been a bit of a ‘searcher’ from the time I could begin to think for myself but that’s a whole different story. Thus, I wasn’t much of a church-goer. Like most other Swedes, I went on 1:st of Advent and Christmas Midnight Mass. All Saints’ Day too.
In my job, I met the person who was currently Dean in the Cathedral parish,to which I belonged. We started talking, and sometimes it so happens that you connect immediately with people … those rare occurrences in life, when you feel a deep mental connection with another person.
I started going to Mass the Sundays when it was he who gave the sermon — I was interested to hear what he was like. Sometimes these sermons can be long and drawn-out, many people even fall asleep, but this certainly kept me awake! His words really hit home with me … touched some inner cord, and I remember thanking him afterwards … telling him how I’d felt about it, as if it had been written for me, personally. He was both glad and thankful to hear this. He meant that writing all these words, he could never really be sure how they would be perceived … if he really conveyed it in a way so that the people would feel the same way.
I remembered him mentioning a name of a poet … who had written something that was the base for this sermon. I forgot the name and was meaning to ask him again who the poet was, but this Dean retired, moved away from my town and died four weeks after his retirement. The last time I heard him was on New Years Eve 1999 at midnight. A Mass was held outside the cathedral, as we entered the new millennium. It was beautiful with all the snow and torches and it was also the night when the church was separated from the state.
Last year, a Swedish poet got the Nobel Prize in litterature…. Tomas Tranströmer. I’d heard his name many times, but never read any of his writings as I’d sort of ‘decided’ that I wasn’t a ‘poetry person’. During my trip home last Fall, I stayed a few days with a former co-worker, she showed me a little poem by Tranströmer that I fell in love with and we talked a lot about it. As I got back here, she’d sent me a book with his collected poems, which was a wonderful surprise. At first, I sat down and browsed a little randomly and the first poem that came up was this:
Tourists have crowded into the half-dark of the enormous Romanesque church.
Vault opening behind vault and no perspective.
A few candle flames flickered.
An angel whose face I couldn’t see embraced me
and his whisper went all through my body:
Don’t be ashamed to be a human being—be proud!
Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.
You’ll never be complete, and that’s as it should be.
Tears blinded me
as we were herded out into the fiercely sunlit piazza,
together with Mr and Mrs Jones, Herr Tanaka and Signora Sabatini—
within each of them vault after vault opened endlessly.
It could have been written in fire, because this was what ‘my’ Dean’s sermon was based upon!