Mono No Aware -- Scott Dickison
By the time most of you read this, the Cherry Blossom Festival will be in its final days before coming to a close until next year. This, of course, has been the first cherry blossom experience for Audrey and me, and we have done our best to make the most of it. We went with Jody and Julie to see an Elvis impersonator down at the park on the first Friday, took in the spectacle of the Bed Race the following day, and plan to enjoy some pink pancakes this Saturday morning.
And as is my general practice when experiencing things for the first time, I did a bit of research (on Wikipedia) and was surprised to learn the cherry blossom is celebrated in many countries around the globe: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany and Turkey being among them. But Japan has perhaps the longest and most symbolically rich history of cherry blossom adoration.
As many of you may know, the cherry blossom is one of the most important and popular images in Japanese culture. Cherry blossoms are featured on Japanese money and are widely used in Japanese art and music. There is even a special word for picnicking under a cherry blossom tree (hanami, in case you’re wondering). Most importantly, the cherry blossom has long represented a defining value of Japanese culture, a concept known as mono no aware.
Mono no aware literally means “the pathos” or “deep feeling” of things, and has to do with an awareness of the ephemeral nature of life. Cherry blossoms, while beautiful, live for just a short time before falling to the earth. They replenish the soil around the tree until new flowers bloom and then fall, and the cycle continues year after year. For the Japanese, this cycle of blooming flowers represents something important and essential about life: life, too, is fleeting, and much of its beauty is rooted in its transience. When we know that something will not last for long, we appreciate, or “feel,” its beauty more deeply.
I wonder if this concept of mono no aware has anything to teach us as we enter into Holy Week, and walk with Jesus toward the cross. I wonder if a bit of deep feeling about the brevity of life isn’t what Jesus experienced as he rode a donkey into Jerusalem for the final time. I wonder if he knew that this triumphal entry, like a cherry blossom, would soon fall away and give way to dark death in just a week’s time.
As we near the end of our journey through Lent, and begin this holiest of weeks together, let us not forget this Palm Sunday celebration will be short-lived. There is new life on the way, but like flowers in bloom, it can only spring from dark death. I hope you’ll join us this week as we hold this truth and tell this resurrection story.