Sakari Hukka, 21, fasts, meditates in the morning and runs under the stars – generation Z is spiritual in its own way
“Most of the time, I’m in a phenomenally good mood. I discipline myself, but I also have fun,” Sakari Hukka says. Photo Vilja Harala.

“Most of the time, I’m in a phenomenally good mood. I discipline myself, but I also have fun,” Sakari Hukka says. Photo Vilja Harala.

Sakari Hukka, 21, fasts, meditates in the morning and runs under the stars – generation Z is spiritual in its own way

The youth of generation Z, in their twenties, draw inspiration from different religions. Sakari Hukka, a non-military serviceman, was brought up in the Evangelical Lutheran tradition, which he complements with zen meditation, sacred texts of the Krishna movement and self-punishment.

Two in the morning, and the alarm rings. Sakari Hukka wakes up with a start.

“At first I’m tired and angry. I think I could get another three hours’ sleep if I meditated and worked out only after work”.

Over the last six years, Hukka has learned that the first thoughts of the morning shouldn't be heeded. He goes out to the patio of his parents’ house in his T-shirt and underwear, and stares at the stars for 20 minutes. The Plough is shining in the dark sky like an old friend.

“I wake up properly outside. I stand in the cold thinking about passages from the Bible, for example, or a passage from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, which I have in a version with a commentary by the Krishna movement.”

Indoors, Hukka drinks his morning coffee and wraps up in his fleece jacket to meditate for at least a quarter of an hour. After that, he works out.

One room of the house serves as a gym, with barbells, rubber resistance bands, a chin-up bar and an exercise bike.

Some mornings Hukka might work out for two hours, following a programme prepared for him by his personal trainer, or he might go out.

“I often run and stare at the stars until I no longer have any worries. In the early morning, I feel I can renew myself. It’s then that I get closer to holiness.”

At 4:45 am, Hukka takes a quick shower and at 5:43 am takes the local train from Karjaa to Helsinki. He arrives at his place of non-military service at around 7 am. In December 2019, Hukka began his non-military service with Kirkko ja kaupunki media and the Jouluradio radio station.

Generation Z believe in a universal God

Theologian Suvi-Maria Saarelainen has studied the religious outlooks of young adults in Finland, and believes that their religiosity and spirituality are not recognised.

“It’s often said that young people believe in nothing, but that’s not true. Most of the twentysomethings I’ve met and interviewed believe in something. For them, the higher power might be the God of the Bible or a universal God that combines the religions of the world.”

A belief in universal godliness is common, Saarelainen thinks.

Theologian Suvi-Maria Saarelainen. Photo Varpu Heiskanen/UEF.

Theologian Suvi-Maria Saarelainen. Photo Varpu Heiskanen/UEF.

“Nowadays, a lot of spiritual materials are easily available, and twentysomethings are quick to adopt whatever feels right for them.”

Those born in the 1990s are often referred to as generation Z. They are said to love individualism and freedom, and to be opposed to hierarchies.

“Many twentysomethings feel that they don’t need the institution of the church to fulfil their spirituality,” Saarelainen says.

According to a study published by the International Social Survey Programme in the spring of 2019, a major transformation is taking place in attitudes to religion among people under the age of 35. According to the survey, very many young adults are abandoning their faith in God but at the same time are becoming increasingly interested in spirituality.

Of those between the ages of 15 and 24, 22 per cent say they have had a turning point in their lives at which they opened themselves in a new way to religion. Approximately one-tenth of the males in that age group say they have devoted themselves to Christ.

Love at a confirmation camp and a clean start

At the age of 15, Hukka developed a romantic interest in an 18-year-old group leader at a confirmation camp. This proved to be a turning point in his life.

“I’m thankful to that woman for caring and putting me on a better path. At the age of 15 I was using a lot of intoxicants, but thanks to her my life started to go much better. Although we never met again, we sent messages to each other after the camp, and she gave me advice.”

After the camp, Hukka began to read the Bible and started getting up earlier and earlier in the mornings and to work out. In his high school years, he thought about the big questions in life in the Christian language he had learnt as a child.

Hukka’s father is a priest, as was his father’s father, Alpo Hukka, known for his missionary work. The Christian faith is important to all of Hukka’s grandparents. They say a prayer before mealtimes.

Until the age of 10, Hukka lived with his parents and older sister in Florida, where his father worked in an Evangelical Christian parish. As a young boy, Hukka all but lived in the church.

He studied the liturgical year and the Bible in religious preschool, and later once a week in Sunday school. Then there were the parish’s shared working parties, raking leaves in the church yards and baking for bake sales.

“I would steal hosts from the sacristy and eat them a bag at a time. It became a constant problem. I was addicted to them,” Hukka says with a laugh.

In Hukka’s opinion, whereas religion in the United States is clearly religion, it is more a question of spirituality in Finland. He likes the open-minded Finnish spirituality.

“At school, I was brainwashed every morning. We had to stare at the American flag with our hand on our hearts while the Declaration of Independence was being read. God bless America!”

Religion becomes a port in a storm

For twentysomethings, interest in religion often develops during a life crisis of one kind or another. Suvi-Maria Saarelainen wrote her doctoral thesis on adults with cancer who were on both sides of their twenties – in other words, generation Z.

“When spirituality awakes, twentysomethings typically first turn to the religion of their childhood. They might recall their religious upbringing at home, or confirmation classes.”

It is typical of generation Z that they then start to modify spirituality to suit their own outlook. Some can experience the sacred in nature, others find it elsewhere.

“Young adults are open-minded in finding places where they feel comfortable spiritually. It is a growing trend that people seek ways that are suitable for themselves to come into contact with a higher power.”

According to Saarelainen, prayer remains a natural way to experience God and godliness.

“Prayer is a powerful ritual. It seems to me that personal spiritual rituals are also on the increase.”

Self-punishment makes you free

The flesh obeys discipline. The mind obeys discipline. That is how Sakari Hukka thinks.

“If a person doesn’t have the ability to punish themselves, they will never experience anything special. It is a superpower to get to do things you want to do. Laziness is a normal obstacle between wants and action.”

Hukka does not want to react continuously to impulses that stem from a desire for comfort, from other people, and from advertisements and social media.

“I have noticed that the less I think about my comforts, the better things go in my life. I also see giving up on comforts as a spiritual thing. I fast for parts of the day several times a week. This has health benefits also: when done correctly, fasting helps you to become stronger. It gives me energy and I feel how my testosterone level increases.”

Sometimes Sakari Hukka runs from Helsinki to Porvoo just for fun. The distance is longer than a marathon. Photo Vilja Harala.

Sometimes Sakari Hukka runs from Helsinki to Porvoo just for fun. The distance is longer than a marathon. Photo Vilja Harala.

Hukka has practised getting used to the early mornings, the cold, and the pain and hunger brought on by gruelling physical activity.

“There are two types of hunger: I can need nourishment to keep functioning properly, or I might feel like eating but am still mentally sharp. The latter is a creative state for me. When I compose, I’m only a channel for the music.”

Hukka throws himself down on the sofa and looks up at the ceiling with his hands behind his neck.

“It sounds crazy, but for me self-punishment means freedom. When I’ve been running for an hour and a half, for example, and the endorphins are flowing, I think of what I would like to eat and play today, not whether I will become something great.”

Dating and the life of a monk

The ascetic way of life sets Sakari Hukka apart from others. When hungry and tired, it’s hard for him to listen to others complaining, for instance about how they should go to the gym but don’t have the time or the energy.

“Sometimes I let slip that I think they’re just lazy. I’m naive, and I don’t know how to treat other people well, but thankfully I often realise when I need to apologise. My life has been easy. I can’t know what it’s like for other people.”

Hukka wipes away tears. He cries often, he says.

“Some men are bothered by the way I am. When I tell them about my lifestyle, people normally either attack me or withdraw from me. With men, things often get competitive.”

Hukka finds it easy to make friends with women. The romantic side of things is more difficult, however.

“Many times, when I’ve been on a date, I realise that things are just not clicking at all. It’s important for me to be able to share spiritual things.”

During a previous dating experience, Hukka considered whether he might be better off becoming a monk. He lived for a while in a Buddhist monastery in Tampere.

“Speaking after nine in the evening wasn’t allowed. Once we meditated for four days without eating or speaking, and it was also forbidden to look at anyone else.”

Hukka tends to the social side of things through voluntary work, amongst other means. He has distributed leftover food at St Paul’s Church in Helsinki and given ukulele lessons to the elderly, immigrants and people recovering from mental health and addiction problems. He has spent time with residents in a home for the elderly, and has been a night watchman at a confirmation camp.

Charity also extends to his use of money: at the moment, Hukka gives ten per cent of his non-military serviceman’s pay to the Syöpäsäätiö cancer society.

Twentysomethings ponder the big questions alone

Religion requires communality. According to Suvi-Maria Saarelainen, studies show that spirituality and religiosity increase in close relationships.

“I suspect that twentysomethings are really alone when it comes to the major existential questions of life. From adolescence onwards, religiosity develops in relation to friends, but in many circles of friends it can be hard to ask other people what they believe in, what happens after death, and what God is.”

Saarelainen would like to see more communities and forums in which young people can think about spiritual matters.

“Twentysomethings can develop their own spirituality even if religion was not talked about at home when growing up. If young people have a connection to God or the divine, they can take a moment to be in silence with a higher power. It is also possible to have spirituality without religious content.”

Meditation can be practised in a great many ways. Twentysomethings have grown up amidst a flood of information and social media stimuluses, and many place a high value on being able to be present in the moment.

“When I interviewed young adults suffering from cancer for my doctoral thesis, many of them felt that the sickness was a meaningful part of their lives, because it forced them to stop and take stock and be present in the moment. Being thankful for the here and now is an important part of meditation,” Saarelainen says.

Pursuing dreams with the aid of a music teacher

At 3 pm, Sakari Hukka closes the door at his place of work. On Wednesday, he has a meeting with his personal trainer, on Thursday, singing lessons and on Friday, piano lessons.

He takes the train home. He leaves his seat 15 minutes before his stop.

“First I listen to a Michael Jackson song Jam and dance in the train where there’s nobody around. Then I hum a song Amazing Grace. I want to arrive home in a good mood and to be thankful for everything I have.”

Lifting the mood is especially important on Friday, which is a crazy day for Hukka. Then he stays up around the clock, because on Fridays and Saturdays he sings and plays people’s favourites in a local cafe, and compères karaoke and a general knowledge quiz. Hukka gets to bed around the same time as he normally wakes up.

“I wouldn’t recommend my current way of life to anybody, but then again I keep in mind that I only have 11 months of my non-military service to go. It helps to keep things in perspective.”

I pray that the things I do are sensible, creative and fun.
– Sakari Hukka

Hukka wants to be a musician or performing artist of some other kind. Last year, he made it to the third round of the X Factor Suomi talent contest.

“My thinking is very American. My goal is my own American dream.”

When his responsibilities are taken care of, Hukka eats his one and sometimes only meal of the day and watches stand-up comedy acts on YouTube.

“Though I punish myself, I also allow myself to enjoy things with the same vigour. Sometimes I watch comedy all night long, and really enjoy it.”

Sunday is observed as a day of rest for Hukka. He sleeps in late and takes it easy, perhaps going out to eat pizza with a childhood friend and playing Nintendo Wii.

Hukka ends his day with an evening prayer

“I pray to God for the ability to distinguish what’s important when I’m bombarded with a million different stimuli. I promise to do my best to be truthful and jus

strength needed to ignore doubters. I pray that the things I do are sensible, creative and fun. And finally, I pray that I could get to be part of a higher power that can give rise to new things.”

Hukka normally goes to bed at 8 pm. Six hours later, his alarm clock rings.

This article was first published in Finnish on 21 November 2019.

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