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Beyond the Fog of Uncertainty

By Canon Ian Morter

Last December I had the opportunity to visit friends who were conducting the locum in the Anglican Chaplaincy in Hamburg. It was a wonderful few days as the Christmas Market was in full swing, and this was my first visit to a German Christmas Market. While in the city I took the opportunity to visit the Kunsthalle, Hamburg’s equivalent to London’s National Gallery. I came face to face with a painting I had long admired in my art books but had never seen, Casper David Friedrick’s ‘The Wanderer Above the Sea Fog,’ and I was permitted to take my own photograph of this wonderful German Romantic painting.

As I was reflecting on what to say during these somewhat unprecedented times, I thought about this picture. It is of a person standing on a rocky outcrop, his back to us, looking out over the sea fog. Yet in the mid-distance, he views forest trees and then the distant horizon of a mountain landscape, that leads into a lowland plain. Could this be a metaphor for where we find ourselves at this present time in the midst of a pandemic? We are in personal isolation, physically distanced from family, friends and communities which mean so much to us. From this perspective we can only see the fog and mists of uncertainty. Yet beyond the unknown duration of this lockdown, we have the perspective of the distant horizons of forest, mountains and plains. The hope of a return to normal life, the prospects of joyous physical reunions with family, friends and those whose communities we value and treasure. 

But we will all be changed by the Covid-19 virus experience. Everything that we pass through as individuals, as communities and society, should give us cause to think, reflect and hopefully influence us to change for the better. Every Thursday evening we have reflected on the value of our National Heath and care workers. It has been encouraging to me to slip out onto my front porch and join with my neighbours in the lane to applaud those often under-appreciated workers who support us in health and social care, and to hear that applause crescendo over the town of Exmouth. There have been the increased contacts we’ve been making on our telephone and through social media with those we know who may be feeling isolated or vulnerable at this time. Also, there has been nationally a concern and support for those who have been made financially vulnerable. May these and the other ways we are showing our awareness of the needs of others, and the appreciation of the many blessings we have, not be lost as things return to normal in the fullness of time.

Whilst considering Freidrick’s painting of The Wanderer I was reminded of a different work entitled ‘The Wanderer’ that I expect some of you may well be familiar with. In The Exeter Book, one of the Cathedral Library’s earliest treasures, there is the Anglo Saxon Poem ‘The Wonderer.’ It is a mediation of a solitary exile, who had lost the leadership of a great warrior and the company of his fellow compatriots. In his solitude he reflects on the past happiness and exploits; the hardships that he is presently experiencing; the value of forbearance that he needs to cultivate, and above all, the poem ends with the faith that he has in his Heavenly Father, to see him through his experience.

‘So spoke the wise in heart; he sits alone with his mystery.
He is good to keep faith; grief must never escape
A man’s heart too quickly unless with his might like a true warrior
He has sought a lasting boon. It is best for him who seeks love,
Help from the heavenly Father where all stands firm.’

May we all receive that blessed assurance of our Heavenly Father’s love and have faith in his care and protection during these unchartered wanderings.