The wind howls through the trees outside our living room window and the thermometer has dropped to negative two degrees and it’s not done yet. It is winter proper here in South Dakota and we’re experiencing one of our first true snow storms of a fairly mild winter. We watched a movie tonight as a family and now, the girls write letters as I type out a few thoughts bouncing around in my head.
I wonder sometimes what it must have been like to endure winter before electricity, before all the modern conveniences that tempt us to disregard the rhythms of nature. When the sun went down early, the work day came to a close as families headed inside to be together – there were no other options. It was a forced pause that lasted months. Nature forced sabbath rest upon us whether we wanted it or not. Now we rush through winter like the rest of the year, wall to wall busyness with hardly a moment to rest. It seems we have perhaps allowed something important, essential even, to be stolen and we’ve not put up much of a fight. Tonight at least, I’m enjoying the pause.
Casper David Friedrich’s painting, “The Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog” has captured my attention these last few months. I first saw it in book I finished in December, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past. The book was interesting and quite good, but the painting seemed to capture something of how I’ve felt in this particular stage of my life. I’m 48 and I’m in between. My oldest is in his last year of high school. and preparing to launch. I’m at the age where we begin transitioning on from those we love – those both older and younger are moving into new homes – some to heaven where life is as full and good as it can possibly be, and some to new beginnings, to new lives and new dreams and new adventures. It is a time that is filled with joy and sadness, excitement and fear. The mountain climber is both the center of the painting at the top of the world and also utterly insignificant amidst the landscape rolling away in every direction as far as the eye can see. Some aspects of the landscape are clear and distinct; others shrouded in fog. Is it analogous to life? Filled with hope and yet shrouded in mystery. Important and insignificant. What will the next years hold? Where will we be three years from now when both kids have moved out of the house? For them and for us there is the potential and excitement of the next thing and yet that thing is floating just beneath the fog.
How will we live into this unknown future?
In Jonathan Roger’s book, The Bark of the Bog Owl, a mythological retelling of the story of King David, the main character Aiden Errolson, who has just been anointed as the future wilderking, asks the wisened old prophet Bayard the Truthspeaker, “What if I am destined to be the wilderking? How should I live?“
“The same way you should live your life if you weren’t the wilderking. Live the life that unfolds before you. Love goodness more than you fear evil.“
What should we do when the fog comes up around us shrouding the way forward in mystery?
Live the life that unfolds before us. Love life more than we fear evil.