I loved the painting Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog since the first time I saw it in an undergrad English Lit book.
Some might see him as a triumphalist, Master and Commander of all that lies before him, embodiment of the "white man's burden," the consummate colonialist ever claiming ownership of that which was never his.
That's just not how I see it.
From my point of view, that is me standing there on that rock. It is any one of us, and, in a way, it is all of us.
In my mind, the Wanderer is a pilgrim. An explorer aimed at discovery whose motivation is the journey and the experience and the encounter with things unseen, not the conquering of those things.
The next set of destinations are clear. They rise up out of the mist beckoning him onward. But though the goal may appear obvious, the way there is shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. Risk and danger are inevitable.
Because the Wanderer is foregrounded in the painting, he seems to loom large over the valley. But any hiker knows that is never one's own experience in such landscapes. When vast trackless expanses envelop you on all sides, your smallness is never more poignant. It is deeply humbling. However, once your desire to control your surroundings is overcome, a sense of self rightly conceived, of finding one's proper place within the world, can settle in.
This, to me, is what life is like. It is a journey full of missions that seem impossible and unplannable. Every next step is fraught with uncertainty, but that upon arrival shape us and draw us into discoveries that open our heart afresh to God and our fellow humans.
One of those gracious discoveries is that there are others journeying through the fog. We are not alone on this path. Friends and family wait to embrace us and walk by our side if we will but begin.
When I look at this painting I am reminded of the Israelites when it finally came time for them to enter the Promised Land.
They stood on the banks of the Jordan and gazed across at that far shore, but in between the river raged at full flood tide.
The way across was unclear. They could not even see where to place their first step.
But they were told to go.
And so they stepped out in faith, and it was not until they stepped into the roaring waters that the waves parted and a path was made.