Weekly Reflection - Looking Back, Looking Forward
24 September 2021
In 1845 Sir John Franklin undertook an expedition with two ships to the Canadian Arctic. He was attempting to cross the final unnavigated section of the Northwest passage in order to understand more fully the challenges involved for future seafarers. The expedition ended in disaster: both ships became ice-bound and their crews perished in the months that followed. Twenty years later Edwin Landseer’s painting, Man proposes, God disposes, depicted an imagined arctic scene inspired by the failure of the expedition and the subsequent search for survivors. The painting is a sombre reflection on the frailty of human ambition.
I have been doing some reflecting myself over the past few days. The 29 September marks the third anniversary of my Installation as Dean of Wakefield. As I reread the sermon I preached on that wonderful occasion, a verse from the Book of Proverbs came to mind: The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established. The sentiment is similar to the title of Landseer’s painting – a reminder that what humans might wish for, and aspire to, may be very different from how things turn out under God’s providence. Half my ministry in Wakefield, eighteen months of all our lives, has been dominated by a public health crisis that has required us to make huge adjustments in all areas of our life, including to the way we worship.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought tragedy to the lives of millions of people in the UK and worldwide, stripping us of the illusion of human invulnerability. And even as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we still have to reckon with global heating; with the obscene disparities of wealth and of the ability to access to the world’s God-given resources; and with a crisis of confidence in the integrity of those to whom we give the responsibility for governing us. But stripping ourselves and others of the illusion of invulnerability need not leave us feeling disillusioned. The absence of what we have come to regard as normal over the past eighteen months can give us greater clarity about the enormous blessings of the faith we share and of its inexhaustible capacity to renew our hope and confidence in the God who comes: the God who has come to us in Jesus Christ, who comes daily into the hearts of all who are open to his boundless grace and goodness, and who will come at the end of the age in merciful judgement. May this hope and confidence be a strength and support to us all as, together, we navigate the complexities of our times.
With love and prayers,