Frieren and Fern

Pilgrimage. I once cycled from Durham Cathedral to Iona, reversing and retracing an imagined journey of Celtic saints: giving myself up to the hospitality of strangers and experiencing the vulnerability we all have in the face of rain and wind. On a different occasion, a small group of long distance cyclists rode from London to York, on Good Friday, pausing to reflect on the stations of the cross and our shared journey from darkness to light and back. Cycling lends itself to pilgrimage in the sense that the journey, especially for long distance cyclists, is the destination.

However, I’m currently immersed in different story of journey, of pilgrimage: “Frieren, beyond journey’s end.” This is a fantasy anime adventure where warriors, mages and priests take on demons and monsters in a mythical mediaeval world. In this, we meet the detached and aloof Frieren, a young looking, seemingly innocent elf mage and her apprentice Fern. The pace of the story-telling is gentle, the artistry of the animation is soft, and this creates a peaceful space in which Fern learns from her master, Frieren. There is humour; Frieren is very old, a thousand years old, and her regard for humans is that their lives pass fleetingly before her. A ten year adventure is a brief moment in her life, but a significant event for her friends. Frieren’s joy at slowly exploring the world, is a challenge to her young human apprentice. Frieren may say, “we could spend a decade here”, and Fern will reply, “you have a week”. Despite this, Fern’s love for her master, and patience as she learns to live more slowly, has spoken into my heart about my relationship with God, with Jesus.

Fern could be impatient. Like other apprentices in other stories, longing to be the master before they’ve learned to master themselves. Yet Fern’s love for her master is so deep, her respect for Frieren’s gentleness so devoted, that Fern finds patience even in the temptation of impatience. The rewards of being Frieren’s apprentice are that Fern develops the capacity to cope with the demons and monsters they encounter.

The language of apprentice and master is no longer common in everyday British culture – unless we think of modern apprenticeships and University degrees. It seems that a Bachelors Degree is no longer good enough: four years to become a Master of Arts or Science is where the demand lies. Students are encouraged to become masters rather than apprentices, and yet those who seek apprenticeships are often more desirable in the workplace – and have less debt.

While immersed in the anime world of Frieren and Fern, I had a moment when I realised I don’t want to be ‘master’, I want to be apprentice. I want to follow Jesus, with my hand in his, learning at the pace of a person who knows that eternal life has already begun and that there is no rush any more. A decade of silent prayer would help me to develop as a beloved child of God without a moment of it being wasted.