It is fitting to find a place as full of comfort and healing as Rivendell as we nigh approach the beginning of our long journey. Already in our travels we, like Frodo, have gone through much: in the haste of modern life, in the preparations for Lent, in consuming two chapters of Book I each day. In safe havens we pause, then, in the waning moments of the pre-Lenten season, to consider, to commiserate, and to celebrate.
We consider what grows beyond us. “We are sitting in a fortress. Outside it is getting dark.” There is much evil about in the world, much chaos and pain. Wars spring forth readily: violence in our cities, injustice in our communities. Poverty and hunger abound. Death on the sea, in the air, within cafés, alongside the roads. Little lives of children, of the elderly, of the unborn, snuffed out with little reflection. Persecution and martyrdom. Like the Elves, long have we maintained strongholds of virtue, of goodness, of beauty. Yet “all such places will soon become islands under siege, if things go on as they are going.” No place, not even the marvelous House of Elrond, cannot outlast forever the evils of the world unchecked.
And so, we commiserate with Elves and dwarves and men. Frodo alone has not fought off the forces of Sauron: in Rivendell, in Dale, at the Lonely Mountain, and all throughout free lands, the struggle with the darkness is occurring. Sacrifices are being made: lives are being lost. No individual or group takes on this burden alone: each person, each race of created beings has its task to complete, its homeland to defend, its role to play. As the words attributed to Ian Maclaren relay, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Whether one realizes it, admits it, or understands it, each of us internally and/or externally wage war upon the sins of this world. Our success in that struggle, and what side of the battle lines we find ourselves on, may be shrouded in the gray of midst of this life: but with reflective examination, we can cut through this metaphysical fog of war.
Yet, even so, we celebrate. Eärendil was a mariner: hope remains kindled. Long ago when the darkness seemed to have engulfed the world, Eärendil, child “of folk of Men and Elven-kin,” fashioned a great ship upon which he sailed to Valinor, to the ends of the earth itself, to seek aid beyond the bounds of mortal power. In Middle-earth, he still sails upon a ship of stars, a constellation upon the sea-dark night sky, ever a reminder of a hope beyond hope: “for ever still a herald on, an errand that should never rest, to bear his shining lamp afar, the Flammifer of Westernesse.” Good overcomes evil, no matter its shape or form or terror.
And so, in reflective pause, we contend with many cares. We consider the darkness outside our windows. We commiserate with our fellow struggling man. We celebrate the long history of evil’s ultimate defeat. In Rivendell, where there is “always a bit more to discover” and a cure “for weariness, fear, and sadness,” our wandering distills to its essence. In the Last Homely House East of the Sea, there yet remains a wellspring of faith, love, and hope.