On the Turning of the Tide

The White Rider

'“White,” Saruman sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.” “In which case it is no longer white,” said Gandalf.' (Source)

‘“White,” Saruman sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”
“In which case it is no longer white,” said Gandalf.’ (Source)

It has long been noted that Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf embody in part the traditional understanding of the three roles of Christ: Frodo as Christ the Priest, the sacrificial lamb on a Via Dolorosa to his own Calvary; Aragorn as Christ the King, the long-awaited return of a bloodline thought spent, enrobed in gold that does not yet glitter; and Gandalf as Christ the Prophet, called forth to advise the seats of power on Good’s behalf. It does not hurt this imagery that Gandalf has now “died,” harrowed his own hell in the abyss of Moria, and has returned to life enrobed in white and “transfigured” in form and authority.

Yet, that symbolism yields only initial fruit: for the return of Gandalf has nuances beyond mere metaphor. Gandalf has strayed out of thought and time under the stars down roads of which he cannot speak: he has been sent back. It is so easy to brush over this line without proper reflection. Gandalf has been sent once before, and has now been sent again! Who is this sender beyond our understanding who has the power to deliver again his servant, in greater form and capacity than before? Evil has broken the rules of the game: in calling forth his demons and black arts, Sauron has arrayed a force against mortals that could little be resisted. Good responds by establishing new rules: though Mithrandir will not ultimately decide on the behalf of the free peoples of Middle earth, as Gandalf the White he can counter Sauron’s darkest servants in order to give the Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits that chance to decide their own fate.

According to Tolkien’s lore, there were five Istari – wizards in the common tongue – who were sent over the sea by some higher power. Gandalf the Gray was the last of them, preceded by the knowledge-hungry and corrupted Saruman, the nature-minded Radagast the Brown (whom in our brief knowing unintentionally entrapped and then saved Gandalf from Saruman by his words), and the mysterious unnamed Blue Wizards, who disappeared into the East. Of the five, only Gandalf has held true to his purpose: to help with words and deeds fortify the children of creation against the forces of destruction. Even with his mistakes and flaws, Gandalf has not lost his mind to the machinations of machine industry or the less-than-significant happenings of the birds and the beasts. The firmness of his purpose and the sincerity of his love for that which he has been sent to defend has resisted the temptation to which Saruman succumbed. The tide is turning.

Firmness of purpose. A force of Good beyond all thought and time. A chance and a hope even in the midst of the darkness’s newest corruptions. The abyss may yet be escaped: the white light shall always be represented. These are the beginning of reflections that the White Rider offers us who walk the Lenten road. We too have been sent and have not been forgotten by our Sender: we too have a purpose to which we must remain firm and a mission to they whom we love. When the rules are broken against us, God breaks them back into His plan: the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection. In Baptism we are enrobed in white. The white light of faith, hope, and love still shines forth.

And so, like Gandalf, we return to our cause: we ride on!


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