We, as a rule, are both familiar and unfamiliar with the notion of war. We experience war frequently: in our media and through our news, in our perception about the world and our place in it. Yet few of us have actually experienced war in its reality, in both its honor and its chaos. War, like everything else in this world, is neutral save for the actors within it: in battle, there are instances of glory and of terror.
Yet, we remain constant soldiers in a different sort of conflict: none of us can escape the fields of spiritual warfare. Once the earthly people of God were called the Church Militant:
Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before,
Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the cross of Jesus constant will remain.
It is here, in the throes of spiritual conflict, that the Battle of Helm’s Deep most consoles our hearts.
For just as in the Battle of Helm’s Deep, the pace of spiritual conflict is rapid. We ride forth and retreat, barricade and hold defenses, while the enemy pursues us quickly and without ceasing. The greatest of struggles can take place over a single night, and even the strong Aragorn’s and Eomer’s of us may find ourselves weary in the struggle. The forces of temptation, of sin, of darkness, can seemingly overwhelm us in their numbers and their persistence, taunting and jeering at us from the abyss. We may ponder like Theoden how our the world seems to have changed, how any can withstand such numbers and such reckless hate. If we have been wise like Erkenbrand, we may have fortified our spiritual ramparts in preparation for this day: we may have our allies in fellow pilgrims and faithful guides who, like Gimli, might spring out of the shadows when we have been tripped up.
Yet, ultimately, despite our valiant fight, our walls will be breached: whether through sheer numbers or explosive craft, our souls will stand in jeopardy. All that once was strong will prove unsure: the things of this world rise and wane and perish. Then, like Theoden, we must sound the horn of Helm and ride forth against the darkness: we must charge into the light. For the horn of Helm is an act of faith in the ultimate triumph of goodness, and the charge of Theoden an act of hope in strength from an unlooked-for source. What greater song could be sung of our lives then a final charge into those spiritual foes that have dogged our steps our whole lives, we riders resistant ‘till the very end? And yet, once our spiritual defenses are laid bare and our virtuous counter halted, there is still something more: our Erkenbrand, our Mithrandir, our lightful dawn!
The wars of men scatter moments of grace against a sea of chaos: but the War of Man pours forth light into the danger that encircles his soul. The weary struggle of spiritual warfare: this is the reality of life. We prepare and train in the Sacraments and through prayer; we gird ourselves with the Cross and the Faith. Yet even in the darkest nights, when all hope seems lost, still we stand before the gates of our hearts and look out to see the coming dawn.