At long last, we return home. Much time has passed since we came upon the meadows and hills of the Shire, the realm of peace and content where, as Faramir noted, gardeners must be held in high honor. Now we approach again the lands of the “hungry as hunters, the Hobbit children, the laughing-folk, the little people,” as Treebeard added to the Long List. We had been anxious to leave it behind when we first set out on our journey, wondering why we wandered for so long in this quiet and simple country when great things were passing in the world outside. At our return, we long like Frodo to fall back asleep into the calm dream of home.
Yet, home is not the same upon our return. We have kept a memory of the Shire within our hearts upon our Quest, but time passes in every place and age, and no land is left unstained or unaffected by evil. Though the sins done upon the Shire are much smaller and less notable than the great wars and struggles behind us, yet they pierce our hearts more so because they happened in our own homes and to our own people. We set out long ago to save the Shire – not only the home of Frodo and Sam, but the Shire of our own minds and hearts – and though great darkness has been cast away, weaker shadow still lingers.
Things have changed. With the Ring destroyed and a King upon the throne, they cannot remain the same, even at home. With death destroyed and a King resurrected, our own Shire – whatever it was the drove our footsteps forward – cannot stay as it once was. Our Lenten pilgrimage has prepared us to return home – as we sought out Mt. Doom, we gained wisdom and courage, understanding and mercy, humility and hope. We have taken part in the cosmic struggle, the universal battle, the wars of rings and kings. Now comes the personal struggle, the local battle, the wars of hearts and souls. There is still much work to be done.
And there is a further challenge in returning home. For home can serve two very different roles for a person, as Hilaire Belloc wrote:
“Look you, good people all, in your little passage through the daylight, get to see as many hills and buildings and rivers, fields, books, men, horses, ships, and precious stones as you can possibly manage to do. Or else stay in one village and marry in it and die there. For one of these two fates is the best fate for every man. Either to be what I have been, a wanderer with all the bitterness of it, or to stay home and hear in one’s garden the voice of God.”
This Lent, we have seen the great wide world outside our doorstep. We have taken the road that goes ever on and on, and we have mused and considered many things that lie beyond the comforts of our home. In that our Shire has served as our strength in memory, our succor in the bitterness of the world. Now we seek to return home, to plant our garden and listen for something even greater than our travels. Home has changed, and so have we.
Yet there is a joy in returning home, even in the face of its changes and its stains. Our Shires also suffer, and there we shall need to labor to cleanse them of the filth and uproot the weeds that have been slowly growing while our hearts, minds, and souls were wandering the paths of the Fellowship and Quest. Nevertheless, this is our home: this is that thing of which we love so dearly. Our struggles are not over, and still there be things that may break our hearts. But in returning home we comprehend more deeply our own growth along the journey, and orient ourselves yet again to observe in the orchards the whispering of good things and God.