Had we approached Lothlórien not in winter, but in a different time and season, these lines might have had a different intention. After all, the second corporal work of mercy is now more palpably known as “Sheltering the Homeless,” a goodly if banal moralism swallowed relatively painlessly by donating to a shelter here or voting for affordable housing there. To not have a home is, certainly, a serious concern, and the plight of the homeless should not be disregarded. Yet, however politically unpopular, in this season of Syria and ISIS, of isolationism and Iraq, the looming magnitude of the harborless has reoriented this mercy to its original notion.
I will not recount the overwhelming statistics regarding the migrants from the war-torn regions of the world, for such numbers are impossible for our brains to comprehend. Nor will I linger on a particular story or person from the wandering bands, for such a spotlight is often disingenuous and manipulative. In a time where so frequently the exiles from the Middle East and North Africa appear in the headlines and yet so little is heard or digested, it can be challenging to consider the work of harboring the harborless. So let us instead turn to a new perspective: let us bring our gaze back to Middle-earth.
The Fellowship flees from destruction, darkness, and death, finding itself at the borders of a peaceful yet hidden land. Boromir doubts the way forward, for “by strange paths has this Company been led, and so far to evil fortune.” Yet, as Aragorn notes, there is no other way to safety than to the Golden Wood. Our assorted wanderers encounter the Elves, who are of good heart and yet constrained to aid them, for “it is not our custom to lead strangers through our land.” A portion of this restraint derives from past animosities and fears, for the Elves of Lorien “have not had dealings with the Dwarves since the Dark Days. They are not permitted in our land. I cannot allow him to pass.” Gimli retorts in pride, while Aragorn tries to negotiate a compromise, yet Haldir still grapples with “our law,” for he is “not the master of the law.” Ultimately the Fellowship finds passage and succor through the influence of kinship, kindness, and the intercession of the Lady, and in that moment Haldir, however held back by law, custom, and bias, reveals his true wisdom:
“Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.”
I suspect that very few of us, having read Tolkien’s tome thus far, would decline from welcoming the members of the Fellowship into our homes and communities. Perhaps then we need to look upon the teeming masses of migrants with the eyes of Iluvatar, and see amongst them those familiar figures: the man of hidden leadership and healing; the ancient rivals forced to make peace for the sake of the common good; the young and the small, forced by necessity from the lands that they love; the burdened, who may even carry the fate of us all. If we look out upon the uncountable masses, each person with their own story and fate, we can see Aragorns, Legolases and Gimlis, Merrys and Pippins, even Frodos. The heroes of the many a tale sail the Mediterranean fleeing Moria, or wander the borders of our own Golden Wood. Will we come to their aid?
For we are also upon islands amid many perils, and we all know of shores with shelters we would seek if the shadow comes. While there is much reasonableness in laws and customs, in protecting borders from enemies and ensuring the safe passage of those who enter, there is an orientation of the heart that much change. Whether we harbor the harborless by rooting out our biases, by critiquing harsh laws or unwarranted political plans, or by opening our doors to those who wander, nevertheless we must: always, for each. For once even Jesus fled with his parents to the foreign lands of Egypt, and in every Fellowship there is a Frodo who, by leaving unaided, we bring about great evil upon ourselves.
2015’s Reflection: “On Elanor”