On the Splendor of Ilúvatar


42-Dante Heaven.jpg

Dante gazes upon the choirs of heaven (Source)

When reading a book, there lingers a temptation to flip through the pages to the concluding chapter and the final words of the tale. When watching a show, there exists a subconscious desire to fast-forward through certain scenes – whether because they are frightening, dull, anxious or suggestive – to the ending and preview the ultimate curtain fall. This desire to know the end, to comprehend a vision of the future, appears in life as well: divination and fortune-telling, academic theories and prophecies, cyclical calendars and countless other mechanisms. Yet there always remains in regards to the future a mystery, a lack of information, an uncertainty, a surprise. The unfolding of the splendor of Ilúvatar is beyond our expectation.

As Tolkien writes in his creation myth, “For to none but himself has Ilúvatar revealed all that he has in store, and in every age there come forth things that are new and have no foretelling.” We can glean patterns and trends, and though as Christians we have faith and hope in the ultimate triumph of God, nevertheless for man “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard” of the full measure of the plans of the Divine. “Though the Music is over all, the Valar have not seen as with sight the Later Ages or the ending of the World,” as Tolkien notes. We are restrained from knowing the end pages and end scenes of creation in their detail and splendor.

Such a limitation challenges a mortal being, and gives one pause at one’s place in the saga of existence. As Dennis Quinn suggests in his volume Iris Exiled: A Synoptic History of Wonder:

“Happiness for individual persons or for a people is something given rather than something pursued. We really do not know what we want or what is good for us. It may be that the worst things – the loss of the best things, the loss of everything – are for the best. Had not Troy fallen, there could have been no Rome.”

Women and men cannot fully comprehend the full splendor of the divine, and remain unable to comprehend how every moment, every choice, every unfolding of everything that lives is but “a part of the whole and tributary to its glory.” Our limited and seemingly insignificant role in great theme of the divine can leave us musing as T.S. Elliot’s Simeon, “Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer, not for me the ultimate vision, grant me thy peace.” We have but a little passage in the daylight, as Hilaire Belloc mused. Yet whatever times in which we dwell, whatever call to which we harken, whatever rambling road to the final tavern to which we travel, still we prepare ourselves to participated in the music sung “before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days.” No surprise, no unforetold unfolding undermines our ultimate desire and fate.

And so we remain only able to leaf through the pages of our past and present, and like Belloc find between our hands “gold and more gold.” We cannot fully comprehend how the loss of Troy can let rise Rome, or how, as Macaulay offered, the theme of the divine music can remain and resonate amidst the “broken arch of London Bridge” or “the ruins of St. Paul’s.” The splendor of Ilúvatar, the unfolding song of God, remains a mystery, a surprise in which we have our existence. And though we do not know all that is to come before the final resolution, nevertheless we a part of it.

Gratitude. Awe. Wonder.

2015’s Reflection: “On Music


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