At the Sign of the Prancing Pony & Strider
“You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way that servants of the Enemy would,” says Frodo. “I think one of his spies would – well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand me.” We pause: do we understand Frodo here? Do we recognize the nature of that which looks foul and feels fair? It is an easy note of observation, but a harder kernel of wisdom.
Appearances deceive: that is common wisdom enough. Sometimes the heart senses better than the head: that too is oft-said, though perhaps with some reservation. Yet appearances are deeper than skin-deep, and the heart must be trained as much as the head. Might not a true servant of the Enemy “play the meta” to deceive us even further, or appear not a fair, but as known, or comfortable, or obvious? Might not the heart, encumbered with fear or discouraged by hardship, find it easy to look past misgivings and unsettled, unexplainable concerns?
Strider, perhaps, is not best understood by first glance or first interaction, but instead by the verses now known to go with his true name:
“All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost;
From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king.”
There is power in these words, and food for mind and soul. Gold can be hidden under grime and muck. Age does not correlate directly with decay. These are verses of promise, of hope that no shadow can ever completely overpower the light, and that the true Eternal Flame remains burning even if only in the potential of the ashy remains. They are lines of confidence in the return of the king, both in the pages of the story and beyond.
As we near approach Lent, they are verses that resonate so well. For we who walk the Lenten road likely will amass little glittering riches in this life, but hope to store up a different kind of gold elsewhere. We who walk the Lenten road are a wandering people, with no true home here to rest our heads, but we are not lost, for we know where we long to go. We that have aged in faith will find little that withers us at our core as time passes on, and we that have put down roots in charity will find succor amidst the stormy blasts that may come our way. Ashes soon will be on our forehead as we walk into a period of shadow, walking to rekindle the flame of Baptism and with an eye on the light of Easter. And though the blades of this world – the powers of politics and government, markets and production, culture and community, justice and peace – are broken all around us, there remains only one true King of all.
Yet, in our present moment, and in our present state, there is much that will look both foul and fair, and our discerning feeling may seem overwhelmed with uncertainty. In the most unexpected places we might find those who frighten us, but not as the Enemy does: instead, they bring forth truth and goodness and a deeper form of beauty, a reality which so starkly strikes us to our core. So let us be not afraid, and welcome in the Striders of our lives, when we are fortunate to find them on our journey ahead.