The Ring Goes South
At last, we begin: we have mused and prepared long, gathering companion and equipment alike to set out on our Lenten journey. We have considered the sacrifices to be made, mapped out a course of action for the days ahead, and brought into our council some wise family members or friends to help ensure our success ahead.
And then, having just started, we fail. Like the Fellowship, we may after only a short time try our hand at crossing a hurdle, climbing an obstacle, and it resists us. The snows of frustration build up all around us, and we find little warmth in our memories of how pleasant and profound our Lent would be. We may still have ashes upon our forehead and yet our bums be on the ground. Even with the best intentions – especially with the best intentions – the mountains of our life may defeat us, forcing us to regroup and reconsider matters.
It is not an easy experience to have. Failing after having just started is demoralizing and embarrassing. We give up some addiction only to find ourselves unconsciously in the midst of it. We commit to better relations and kinder words, and immediate a circumstance arises with another that brings out the worst in us. We stretch our arm out, only to pull it back in sudden realization. We turn away from sin, only to find our sins behind us, waiting for us.
However, we must not give up, even if we fail mere moments after we have started. The road is long, and our hearts are untested. “Let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall,” says Elrond. We are in a strange land, and we like Sam might be quite out of our reckoning. The quest does not end at the mountain pass; the Fellowship will not return to Rivendell. There will be further challenges ahead, some even more dangerous or sorrowful. We must pick ourselves us, recognize our shortcomings, and plot our next step through the Lenten wilderness.
And here is where companionship is key. “Sworn word may strengthen quaking heart,” says Gimli. Many are walking with us, committed to the ultimate goal of the journey: Mt. Doom, Calvary, and what lies beyond them. They are both Men and Elves, both doughty ploughs and swift runners. They have words of encouragement like Aragorn, and draughts of unexpected strength like Gandalf. When the wind howls around us and our burdens seem too great, they can raise us back upon our feet. And perhaps we will do the same for them.
The journey is long, and they are many challenges upon it. We will all fail, whether near the end, having just started, or throughout it. But no mountain pass unscaled is a true loss while there are other roads to tread and strength still in us. The only true failure, when we do fail, is to turn back and give up entirely.