By Thomas Larson
Those of us who’ve guzzled the Jesuit Kool-Aid with Merry and Pippin’s thirst for the waters of Entwash often find the themes of Ignatian spirituality reflected throughout our favorite stories. The Ents’ deliberate yet decisive style closely follows the Ignatian practice of Discernment, in which followers are encouraged to make decisions based on reactions to emotions that arise in response to an event or an imagined narrative. We might as well add S.J. to Treebeard’s long Entish name (ok, not really).
Decision-making is beyond difficult, especially as we proceed in the post-college world. No longer presented with clear milestones of progress and a core curriculum, growth becomes hard to measure. Opportunity costs feel almost infinite. Like many my age, I continue to wrestle with broader decisions, including how and when (and if) to pursue graduate studies, what kind of work-life balance I want, and where I want to live. An avalanche of choices assaults me every hour of every day, and I’m usually so tired after figuring out what to prioritize at work and how to approach projects that I can’t even pick a good dinner. At best, I feel like I spend an average of two hours of each waking day unquestionably well (if that). Paralysis begins to set in.
The War of the Ring presents the Ents with an agonizing decision. They have an easy route and a difficult route, both of which are likely to end in desolation and failure. Rather than trusting in hasty gut calls, they convene and let the narrative unfold over three days, discussing their predicament at length. Two key facts drive their thinking: Saruman’s minions have murdered their flock slowly but surely, and the outside conflict will eventually intrude and destroy everything that grows. The Ents are deeply angry. In the end, they do not hesitate to act (a plot point that the movies should have left unaltered, in my opinion). The Ents know that they must exceed their usual degree of engagement with the outside world (for they dislike getting “roused”) and bring war on Isengard.
The Council of Elrond has a lot in common with the Entmoot. There are plenty of compelling arguments to take the easy path, wait and see, and hope for the best. Wisdom prevailed, and the Council decided to set out to destroy the Ring, rather than defer pain. Frodo makes the same choice in turning east before reaching Rauros, rather than hoping for relief at Minas Tirith. The Ents embark on their last march. (A similar trade-off is still coming in The Last Debate.) Tolkien’s obviously getting at something: “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”
May we all have the bravery and wisdom to choose the harder path when we’re called to it, take ownership of our decisions, and face our greatest challenges head on—albeit without too much haste.