Battlefield Medicine

Lothlórien

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

Aragorn said, ‘So much has happened this day and we have such need of haste, that I have forgotten that you were hurt; and Sam too. You should have spoken. We have done nothing to ease you, as we ought, though all the orcs of Moria were after us.'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.'”

Life is lived on the battlefield: we are under constant duress, constant stress, constant activity, constant momentum. It takes effort for us to pause and reflect; it takes even more focus to rest and recover. Amidst all that’s happening, both things of real haste and false urgency, we often miss the hurts we have gained, and the stumbling of others. We focus on the healthy, not the sick: but it is the wounded, the suffering, the troubled, whether physically or spiritual, that require the most attention. Yet we cannot stop time, and pretend like our duties and responsibilities do not exist just because there are hurts to be healed. Instead, we must practice the challenging art of battlefield medicine: find brief respite where possible, healing what we can, easing burdens and loads by taking on more ourselves when we are capable. Compared to retreat and refuge, such support may feel paltry; but in the field hospitals of life, such acts have exponential impact.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Having Never Seen the Sea and Lingering Strength
Year B: On Elanor
Year C: On Harboring the Harborless and Hidden Beauty

Bellow verses Balrog

The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

Boromir raised his horn and blew. Loud the challenge rang and bellowed, like the shout of many throats under the cavernous roof. For a moment the orcs quailed and the fiery shadow halted. Then the echoes died as suddenly as fallen blown out by a dark wind, and the enemy advanced again.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;  Tell my people their wickedness, and the house of Jacob their sins.'” (Isaiah 58:1)

Though Boromir gets a misleading representation in The Lord of the Rings films (and a more nuanced reputation from the book), it is fair to say that he is not an idiot. Yet, it is strange that when surrounded by fire and orcs, trapped in the depths of a mountain, confronted by a quite literal demon, Boromir’s first response is put horn to mouth. At first glance, with our modern utilitarian mind, this seems absolutely futile–surely Boromir did not think the Balrog would turn around and walk away because its ears were too sensitive? But that clearly is not the case, given his blast at Rivendell (and the one he will perform shortly at the river). The bellow of the horn can serve many purposes–a call for aid, an announcement of change–but it can also serve as an act of defiance. In the face of his enemies, Boromir will not yield. In the face of great evil, he will not be silenced. So too, the prophets of Israel proclaimed loudly before both kings and countrymen their wickedness and sins. Some kings were swayed; some countrymen turned back to God; but always the prophet’s voice bellowed in defiant challenge of those who would pretend that wrong is not wrong, or that God is not God. We rarely stare down evil kings (and more rarely fiery Balrogs!), but nevertheless we are charged to raise our horns and voices: not always to vanquish our foes, but ever to stand in challenge.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Tombs and Loss
Year B: On Being Already Weary
Year C: On Finding Oneself Suddenly Faced by Something One Has Never Met Before and Exhaustion

Unquenchable Hope

A Journey in the Dark

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

The world is grey, the mountains old,
The forge’s fire is ashen-cold;
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin’s halls;
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dûm.
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Moses said to the people, ‘I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.’” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

The Song of Durin (which, if you have never heard sung, is excellent, and a recommend version may be listened to here) is many things: a history of the origins of the Dwarven people, for instance, and a recollection of the accomplishments of the Dwarves at their pinnacle. But it is also a poem of unquenchable hope: no matter the hardships, disappointments, and losses the Dwarves suffer now, there remains something for them to look forward to. The crown of Mirrormere can never be taken from the father of the Dwarves until the stars themselves are cast down and the deep pools dried up: one day, the lay foretells, the Dwarves will be restored. There are echoes here of the Israelites in the wilderness and in exile, as well as the national myths of the sleeping king such Arthur, Barbarossa, and Charlemagne–yet also the spirit of Christian hope. “Choose life, that you and your descendants may live,” and “hold fast to him.” In the depths and darkness of our Lenten Morias, amidst bitter pandemic and isolation, we may see the cursed choice of death and momentarily despair, but let not our hope be put out. The crown of Christ is more lasting than the stars above or the waters below, and shines all the brighter in these gray, ashen-cold times.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Simple Learning in Suspicious Days and Counter-intuitive
Year B: On Darkness
Year C: On Mithril and A Quick Step into the Darkness

A Campaign of Christian Service

The Ring Goes South

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

Elrond said, ‘The Ring-bearer is setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On him alone is any charge laid: neither to cast away the Ring, nor to deliver it to any servant of the Enemy nor indeed to let any handle it, save members of the Company and the Council, and only then in gravest need. The other go with him as free companions, to help him on his way.'”

And in today’s liturgy we hear:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” (Collect for Ash Wednesday)

Today we begin our great campaign. Everything up to this moment was preparation, training, and appreciation: one last walk through the Shire, one last feast before the fast. And now we set off on our own Quest: for Mount Doom, for Calvary. And while we often focus on the fasting and self-restraint of Lent as we purify ourselves, that is not the ultimate intent. This is a campaign of Christian service: we are following in the footsteps of Christ in order to serve others as He would have served them. That service can take many forms, for the deeds of Christ were varied: we might seek to heal or comfort, to feed or clothe, to listen or counsel, to admonish or instruct, to advocate or fight for, to forgive or inspire mercy. We take up battle against spiritual evil so that we might perform spiritual good; we rend our hearts so that we might have the habit of giving over our garments to the most needy. We have been charged to make this Quest, and seek the end of all things. The journey is long, and there is much we desire to do.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Failing After Having Just Started and Without Delay
Year B: On Ashes Upon Our Foreheads
Year C: On Considerations for an Ending and This Is Not Our Home

Lingering Strength

Lothlórien

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The golden wood (Source)

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. Some there are among us who sing that the Shadow will draw back, and peace shall come again.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
‘Repairer of the breach,’ they shall call you,
‘Restorer of ruined homesteads.’” (Isaiah 58:11-12)

Nothing that exists, because it is made by the mind of God, can ever fully lose its potential for goodness. Even in darkness, in grief, in peril, much is still fair, awaiting a little light or a little restoration to blossom forth into its goodness. In Lent, we are called to consider where the Shadow has fallen upon our own society, our own homes, our own hearts: the breaches it has caused, the gardens it has ruined. We pray and fast that the Lord will guide us yet again, and that peace will come at last. And then we work to rebuild and repair, bringing water to the parched lands that might bloom like Lothlórien in the spring.


Past Reflections:
Year A: On Having Never Seen the Sea
Year B: On Elanor
Year C: On Harboring the Harborless

Loss

The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

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Fly you fools (Source)

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

[Gandalf] staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and fell into the abyss. […] They stumbled widely up the great stairs beyond the door. Aragorn leading. Boromir at the rear. At the top was a wide echoing passage. Along this they fled. Frodo heard Sam weeping, and then he found the he himself was weeping as he ran.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’” (Matthew 9:14-15)

To everything, the prophet says, there is a season. We who are blessed to have great people in our life–spiritual leaders, inspiring role models, trusted advisers–recognize even subconsciously that we will not always have them. And the loss will be great, leading to fast and weeping. But while they are with us we must learn from them and appreciate every moment. For it shall allow us, when the time of loss arrives, to persevere all the same.


Past Reflections:
Year A: On Tombs
Year B: On Being Already Weary
Year C: On Finding Oneself Suddenly Faced by Something One Has Never Met Before

Counter-intuitive

A Journey in the Dark

1200px-Bloch-SermonOnTheMount

The counter-intuitive teacher (Source)

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

‘I was wrong after all,’ said Gandalf, ‘and Gimli too. Merry, of all people, was on the right track. The opening word was inscribed on the archway all the time! The translation should have been: Say “friend” and enter. I had only to speak the Elvish word for friend and the doors opened.'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24)

We frequently overthink things: we make things more complicated, more obscure, more challenging than they are or need to be. The simple perspective may be the correct one: the answer may be intuitive, or perhaps counter-intuitive, to the complexity we wish to impose on it. The sayings of Moria and of Jesus both seem strange, yet he answers are counter-intuitively straightforward. Speak the word for friend and enter. Focus on your own life above all other things and lose it all the same. We must strive to think differently, to approach life counter-intuitively: and this Lenten season, we should long to give up everything, to sacrifice all things, for the sake of the one thing that matters most.


Past Reflections:
Year A: On Simple Learning in Suspicious Days
Year B: On Darkness
Year C: On Mithril

Without Delay

The Ring Goes South

Ash

Ashes (Source)

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

‘The time has come,’ Elrond said. ‘If the Ring is to set out, it must go soon. But those who go with it must not count on their errand being aided by war or force.'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly;
Gather the people, notify the congregation;
Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast;
Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber.” (Joel 2:15-16)

The acceptable time is now. We can no longer delay. If our journey is to begin, it must begin soon, it must begin now. The importance of what we do–the threat of the Ring, the promise of Christ’s mercy and love–is so great, so overwhelming that we need to prioritize it. Everything else, even important things–work, leisure, marriage–must be reordered so that we can seek the road without delay. The time has come for Frodo, for Zion, for us. Without delay, let us begin.


Past Reflections:
Year A: On Failing After Having Just Started
Year B: On Ashes Upon Our Foreheads
Year C: On Considerations for an Ending

Hidden Beauty

Lothlórien

Flower

Beauty hidden from the eye (Source)

There is so much of this world that we will never see. Yes, the invention of photography and the Internet has made it far easier to see shadows and imitations of places. Yet even a truly dedicated Instagram connoisseur could only view of fraction of the world’s photos. And there’s a different between seeing beauty with your own eyes verses the lens of a camera, or the pixels of a screen.

Which is to say, there are Lothloriens in our world: little bits of hidden beauty which remain known by local lore and shared through word of mouth. There are lands where gold leaves fall and flowers whose names I do not know blossom. And there is beauty which cannot be seen again, because it has been lost to us: worn away by time, nature, or the follies of man.

There is something melancholic about this hidden beauty. There is a longing in the human heart to know all things, understand all things, experience all things, live all things. FOMO and YOLO: the desire is deep. But there’s also something hopeful in considering the worlds which we shall never see. For it preserves within us a sense of wonder and optimism that there’s ever more to surprise us. And it keeps alive the spark that Elves and elanor might still flourish beyond the corners of our eyes.


Past Reflections:
Year A: On Having Never Seen the Sea
Year B: On Elanor
Year C: On Harboring the Harborless

Exhaustion

The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

fatigue-1000x480

To run the race to its end (Source)

How often do we, like Gandalf, seem to find ourselves most challenged when we are not at our best?

We are asked to resist temptation, or be present for someone, or do good to someone when we are tired. Or anxious. Or stressed. Or fearful. Or confused. Or otherwise constrained.

Such a state limits our responses. We think back to how much more helpful we could have been. Or more patient. Or more understanding. Or stronger.

But these moments are not our legacy. We are not perfect, and we often can’t control the circumstances we find ourselves in. Instead, all we can do is respond as best we can.

Sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes it will require contrition, reflection, and follow-up. But a heartfelt response is better than despondent surrender. No matter the circumstances.


Past Reflections:
Year A: On Tombs
Year B: On Being Already Weary
Year C: On Finding Oneself Suddenly Faced by Something One Has Never Met Before