In today’s passage from Tolkien we read:
And lastly there is the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape: the Escape from Death. […] Fairy-stories are made by men not by fairies. The Human-stories of the elves are doubtless full of the Escape from Deathlessness. But our stories cannot be expected always to rise above our common level. They often do. Few lessons are taught more clearly in them than the burden of that kind of immortality, or rather endless serial living.”
And in today’s Scripture we hear:
God said to Abraham: ‘Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.'” (Genesis 22: 2)
Death is often describe as the ancient enemy of man: ubiquitous, unescapable, final. It is our oldest and deepest fear, hence it is our greatest challenge. We may wrestle with, confront, invite, ridicule, embrace, or attempt to ignore death, but in the end, it comes for us all. And yet, there are things worse than death: there is endless serial living, immortality without finality, deathlessness without restoration of life, as Tolkien writes in his essay. There is also reject of the Creator, betrayal of the Source of All Things, a turning away from the good, true, and beautiful, as our Scriptures suggest. In the Christian tradition, these are one in the same: the one who turns from God lives but lives serially; the soul is never destroyed, but instead endures without completeness. It is the emptiness, this hollowness, this severing, which is a fate truly worse than death. Our Lenten pilgrimage calls forth that image to rouse us from our lethargy, and strive like Abraham to seek a better end.
Want to Read More?
Year A: On Stories Suited for Children and The Greatest Fairy-story Ever Told
Year B: On Eucatastrophe
Year C: On the Defense of Fantasy and Transfiguration