Again, The End (for Now)

Another Lent past, another farewell to A Lent of the Lord of the Rings.

Thanks to everyone who participated this year, and found benefit in wandering the paths of Middle-earth with friends and strangers alike. According to my records, this is the 379th post on this site, a number I did not think possible when I first put together the reading plan more than seven years ago. The support and enthusiasm of you the reader and fellow traveler is of immense support, so again, thank you.

And while this is the end for 2021, it is not the end forever. Download your copy of the 2022 Reading Plan and look forward to revisiting Middle-earth next year. Until then, may the blessings of Elves, Men, and all Free Peoples be with you.

A New Covenant

Ainulindalë 

In today’s passage from Tolkien we read:

Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike to the former theme, and it gathered power and had new beauty. But the discord of Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it, and there was again a war of sound more violent than before, until many of the Ainur were dismayed and played no longer, and Melkor had the mastery. Then again Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that his countenance was stern; and he lifted up his right hand; and behold, a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others. For it seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies, but it could not be quenched, and it grew, and it took to itself power and profundity.

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt;  for they broke my covenant, and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

The coming of Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Law, the establishment of a new covenant. The world had broken the original covenant with God, but God had not; and the new covenant was “like and yet unlike” the former covenant. And even though the discord of sin and human weakness raged against Christ then and against Christ now, still the new covenant grows, unable to be quenched, taking upon “itself power and profundity.” It completes the promise of the Old while being itself something entirely New; its ripples across our hearts, and only deepens amid the uproar contending with it.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Majesty and Sharpness and That Which Has No Foretelling
Year B: On Music
Year C: On the Splendor of Ilúvatar and An Entertainment Proposal

Love of Thy Neighbor

“The Book of Jonah”

In today’s passage from Tolkien we read:

Yahweh replied to Jonah, ‘You are only upset about a castor-oil plant which cost you no labour, which you did not make grow, which sprouted in a night and has perished in a night. And am I not to feel sorry for Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?'” (Jonah 4:10-11)

And in today’s liturgy we hear:

Direct, O Lord, we pray, the hearts of your faithful, and in your kindness grant your servants this grace: that abiding in the love of you and their neighbor, they may fulfill the whole of your commands.” (Prayer over the People)

It is not enough to say, “I love my neighbor.” The fulfillment of all the commands of God rest upon love of Him and neighbor: therefore, the love of neighbor must be significant, weighty, meaningful. It is not enough for Jonah to listen to God’s command after his experience in the whale; it is not enough for Jonah to have to go to a foreign city that he might naturally describe as the foe of his people. The lesson that God imposes on Jonah is to want the best for his neighbors, however hostile: to celebrate their repentance and change of heart, instead of desiring their destruction and God’s wrath. The anger of the Lord is real and just; but the mercy of the Lord is far preferable. Let us pray this Third Sunday of Lent for the grace to have true compassion for our neighbors, no matter our relationship–and hope for the salvation of all.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Holding of Grudges and Having Been Scattered
Year B: On This Fish, of Which the Author is Fond
Year C: On Translations and In the Belly of the Whale

Fates Worse than Death

“On Fairy-stories”

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

That Which Has No Foretelling

Ainulindalë

Lazarus_Athens

The Raising of Lazarus (Source)

In today’s passage from Tolkien we read:

And many other things Ilúvatar spoke to the Ainur at that time, and because of their memory of his words, and the knowledge that each has of the music that he himself made, the Ainur know much of what was, and is, and is to come, and few things are unseen by them. Yet some things there are that they cannot see, neither alone nor taking counsel together; for to none but himself has Ilúvatar revealed all that he has in store, and in every age there come forth things that are new and have no foretelling, for they do not spring from the past.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26)

There is much that we know, and because of that knowledge, there is much we can anticipate, predict, and plan for. Yet, there remains those things that we cannot foretell–that lack clues from the past, that has remained only in the mind of God–that still startle us and surprise us, reminding us that we do not have full power and control over the ways of the world. The coming of the Messiah was foretold: much had been written, much had been prophesied. Yet, the true manner of that coming–the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection–was something so bold and radical that none could truly see in advance.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Majesty and Sharpness
Year B: On Music
Year C: On the Splendor of Ilúvatar

Having Been Scattered

“The Book of Jonah”

1200px-Angelika_Kauffmann_-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_am_Brunnen_-1796

Jesus and the Samaritan woman (Source)

In today’s passage from Tolkien we read:

‘All are to put on sackcloth and call on God with all their might; and let everyone renounce his evil behaviour and the wicked things he has done. Who knows if God will not change his mind and relent, if he will not renounce his burning wrath, so that we do not perish?’ God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.”(Jonah 3:8-10)

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

The woman said to Jesus, ‘Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.'” (John 4:19-21)

A terrible things has been allowed to happen to us, and we feel scattered: abandoned, anxious, isolated, uncertain. Like the Israelite in the desert, like the Jews in exile, we might feel betrayed or distant from God. The world is not the instrument of God’s wrath: the rain falls on the just and the unjust, after all. But when disease and other ills are allowed to ravage our society, the question before us is: how shall we respond? Shall we respond like the people of Ninevah, turning away from our evil behavior and returning to God with the hope of salvation? Shall we respond like Jesus to the woman at the well, and see our worship and relationship with God not limited to certain building or certain spaces, certain times and certain ways? We have been scattered, against our wishes and power; the only power that can gather us up again is the one of love and mercy.


Past Reflections
Year A: On the Holding of Grudges
Year B: On This Fish, of Which the Author is Fond
Year C: On Translations

The Greatest Fairy-story Ever Told

“On Fairy-stories”

Transfiguration_Raphael

The Transfiguration (Source)

In today’s passage from Tolkien we read:

The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

And Jesus was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.” (Matthew 17:2-3)

The Transfiguration shares many similarities to a fairy-story. In a fairy-story, wonders occurs and marvels transpire; the rules of the “real” world don’t apply, and “magic” appears all around us. We witness great things: new bodies alight, the dead arisen, the Almighty speak. And they share a desire to express truth, to enshrine a vision of a moral and virtuous world. The main difference of them, of course, being that unlike fairy-stories, subcreated by man into the world of imagination, the Transfiguration was subcreated by God into the world of man: a fairy-story founded in history.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Stories Suited for Children
Year B: On Eucatastrophe
Year C: On the Defense of Fantasy

An Entertainment Proposal

Ainulindalë

amazon_logo_500500._V323939215_

Another suggestion (Source)

Amazon recently purchased the rights from the Tolkien estate to create new video content set in Middle-earth. At the time of this writing, the setting for this series looks to be near the end of the Second Age and the fall of Númenor. But after returning to the Ainulindalë, its hard not to imagine what incredible beauty and cinematography an adaptation of it would take.

The visuals would be mesmerizing, alternating between the stark bareness of the cosmic concert hall with profound natural forces occurring in Middle-earth. The sound and music would be moving, a profound challenge for a great composer: weaving the divine and a universal narrative through multiple melodies and tunes. And the theme, the message, and consequence of such a series, even a single episode!

Perhaps this tale would be too esoteric or metaphor to entail an entire episode of television. But even a vignette, an opening sequence, a prologue to the main course of the narrative would be an incredible accomplishment. We can only hope, and wonder, and until then, imagine.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Majesty and Sharpness
Year B: On Music
Year C: On the Splendor of Ilúvatar

In the Belly of the Whale

“The Book of Jonah”

pwf-homepage-whale

Hello there (Source)

We interrupt your regularly scheduled check-in with the heroes of Middle-earth to bring you a familiar story. Jonah and the Whale is perhaps one of the most well-known stories from the Bible, a tale and image that even non-Christians and post-Christians recognize. It appears in our Lenten journey because the translation of it for the Jerusalem Bible was done by J.R.R. Tolkien, and provides a different perspective into Tolkien.

The Lord of the Rings is not explicitly a religious story (though imagery and allusions abound), so in the translation of “the Book of Jonah” we have Tolkien directing his love of languages and his world-building talents to a place where God, prophets, and salvation make clear appearances. We see the broader work of Tolkien as an academic and translator, the more important part of his day-to-day for most of his lifetime. And, with a particular style and perhaps new appreciation of fairy-stories and the art of myth-making, we can see the lessons inherent in the journey of Jonah: of trusting in God, of disbanding grudges, of the broader perspective.

For “the Book of Jonah” is a radical tale, one with apt lessons for our own times. We must consider: where have I prioritized justice and vengeance over mercy and forgiveness? When have I narrowed the broad perspective of God? Am I in flight from the call of the Lord? Am I even now somehow trapped in the belly of a whale?


Past Reflections
Year A: On the Holding of Grudges
Year B: On This Fish, of Which the Author is Fond
Year C: On Translations

Transfiguration

“On Fairy-stories”

transfiguration.jpg

Icon of the Transfiguration (Source)

Today’s Gospel focuses on the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration was a moment: an event that happened in the life of Christ where the work of Jesus was confirmed, the person of Jesus was foretold and made more known to the Apostles, and the divine and natural worlds bled together in a new and marvelous way.

But the Transfiguration is also an orientation: a guiding principle for us who walk this earth centuries later. In the dual-nature of Christ being made manifest, the Transfiguration permeates the wall that might separate the rational from the spiritual in our minds. In the lived experience of the Peter, James, and John on the mountain top, the Transfiguration presents an argument for a more holistic and broader perspective on the narrative of humanity. In the confirmation by the Father of the Son’s word, the Transfiguration directs us to the only hope that withstands the ultimate and assured failure of human activity.

In short, the Transfiguration is both a lesson in divine history and a teaching of present philosophy. And in reflecting on it, we realize with surprise that for Tolkien, the Transfiguration – and even more so, the Gospel and all of salvation history – was the greatest fairy-story of all.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Stories Suited for Children
Year B: On Eucatastrophe
Year C: On the Defense of Fantasy