Do You Not Understand?

The Council of Elrond

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

The Elves returned no answer. ‘Did you not hear me, Glóin?’ said Elrond.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Jesus said, ‘Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?'” (Mark 8:17-18)

Today’s passage is all about questions and answers, ignorance and understanding. Each person at the Council of Elrond has their own story, their own revelation to add to the unfolding of the situation. Each person works to overcome an insurmountable barrier placed before the others: for Elrond its the time immemorial that he lived; for Legolas and Glóin its the far off distance from which they bring messages; for Aragorn and Gandalf its the secret information only they could know; for Bilbo and Frodo its the little details that only their hobbit experience would notice. Together the pieces fit together, and as if preordained all point to one conclusion. And yet there remains confusion, and resistance, and skepticism! So too for us, as we recall all the disparate pieces of Salvation history. The stories of old, our observations of the world and human nature, the tales from other lands and other peoples: all point to the existence of sin, the necessity of a Savior, and the unfolding of preordained plan by That greater than us. We have had our own Council of Elrond, and yet we still do not really understand, or we would live our lives differently–so let us pray for broken hearts and open ears, that we might comprehend.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Shrove Tuesday and Division
Year B: On the Long Strands of History
Year C: On Instructing the Ignorant and Why We Sacrifice

Manners Maketh

Many Meetings

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

‘Welcome and well met!’ said the dwarf, turning towards Frodo. Then he actually rose from his seat and bowed. ‘Glóin at your service,’ he said, and bowed still lower.
‘Frodo Baggins at your service and your family’s,’ said Frodo correctly, rising in surprise and scattering his cushions.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

God says: ‘Why do you recite my commandments and profess my covenant with your mouth? You hate discipline; you cast my words behind you!'” (Psalm 50:16-17)

Manners today exist in a strange limbo. No parent will ever pronounce their desire to raise their child without manners, yet even amidst calls for greater civility in our discourse and interactions, manners are often viewed as stuffy, archaic, or from the dreaded realm of privilege. Certainly the great “informalization” of society–and the anonymous engagements that social media and other digital forums provide–have undermined manners as a foundation of society. And there is a danger to manners: that they might be artificial, a thin veneer covering evil thoughts and evil deeds. But nevertheless we should stand in defense of manners, from the little acts of kindness to the large displays of respect. For manners begin with intentionality and effort; they require us to go out of our way and take time to show deference, honor, or love to another. They signal our understanding of other cultures and ways of live (as Frodo does when he properly responds to Glóin), and allow us to appreciate the things others matter most without artificially making them our own. They reinforce and normalize our behaviors, ideally steering us to naturally choose to embrace our neighbors and the stranger. We are more than manners, but manners do matter.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Transparency and Jealousy
Year B: On the Last Homely House East of the Sea
Year C: On Sheep and Other Sheep and Because Middle-earth Lacks a Proper Short-term Property Rental Platform

Be Made Clean

A Knife in the Dark & Flight to the Ford

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

Aragorn threw the leaves [of athelas] into boiling water and bathed Frodo’s shoulder. The fragrance of the steam was refreshing, and those that were unhurt felt their minds calmed and cleared. The herb had also some power over the wound, for Frodo felt the pain and also the sense of frozen cold lessen in his side.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’ The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.” (Mark 1:40-42)

The wounds of the world often rend both body and spirit. Physical ailments can lead to spiritual desolation and bitterness; the turmoil of the soul may be so strong as to cause our bodies to ache. Whether by our own decisions, the actions of others, or unpreventable happenstance, we gain our own form of leprosy, of wraith wound. We are called to become clean, but the dirt takes many forms. We may scrub ourselves of some of it–by resisting a culture of filth and advocating for the fair treatment of others, for example–but from much we need to be cleansed by someone else. Like Frodo, we need to be bathed and cared for to reduce the pain; like the leper, we need to seek out a power that can make us clean. As we approach Ash Wednesday and the true start of Lent, we call to mind our sins, our leprosy, our dirt that is in need of cleaning–we seek out the Sacrament of Confession, and the forgiveness of others. And we hope that with absolution and reconciliation we might feel refreshed, calmed, and cleared, and reduce the pain we carry in both our bodies and souls.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Black Pursuit and Resistance
Year B: On the Wilderness
Year C: On the Name of a Woman and So You’ve Been Attacked by a Black Rider

The Inn

At the Sign of the Prancing Pony & Strider

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

The Inn of Bree was still there, however, and the innkeeper was an important person. His house was a meeting place for the idle, talkative, and inquisitive among the inhabitants, large and small, of the four villages; and a resort of Rangers and other wanderers, and for such travelers (mostly dwarves) as still journeyed on the East Road, to and from the Mountains.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Lord, you have been our refuge through all generations.” (Psalm 90:1)

For the traveler, the inn is a welcome sight. For the modern sojourner, the inn provides lodging, warmth and space, and the opportunity for food, drink, and perhaps companionship. But for those on the roads of different times and different places, the inn is so much more. Its walls and residents provide safety from the hostility of the lonely wilds; its history and inhabitants provide intelligence and wisdom for the journey ahead. The Inn at Bree is a refuge from cold, and rain, and Black Riders; it is also space for Butterbur and Strider to set the hobbits on a right course. Yet an inn can only provide these things to those behind its doors and near its fire; far better is the refuge that a companion like Strider can provide in every locale. It is quite clear then why the ancient Jews and Christians saw in God an ever-present refuge—but how should we in times of ease and security understand this descriptor? Perhaps in the same way we desire an inn after a long day of travel: even if we aren’t assailed by Black Riders, we are still in need of rest, and comfort, and wisdom for the times to come.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On That Which Looks Foul And Feels Fair and Identity
Year B: On the Problems of the Man in the Moon
Year C: On Barliman Butterbur and When Expectations Do Not Meet Reality

The Voice of Authority

In the House of Tom Bombadil & Fog on the Barrow Downs

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

Raising his right hand [Tom] said in a clear and commanding voice:
Wake now me merry lads! Wake and hear me calling!
Warm now be hear and limb! The cold stone is fallen;
Dark door is standing wide; dead hand is broken.
Night under Night is flown, and the Gate is open!

To Frodo’s great joy the hobbits stirred.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Jesus put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (that is, ‘Be opened!’) And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.” (Mark 7: 33-35)

Tom Bombadil is a mysterious figure: even Tolkien himself did not full understand what he was in the context of his story. Yet here, as earlier with Old Man Willow, he imitates Christ in his authority. By his voice, Tom opens prisons and restores memories and perhaps even wakes the dead; by his touch, Tom casts out Wights and calms restless spirits. The parallels to the Gospel–with today’s deaf man, with Lazarus, with so many miracles of Christ–is clear. Tom wages no battles or struggles, like the road Frodo and friends will have to face: Tom’s voice is authority, commanding even the most resilient of forces. Yet Tom is not dependable because his power is limited: his boundaries are finite, and therefore his authority too. Christ is the one without boundaries or limits, and therefore we can seek to hear his voice waking us from Night under Night wherever we might travel.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Boundaries and Ownership
Year B: On One Whose Boots Are Yellow
Year C: On Clothing the Naked and When Ghosts and Legends are Real

We Go Too

A Conspiracy Unmasked & The Old Forest

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

‘But I must go,’ said Frodo. ‘It cannot be helped, dear friends. It is wretched for us all, but it is no use your trying to keep me. Since you have guessed so much, please help me and do not hinder me!’
‘You do not understand!’ said Pippin. ‘You must go–and therefore we must, too.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.'” (Genesis 2:18)

There is a tension throughout The Lord of the Rings between the need for companionship and fellowship with the duties and sacrifices of the individual. The Ring is Frodo’s burden, and basically his alone: but Gandalf and Gildor (and later Elrond) all advise not to take his journey alone, but instead surround himself with those trustworthy. There will be a Fellowship of the Ring, but it will fracture quickly. Many characters ahead have perilous roads and important tasks for them to complete, but almost always they will have one or two companions with them for support. In fact, it is when Frodo and Gandalf are most alone that they are in the most danger. In our Lenten journey–and throughout our lives–we are called to acts of justice, mercy, and love that only we can perform. Yet, it is not good for us to be alone, and therefore we are given companionship, community, and Church: for help and not hinder, to travel also where we must go.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Songs Which I Have Never Heard and Secrets
Year B: On Fredegar Bolger
Year C: On the Inquisitiveness of Friends and Mysteries of an Old Forest

Dangerous People

Three Is Company & A Short Cut to Mushrooms

Clearly an overreaction (Source)

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

Frodo said, ‘Thank you very much indeed for your kindness! I’ve been in terror of you and your dogs for over thirty years, Farmer Maggot, though you may laugh to hear it. It’s a pity: for I’ve missed a good friend. And now I’m sorry to leave so soon.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Jesus said, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.'” (Mark 7:14-15)

A common observation in The Lord of the Rings is that “what seems fairer feels fouler” and vice-versa. Those working for Sauron at first glance seem respectable, and offer gifts and promises of good things. Upon deeper observation and reflection, however, their inner nature reveals itself in its corrupt and defiling foulness. On the other hand, Gildor and his Elves, Farmer Maggot and his dogs, even Merry in disguise briefly: each of these from a distance seems remove, frightening, and dangerous. And in their own way, they are dangerous, but their “foul” appearance hides a fair and well-meaning nature that meets good with goodness. The clichés for such a lesson are all too trite–never judge a book by its cover, don’t rush to judgement–but what we need instead is the habit of discernment: to pause in examination to realize what is real and what is disguise, the exterior from the interior.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Hopes of the Passing People and Elf-Friend
Year B: On Mushrooms
Year C: On Mercy and Unexpected Companionship


A Long-Expected Party & The Shadow of the Past

Not all is labor (Source)

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

Bilbo said, ‘I feel I need a holiday, a very long holiday, as I have told you before. Probably a permanent holiday: I don’t expect I shall return. In fact, I don’t mean to, and I have made all arrangements. I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts.'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:1-3)

The word “holiday” clearly derives from a combination of the words “holy day,” which is to say that a holiday is sacred time. We might have two conceptions of a holiday in mind when the word is used, which only sometimes align with one another: a Holiday that has some sort of religious or external significance, and a holiday which is a sort of vacation. The later is only a recent development, but one with value: for “vacation” comes from the Latin vacare, “to be empty, free, or at leisure.” A holiday is meant to be a time of rest, even from the beginning, from the first holiday ever divinely ordained. Yet it is not a time of slothfulness, but instead a time of renewal: reflection on past work accomplished, freedom from daily burdens and anxieties, and enjoyment of the fruits of “ordinary” time. We rest at leisure because life is not all labor and activity, and because there is holiness in even the completion of things.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Conversations and the Fields of Knowledge and Sin
Year B: On Sin and Festivity
Year C: On Temporal and Eternal Celebrations and The Feast Before the Fast

In the Beginning

Concerning Hobbits, and other matters

Tales from the beginning (Source)

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

The beginning of Hobbits lies far back in the Elder Days that are now lost and forgotten. Only the Elves still preserve any records of that vanished time, and their traditions are concerned almost entirely with their own history, in which Men appear seldom and Hobbits are not mentioned at all.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)

Most of our history is lost. We know much of what has happened the last century, and perhaps could amass evidence to piece together most of the century or two before. The next dozen centuries are a random assortment of preserved writings and archeological discoveries and speculations understood to be true when first posited (and then critiqued often thereafter). The great happenings of Greece and Rome we have but a sliver; for the entirety of peoples who lived from generations we have but a name. Which makes the thread of the story we do have–for we had our own Elves, our own Chosen People, who preserved a glimmer of the past in their traditions and history–that much more marvelous. For here we have a glimpse of the beginning, of history inaccessible otherwise, of the start of the story of salvation, for anyone to hear.

Want to Read More?
Year A: “On Being Sheltered” and “Perseverance
Year B: “On the Things That Define Us”
Year C: “On Calendars” and “Before We Begin


The Council of Elrond


An argument (Source)

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

‘Now come!’ said Gandalf. ‘Pray, do not interrupt, my good Gloin. That was a regrettable misunderstanding, long set right. If all the grievances that stand between Elves and Dwarves are to be brought up here, we may as well abandon this Council.'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain.” (James 4:1-2)

We hear so much about division today: internal division, irreconcilable division, division as the fundamental driver of our politics, society, and even Church today. But our divisions, even those perhaps not long ago set right, prevent us from achieving the common good and working against our common challenges. As we enter Lent tomorrow, we must work to temper our passions–our distrust, our envy, even our hatred of the “other”–so that we fulfill our promise. Should we only wallow in past misunderstandings and grievances, we shall never find what we are looking for.

Past Reflections:
Year A: On Shrove Tuesday
Year B: On the Long Strands of History
Year C: On Instructing the Ignorant