Deliberation and Decision

The Breaking of the Fellowship

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

‘Well Frodo,’ said Aragorn at last. ‘I fear that the burden is laid upon you. You are the Bearer appointed by the Council. Your own way you alone can choose. […] Most likely it seems that if Gandalf were here now the choice would still wait on you. Such is your fate.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.” (Jonah 3:6)

Like the Fellowship, we cannot forever deliberate. We might long-rely on the wisdom of the Elronds, Galadriels, and Gandalfs in our life; but eventually their advice will reach it bounds, or they will no longer be present to give us direction. We can let the Great River of life take us where it flows naturally, but eventually we must choose a shore, and choose a road West or East. There is a time for deliberation, and then there is a time for decision. And it is important that we take the time to deliberate and discern, collecting as much information as possible, weighing outcomes, and seeking to check our emotions, biases, and weaknesses. But often excess deliberation–“just an hour more”–masks the recognition of the inevitable: that we have made a decision, but fear to act upon it. Whether out of conflicting responsibilities and competing senses of duty, like Aragorn, or out of concern of how our decision will impact our family and friends, like Frodo, we hesitate. But instead we should follow the example of the king of Ninevah, and embrace our decisions after deliberation is done. We must be both hasty and not hasty, as a certain someone will tell us; we should hold discernment and action equally in both hands.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Temptation and Good Sense and Transgression
Year B: On Sundering
Year C: On News from the Seat of Seeing and When Things Go Awry

A Shot in the Dark

The Great River

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

‘Praised be the bow of Galadriel, and the hand and eye of Legolas!’ said Gimli, as he munched a wafer of lembas. ‘That was a mighty shot in the dark, my friend!’
‘But who can say what I hit?’ said Legolas.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

The consequences of our actions are often unknown to us, but they unfold nevertheless. Every shot in the dark finds a mark, whether the target or not; every decision has a result, whether intended or unforeseen. The habit of virtue trains our hands and eyes to be steady in the face of shadows, and the practice of charity gives us the bow by which to take a might shot in the dark. Though we cannot always see what we hit, we have faith that goodness sows goodness. When we act in accordance with the Divine, we have confidence that our actions will achieve a Divine end; though we may not live to see it, the arrow travels true.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Likenesses of the Kings of Old and Rescue
Year B: On the Passing of Time
Year C: On Drudgery and Dreariness and Meander

Considerations on Boats

Farewell to Lórien

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

The gift of boats comforted Aragorn much, not least because there would now be no need to decide his course for some days. The others, too, looked more hopeful. Whatever perils lay ahead, it seemed better to float down the broad tide of Anduin to meet them than to plod forward with bent backs. Only Sam was doubtful: he at any rate still thought boats as bad as wild horses, or worse.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Jesus said to Peter, ‘Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'” (Matthew 16:19)

Boats are a peculiar thing. In the hands of the untrained, they are as dangerous as wild horses; with training and skill, they open up whole new worlds for exploration and activity. Boats are a means to both food (through fishing) and trade; they have been used to settle new lands and conquer old shores. But what’s most interesting about a boat is that, up until the invention of the steam engine, to launch a boat–whether with sail or oar, canoe or galley–was to leave something to chance. The currents, waves, winds, and storms were not in a sailors’ power to control, or even often overcome. Therefore, boats are a reminder of the tension between our own wills and the whims of the world: no matter our intention or our strength, a boat may take us somewhere we do not expect. And that is a lesson for us spiritually too: when we lack control and cannot decide our course, sometimes we must let the waters of our life carry us down the river. We will eventually need to steer to avoid rapids or make for shore, but until then, we can take comfort and hope in the wild but seemingly eternal flow.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Time and Timeless Longings and Care
Year B: On the Gift of Three Golden Hairs
Year C: On Feeding the Hungry and Be Prepared

Of Hidden Things

The Mirror of Galadriel

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

‘Yes’, Galadriel said, divining Frodo’s thought, ‘it is not permitted to speak of it, and Elrond could not do so. But it cannot be hidden from the Ring-bearer, and one who has seen the Eye. Verily it is in the land of Lórien upon the finger of Galadriel that one of the Three remains. This is Nenya, the Ring of Adament, and I am its keeper.'”

And in today’s liturgy we hear:

Grant, almighty God, through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.” (Collect, First Sunday of Lent)

In the land of Lórien there is a hidden power. It cannot be seen directly by most, but its effects are visible to all. It can be assumed, presumed, suspected, or believed, but rarely what is hidden can ever be truly known.

In Frodo there is a hidden strength. It was not predicted or understood by most of the wise; it was not even really known to Frodo himself. Resiliency, determination, resolve, and commitment: these things are hidden behind the simple demeanor of a hobbit of the Shire.

In Christ there is a hidden richness. There is a wealth that cannot be counted, a hoard that cannot be seen. We see it in a mirror darkly, and we observe its effects: the sacrifices people make for it, the lives people live on its behalf. It is paradoxically the most proclaimed thing ever said by women and men and yet the most obscured from their minds.

Things that hidden: power, strength, richness beyond measure. That our eyes cannot see and our minds cannot imagine does not lessen what they are.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Remaining Who We Truly Are and Temptation
Year B: On What Even the Wisest Cannot Tell
Year C: On Love and On the Great Temptations

Battlefield Medicine


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

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