When Things Go Awry

The Breaking of the Fellowship

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When the road ends, a new road is required (Source)

Despite our best intentions, our plans often don’t unfold as we intended. Circumstances change. New information arises. Mistakes are made. Involved parties disappoint us.

How do we respond in those moments? When things go awry, do we panic, like Merry and Pippin? Do we freeze with indecision, like Sam almost did? Do we become bitter, angry, or resentful, like Boromir briefly?

Or, instead, do we approach disrupted plans with patience and thoughtfulness, like Aragon and Sam (eventually)? Do we stay committed to our causes even if they require uncomfortable new approaches, like Frodo? Do we recognize that sometimes change and sundering is necessary to achieve the goal for which we originally set out?

For most of us, its probably a little of both: sometimes we are at our best, sometimes we disappoint. Lent is long, and our plans for small efforts – fasting, abstaining from some habit, praying more, doing new good deeds – will likely be disrupted by work, school, family, and other changes. When things go awry, let us strive to respond with a little more wisdom and understanding. So that we habituate ourselves to react well to the major changes that will happen in our lives.


Past Reflections:
Year A: On Temptation and Good Sense
Year B: On Sundering
Year C: On News from the Seat of Seeing

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Meander

The Great River

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How fitting that a river bend is also called a “meander” (Source)

The pace of our modern life is quick and hasty. Though we have more time in terms of freedom from necessity, chores, and basic survival than any of our ancestors, we nevertheless feel that we don’t have enough of it. We anxiously rush from one thing to another; and when we aren’t rushing, we self-medicate ourselves on social media and streaming services to make ourselves “feel” busy.

From where comes this great speed and concern? In part, I think, it derives out of a fear for the boring and mundane, supplemented by a sense of jealously for others’ experiences and a fear of missing out. In part, I think, it also derives out a deep-seated sense that reflection and pause might unnerve us, causing us to realize that our lives are not as we want them to be.

What then to do? We must take to the Great River, and let it flow at its own pace. Lent provides us a chance to slow down, meander, and reflect: if we choose not to paddle for a little while, the river will still carry us on. And this new speed may let us see what others have left before us: wisdom from the past, and direction for the future.

How are we being called to “meander” this Lent? Where can I give up some of my control and haste to allow for self-reflection and stillness?


Past Reflections:
Year A: On the Likenesses of the Kings of Old
Year B: On the Passing of Time
Year C: On Drudgery and Dreariness

Be Prepared

Farewell to Lórien

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The Scouting Emblem (Source)

The Boy Scout motto is “be prepared.” These words have multiple meanings that one comes to understand over time: that training is the best preparation for life’s challenges, and that the Boy Scouts seeks to prepare boys to be excellent men. But at its most foundational and simplest level, be prepared is about not setting out on one’s adventures – whether they be camping, hiking, or marching to Mt. Doom – without having the right tools for the job.

Frodo did not leave the Shire with the supplies necessary to get to Mordor. Rivendell provided some nice additions (his sword Sting, his mithril coat), but here in Lórien does the Fellowship receive as gifts the tools necessary to see them through the long journey ahead. Lembas bread to sustain them. Rope to overcome obstacles. A light for dark roads ahead. Even some of the most basic of gifts – Boromir’s belt, for example – will play a role before the end.

Throughout our lives and this Lenten journey, we too have been given tools – training, knowledge, relationships, even material things – to help us on the pilgrimage. We may not know precisely where our steps shall take us, but we like the Fellowship strive to follow the Scout motto and be prepared for whatever we face.

As such: how can I prepare for the challenges on the road ahead? What gifts have I been given that can serve as tools to overcome whatever obstacles I face?


Past Reflections:
Year A: On Time and Timeless Longings
Year B: On the Gift of Three Golden Hairs
Year C: On Feeding the Hungry

On the Great Temptations

The Mirror of Galadriel

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The Temptation of Christ in St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice (Source)

It is fitting that this chapter coincides with the First Sunday of Lent. For no matter the liturgical year, the gospel for this Sunday tells of the same story: the temptation of Christ in the desert. Safe behind the Elven walls, three of our characters – Sam, Frodo, and Galadriel – also face their own temptations.

For Sam, the great temptation is turning back: worrying about what might be or could be, and giving up on the friendship and loyalty promised to Frodo. For Frodo, the great temptation is giving up: succumbing to the seeming impossibility of the task before him, and giving over the Ring to those who “ought” to possess it. For Galadriel, the great temptation is giving in: embracing the most base and self-interested parts of her personality over the virtuous habits she has cultivated over the long years of exile.

In the end, all three resist their great temptation, just as Christ did. To do so, they all rely on the same thing: strength in the knowledge of what is – the words of Scripture, the commitment of a vow, the love of a relationship. Amidst the whispers and shadows of what might be, what could be, what is not, only the truth can ground us and allow us to resist the great temptations.

What are my great temptations? How can I rely on true things – Scripture, vows, friends and family – to help resist them in my life?


Past Reflections:
Year A: On Remaining Who We Truly Are
Year B: On What Even the Wisest Cannot Tell
Year C: On Love

Hidden Beauty

Lothlórien

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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

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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

A Quick Step into the Darkness

A Journey in the Dark

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In the darkness, what good or ill shall we find? (Source)

It is only day two of our Lenten journey, and already we have reached darkness: a great foreboding, empty, uncomfortable expanse. Moria. There’s no slow start to our pilgrimage, both in Middle-earth and in our daily lives. The Fellowship has already raced against time, fought off wolves, and plunged into unknown depths. The Enemy is in pursuit; decisions must be made, and people trusted, even if there’s been little time to get to know Gimil, Legolas, and Boromir as we’d like.

So too, us. Immediately upon walking out of Ash Wednesday services we were probably bombarded by noise, haste, and anxiety: to get back to work or school, to get caught up on activities delayed, to prepare for the next hour and next day. What’s more, we likely almost immediately faced temptation again: to give up this fast, to set aside things abstained or promised, to fall into the allure of our perennial sins. No slow start to our Lent: our spiritual battle, our quest for Calgary, begins in full force.

And that’s challenging, for we don’t feel ready. But in these early, faltering days of Lent, there are small moments of comfort too. For already we can uncover hidden riches in the dark places of our souls. Already we can recall wisdom and writings that cut through the complexities we wish to weave around our lives. Already we can see how friends and family, colleagues and strangers, may help us in the days ahead. We can see the outline of the pieces of the puzzle that are coming together.

So, like Frodo and the Fellowship, we step into the Lenten darkness and ask: what riches and wisdom have I already uncovered? And what friends and fellow pilgrims do I have to help me along the way?


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