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

Holiday

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

Resistance

A Knife in the Dark & Flight to the Ford

Nazgul

Nazgul (Source)

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

With a great effort Frodo sat upright and brandished his sword. ‘Go back!’ he cried. ‘Go back to the Land of Mordor, and follow me no more!'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

‘You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” (Matthew 5:43-44)

This “love your enemies” passage of the Gospel is one of the most radical and hardest sayings in all of Scripture, and one that may not complement well a fantasy story of the battle between good and evil. Yet we know throughout the Bible and in the Christian faith there is much about resisting evil and standing up against injustice. So how do we square this circle? By focusing on the evil itself instead of its perpetrator, and resisting the urge to hate instead of hoping that the evil that others should do to us may yet be turned aside.


Past Reflections:
Year A: On the Black Pursuit
Year B: On the Wilderness
Year C: On the Name of a Woman

Identity

At the Sign of the Prancing Pony & Strider

Strider_in_Prancing_Pony_-_FOTR

Strider (Source)

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

‘But I am the real Strider, fortunately,’ he said, looking down at them with his face soften by a sudden smile. ‘I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will.’”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Jesus said to the disciples, ‘But who do you say that I am?’
Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’
Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.'” (Matthew 16: 15-17)

A hidden identify is made known to us today in both passages: Strider is not just a Ranger of the North, a traveler on the road, but Aragorn, the heir apparent to the throne and the fulfillment of the prophecies. Jesus is not just a carpenter of Nazareth, a preacher on the road, but the Christ, the heir apparent to the heavenly throne and the fulfillment of so many prophecies. Both Frodo and Peter have signs, stories, and observations to help them confirm their suspicions, but ultimately both must have faith and trust in what their heart is telling them: that the Enemy would look fairer and feel fouler, and that discernment can open the mind with Divine aid.


Past Reflections:
Year A: On That Which Looks Foul And Feels Fair
Year B: On the Problems of the Man in the Moon
Year C: On Barliman Butterbur

Ownership

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

John_Howe_-_Tom_Bombadil

Tom Bombadil (Source)

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

‘Tell me, if my asking does not seem foolish, who is Tom Bombadil?’
‘He is,’ said Goldberry, staying her swift movements and smiling.
Frodo looked at her questioningly. ‘He is, as you have seen him,’ she said in answer to his look. ‘He is the Master of wood, water, and hill.’
‘Then all this strange land belongs to him?’
‘No indeed!’ she answered, and her smile faded. ‘That would indeed be a burden.’”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Jesus said, ‘What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life?’” (Mark 8: 36-37)

Ownership and possession of the world and its things is a fundamental tenet of our modern society, and it weighs on us as a burden. We have gained such scientific knowledge, such wealth, such power of nature, such technical craft, and yet we continue to lose ourselves. We no longer know what is, no longer strive to be instead of do. To save ourselves, to preserve our lives, we are not asked to gain the whole world, to own and possess, but instead to sacrifice and dwell. For in mastership instead of ownership we more closely imitate our divine example.


Previous Reflections:
Year A: On Boundaries
Year B: On One Whose Boots Are Yellow
Year C: On Clothing the Naked

Secrets

A Conspiracy Unmasked & The Old Forest

Peters-Confession-at-Caesarea-Philippi

Peter and Jesus (Source)

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

‘But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo. Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word.'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ They said in reply, ‘John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘You are the Messiah.’ Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.” (Mark 8: 27-30)

Both the hobbits and disciples today wrestle with the notion of secrets. There are things that both Frodo and Jesus want their trusted confidants and friends to know – the burden of the Ring, the path the Son of Man must walk – but they also recognize the danger of that information being widely disseminated. So they must trust their secrets to those who would swear their loyalty and discretion. Perhaps too we have some great burden or secret that we carry we fear letting others in on. We must have confidence not to declare that secret void, but instead to discern who around us we can trust to face our troubles with us.


Previous Reflections:
Year A: On Songs Which I Have Never Heard
Year B: On Fredegar Bolger
Year C: On the Inquisitiveness of Friends