The Unshakeable Shadow

The Black Gate Opens

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

And from that evening onward the Nazgul came and followed every move of the army. They still flew high and out of sight of all save Legolas, and yet their presence could be felt, as a deepening of shadow and a dimming of the sun; and though the Ringwraiths did not yet stoop low upon their foes and were silent, uttering no cry, the dread of them could not be shaken off.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.” (John 13: 21-22)

This year has been a year of unshakeable shadow: of deepening and dimming, of darkness and dread. Our great fear has been largely silent and invisible, but it has plagued us, haunting our steps, following our ever move, making its presence known. We have been limited and stymied; we have been forced to hide in our homes, or abandon friends and family, or live in growing anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. The pandemic has been like a hoard of Ringwraiths, ravaging not only our physical bodies and communities but also eating away at our minds and hearts. We are deeply troubled, even with an end now in sight. For we know there are some wounds that cannot be fully healed, and some pains that remain with us forever: as we approach the culmination of our Lenten journey, we must remember the Cross bears both the sorrow and the glory, and that we cannot banish the shadow, only walk as light among it.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Eagles’ Coming and ‘Tis Not Our Victory
Year B: For Frodo
Year C: On Deeds Within Measure and To Whatever End

To the Very Brink

The Last Debate

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

At length Aragorn spoke. ‘As I have begun, so I will go on. We come now to the very brink, where hope and despair are akin. To waver is to fall.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ (John 12: 7-8)

We come now to the very brink. The final week–Holy Week. Everything–our entire Lenten pilgrimage, all of salvation history, the entire creation of the Universe–culminates in this week. All our efforts in travel with the Fellowship, defending Rohan and Gondor, uniting the peoples of Middle earth, are meant for this moment. No matter how much or how little we have been able to give to our quest up to now, we have a final chance: for prayer, for fasting, for almsgiving. A final week at the brink to focus and reflect, to prepare for wonders beyond our capacity to imagine, for sorrows deep and joys everlasting. The challenges of the world are always with us, but here at the brink we have this special period with Christ. Let us redouble our efforts and renew our intents: as Holy Week begins, let us not waver, but instead go on.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Last Throw of the Dice and In the Face of Endless Darkness
Year B: On the Promise of Men
Year C: On Gulls and Other Birds and The Week Called Holy


The Houses of Healing

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

Aragorn said, ‘This City and realm has rested in the charge of the Stewards for many long years, and I fear that if I enter it unbidden, then doubt and debate may arise, which should not be while this war is fought.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. Those preceding Jesus as well as those following kept crying out: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mark 11:8-10)

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate again said to them in reply, ‘Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?’ They shouted again, ‘Crucify him.'” (Mark 15:11-13)

The crowd is fickle: in less than a week they go from welcoming Jesus as the Messiah to calling for Pilate to crucify him. It is no wonder Aragorn approaches with great care his entry into Minas Tirith, concerned that the people might rise and fall with passion and create a greater victory for the Enemy than that won by Strider on the field of battle. We might forgive the crowd, or make excuse for them–they were misled, they were enflamed, they didn’t know better, they were carried away by their emotions. Perhaps. And yet, they were fickle. They did not stay the course; they changed their minds on a whim and without hardly a reason. Fickleness, lukewarmness, inability to stand by one’s beliefs and principles: these are dangerous attributes, especially in these days of the social media mob and the cult of public opinion. Let us strive to reject our fickle ways and embrace the Truth: let us come out of our sleep longing to serve the King.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Qualities of a Ruler and The Need for Ritual
Year B: On the Longings of the Wounded Heart
Year C: On Visiting the Sick and The Need for Healing

A Lesser Vision

The Pyre of Denethor

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

Denethor said, ‘I will not be thy tool! I am Steward of the House of Anárion. I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart. Even were his claim proven to me, still he comes but of the line of Isildur. I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.’” (John 11: 49-50)

Blinded by our sins and weaknesses, we cannot see the full unfolding of the Divine plan. Instead of striving for greatness, we strive for mediocracy; instead of seeking renewal and restoration, we try to bring about stagnation and continualness. We, like Denethor and Caiaphas, have a lesser vision: we are unwilling to take the risks and make the sacrifices for the greatest of goods, instead settling for something half-baked and seemingly safe. We must resist such lukewarmness and cautiousness! We must chance everything for the sake of that which is Good and True and Beautiful. Nothing will ever be the same if we do, but in that change will be the seeds of something far greater than ourselves.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On What Ifs and Our Plans
Year B: On Agony
Year C: On the Work of the Enemy and Losses Despite the Victory

A Mighty Champion

The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

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

But before all went Aragorn with the Flame of the West, Andúril like a new fire kindled, Narsil re-forged as deadly as of old; and upon his brow was the Star of Elendil.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion. O LORD of hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart.” (Jeremiah 20: 11-12)

We are a very self-reliant society: we do not like to depend on anyone, or consider ourselves powerless against certain obstacles or certain barriers. Yet, deep down, we know our weakness, our fragility, and our ineptitude: we know that we cannot right all wrongs, or fix all hurts, or resist all sins. We lean on champions–both physical and spiritual, present and afar–to encourage us, empower us, but most of all triumph over that which we cannot succeed. We long for the glory of Aragorn in our midst; we long for victory on the Pelennor Fields of our lives. In our wisdom, however limited, we hope to discern some fleeting glimpse of the mighty championship of God in the midst of our mortal heroes: as leaders and doers, moral representatives and resolvers of wrong, we pray that they may live up to that standard.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Odes, Ballads, and Epics and The Turning of the Tide
Year B: On Laughing in Defiance of One’s Certain Demise
Year C: On the Rush to Judgment and Tranquility in the Chaos

A Sign

The Ride of the Rohirrim

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

Then suddenly Merry felt it at last, beyond doubt: a change. Wind was in his face! Light was glimmering. Far, far away, in the South the clouds could be dimly seen as remote grey shapes, rolling up, drifting: morning lay beyond them.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!” (Isaiah 7:10-11)

Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the feast of the sign. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son.” “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth.” “And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren. The virgin with child, the visit of an angel, the barren conceiving: signs that beyond doubt, things are changing. Signs of hope and light glimmering, and that morning is near. We are given these signs, not because we should need them, but because they give us opportunity after opportunity for our own “fiat”–to assent, to say yes to God, to ride now, ride now!

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Hidden Ways and Long-Lasting Problems
Year B: On Uncivilized Peoples
Year C: On Feeling Fully Alive and A Change in the Air

The Hour of Evil

The Siege of Gondor

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

‘Old fool!’ The Black Rider said. ‘Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!’ And with that he lifted high his sword and flames ran down the blade.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

King Nebuchadnezzar said: ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you will not serve my god, or worship the golden statue that I set up? Be ready now to fall down and worship the statue I had made, whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe, and all the other musical instruments; otherwise, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace; and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?'” (Daniel 3:14-15)

There comes a time in every person’s life of great despair and darkness. In this hour of evil, where all our plans have been foiled and all our good come to nothing, it is easy to curse in vain and think God absent from us. But the choice is not whether to have good or evil days, but instead how we respond to them. Even in the hour of evil, there remains the choice of stout resistance, no matter how seemingly futile, like Gandalf before the Witch-King. There remains the choice to hold fast to our faith and our morals, like the three men before Nebuchadnezzar. The cock will yet crow; Rohan will come at last.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Defense of Defenseless Things and Anger
Year B: On War
Year C: On Hope and Under Siege

The Heart Leaps

The Muster of Rohan

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

It was a language in which there seemed to be many words that Merry knew, though spoken more richly and strongly than in the Shire, yet he could not piece the words together. At time some Rider would lift up his clear voice in stirring song, and Merry felt his heart leap, though he did not know what it was about.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

LORD, hear my prayer; let my cry come to you. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.” (Psalm 102: 2-3)

Hidden in the the very end of The Lord of the Rings are the often-overlooked Appendices. They cover various matters: additional history and timelines (A and B), family trees (C), and calendars (D). But perhaps most out of place from the perspective of the novel (but most in line with Tolkien’s interests) are Appendix E and F, which cover writing, spelling, and language. There are so many absolutely unnecessary details in these pages, but rarely useless: it is here we learn that the Hobbits originally spoke the same ancestor language as the Rohirrim, which is why Merry’s heart can leap without him knowing what things were being said. There are things we do not know yet speak to the very root of who we are: as a person, as a people, as a species. The heart leaps from the taste of something which is both familiar and strange, both comforting and exhilarating.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Dull Grey Sky and A Call for Help
Year B: On the Red Arrow and the White Horse
Year C: On the Works of Long-forgotten Men and All Together Now

The Right and the Strength

The Passing of the Grey Company

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

Aragorn said, ‘Nay, my friends, I am the lawful master of the Stone, and I had both the right and the strength to use it, or so I judged. The right cannot be doubted. The strength was enough–barely.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

The assembly believed them, since they were elders and judges of the people, and they condemned her to death.” (Daniel 13:41)

Positions–whether acquired by inheritance or action, appointment or proclamation–have an associated power with them. The judge has the right to weigh a case and hand down judgements; an officer has the right to investigate and to arrest; a politician has the right to pass legislation. The challenge, however, is when the right falls into the hands of someone who doesn’t have the correct strength to wield it properly. Wisdom of discernment; moral conscience; resolve to see things correctly through–when these strengths are lacking, the holders of power succumb to their worst natures, become rigid, corrupt, or abusive. We seek the Aragorn’s over the elders of today’s passages not because of their lineages, but because of their character: the right cannot be doubted, but their strength remains to question.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Help Unlooked For and Delving into the Darkness
Year B: On Being Where We Are Meant to Be
Year C: On Duty and Prophecies


Minas Tirith

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

‘Indeed you did your best,’ said the wizard; ‘and I hope that it may be long before you find yourself in such a tight corner again between two such terrible old men.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said, ‘This is truly the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But others said, ‘The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he? Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So a division occurred in the crowd because of him.

The subtlest form of subterfuge performed by evil is the division of good things. Denethor needs Gandalf; Gondor needs Rohan; the Elves need the Dwarves; and yet, throughout our journey, time and time again we have seen what little resistance is left against Sauron undermined by internal division. Denethor sees Gandalf as a threat, as opposed to his rule, and therefore would hobble to defense of Gondor to ensure his family remains in power; Gondor doesn’t appreciate the battles fought by the people of Rohan, or understand the resistance playing out in other realms. Differing expectations, differing desires, differing goals: all have value until they counteract the Good itself. We must be willing to lay aside our plans for the sake of the defense of all things; when Gandalf arrives, we must cease our division.

Want to Read More?
Year A: On Service and Refuge
Year B: On Stewardship
Year C: On Cities and Hamartia