We Have Been Too Leisurely

The Palantír

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

Gandalf said, ‘There remains a short while of doubt, which we must use. […] It may take some time before he learns his error. We must snatch that time. We have been too leisurely. We must move.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we pray to you. Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.” (Daniel 3: 41-43)

We have been too leisurely: we have assumed we had limitless time, endless opportunity to make things right and change our ways. We have approached the things that matter with only casual interest: we have prioritized the fleeting and ephemeral over the permanent and Last Things. There remains only a short while of doubt: before we become set in our ways, before the institutions and structures that orient us to the Good become too brittle, before we undermine and enfeeble the people we love the most. We must snatch the time, and return to God with our whole heart. With vigor and energy, we must seize the reconciliation and renewal of this Lent as if it might be our last–for it might be our last. Our time upon the Earth is but a short while: we have been too leisurely. We must move.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Temptation to Sin and Forgive
Year B: On the Lost Seeing Stones
Year C: On Forgiving Others and Leadership

The Ordinary and Extraordinary

The Voice of Saruman

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

‘Later!’ Saruman cried, and his voice rose to a scream. ‘Later! Yes, when you also have the Keys of Barad-dûr itself, I suppose; and the crowns of seven kings, and the rods of the Five Wizards, and have purchased yourself a pair of boots many sizes larger than those you wear now.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Naaman’s servants came up and reasoned with him. ‘My father,’ they said, ‘if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.’ So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (2 Kings 5:13-14)

Naaman expects the prophet to perform some extraordinary feat to cure him of his leprosy; he is instead give a simple task at a common river. Saruman believes Gandalf wants extraordinary power and control over both the realms of men and wizards; in reality, Gandalf has a simple goal and some unassuming requests of his adversary. The extraordinary contrasts with the ordinary: we expect wonders and great deeds, intense rituals and marvelous accomplishments from our leaders, our God, perhaps even from ourselves. Yet we should care not of the spectacle defining the activity but instead the nature of the activity itself, and what it seeks to achieve: a cure for leprosy, a chance for reconciliation, a means to defeat greater evil. Unassuming are the ways of Elisha and Gandalf, but because of their ordinariness, they point to things greater than themselves.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Modernity and Deep Waters
Year B: On Speech
Year C: On Treachery and Meeting Your Opponent at Last

The Waters of the Ents

Flotsam and Jetsam

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

‘He has not,’ said Merry. ‘But Ents only drink, and drink is not enough for content. Treebeard’s draughts may be nourishing, but one feels the need of something solid. And even lembas is none the worse for a change.’
‘You have drunk of the waters of the Ents, have you?’ said Legolas. ‘Ah, then I think it is likely that Gimli’s eyes do not deceive him. Strange songs have been sung of the draughts of Fangorn.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Jesus told a parable: ‘His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’'” (Luke 15:21-24)

The water of the Ents is the sustenance of nature: it is nourishing and refreshing, encouraging growth beyond what’s normal and causing change that cannot be ignored.

The lembas of the Elves is the perfection of the culinary arts: it is sustaining and invigorating, allowing action and perseverance beyond what’s normal in a small, accessible form.

The meal at Isengard is the embodiment of dining: it brings contentment and pleasure, regardless of what’s provided, because it is shared among companions.

Ent water, Elvish bread, Fellowship meal: they themselves are something, both perfect and incomplete. But they also point to something more, a type of nourishment causing inescapable change, sustaining beyond expectation, shared among companions. The triumph of bread and wine, the heavenly food: Eucharist.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Small Mysterious Details and When the Churches Close
Year B: On Being Positively Hasty
Year C: On the Paying of Debts and the Smoking of Pipes and Let Me Tell You a Story

Repair the Evil in Which You Have Joined

The Road to Isengard

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

A great man of the hillmen had given themselves up; and they were afraid, and cried for mercy. The Men of the Mark took their weapons from them, and set them to work. […] The men of Dunland were amazed, for Saruman had told them that the men of Rohan were cruel and burned their captives alive.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: ‘Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?’ They answered him, ‘He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.’” (Matthew 21:33-41)

The men of Dunland deserve death, for they have brought great evil upon the people of Rohan. They have betrayed their past relationships; they have slaughtered the messenger, the solider, the captain of the King’s guard. Greater evil they intended had not their fortune failed them. Yet, the men of Rohan offer not death and judgement, but restoration and mercy. Work–repair the evil in which you have joined–then swear to never do this again. Penance–reconcile and make amends–and then turn away from sin. Forgiveness is not passive for either party; it requires sweat and tears, restraint and gratitude. This Lent, we recall that we too deserve death: our focus is on the sacrificial mercy of Christ that absolves the proper judgement. But let us not be passive, but recall the sins we have committed upon our neighbors and our strangers. Let us swear against such deeds, and work to repair the evil in which we have joined.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Being Drawn and All We’ve Forgotten
Year B: On a Few Well-earned Comforts
Year C: On the Glittering Caves of Aglarond and When Your Birthday Falls within Lent

The Martial and the Human

Helm’s Deep

(Source)

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

Turning to Aragorn and Éomer and the men of the king’s household, Gandalf cried: ‘Keep well the Lord of the Mark, till I return.'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

The rich man said to Abraham, ‘He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’” (Luke 16:27-28)

For being such a pivotal moment in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien does not linger on the Battle of Helm’s Deep. The entirety of the battle takes place in about half a chapter; we spent half a dozen chapters wandering out of the Shire. Compared to the lengths Peter Jackson went in his films to showcase the ebbs and flows of this battle, here we find faint details. Throughout his works, Tolkien rarely expounds upon the gritty details of war: perhaps it is a shortcoming of his writing style, or a consequence of his time in the trenches of WWI. But there may also be some purpose to the paucity. War is consequential, and wars against evil are important: there is no question of that, or Tolkien would not have told this story. But alongside war there is relationship, and it is ultimately the choices, sacrifices, and bonds of the characters that drive our tale to its conclusion. For Tolkien, the martial never overshadows the human.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Taking Stock and Making Preparations and Trust in the Unseen Power
Year B: On Spiritual Warfare
Year C: On the Dawn and We Shall Never Surrender

At Your Service

The King of the Golden Hall

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

‘Take this, dear lord!’ said a clear voice. ‘It was ever at your service.’ Two men had come softly up the stair and stood now a few steps from the top. Éomer was there. No helm was on his head, no mail was on his breast, but in his hand he held a drawn sword; and as he knelt he offered the hilt to his master.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Jesus said, ‘Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Matthew 20:26-28)

Examples of service abound in today’s passage. We have the scheming, manipulative offer of service by Grima; the loyal and steadfast service–end amidst false accusation–of Éomer; the silent and underappreciated service of Éowyn; the role-reversed aid and support of Gandalf. All in service of Théoden, who as king performs his own form of service for his people. In these diverse examples of service we have much that can be called for to guide our own reflections. Who do we serve, and out of what intention? Does our service whether trials, whether appreciated or not? Who is in need of our steadfast commitment–and who needs brief aid from us to rouse them from their darkness? We are called to serve to obtain true glory, to give to receive so much more: Lent provides us a time to rethink how we serve, and renew our relationships of service.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Defending the Honor of One’s Lady and The King Arises
Year B: On Halls, Horsemen, and Horns
Year C: On Counseling the Doubtful and Dark Times

Empty Victories

The White Rider

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

Gandalf said, ‘But Isengard cannot fight Mordor, unless Saruman first obtains the Ring. That he will never do now. He does not yet know his peril. There is much that he does not know. […] I look into his mind and I see his doubt.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool. If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; but if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken!” (Isaiah 1:18-20)

The tide has begun to turn against Sauron, but for Saruman, it is already over. The key to his success is already beyond him, though he does not know it; his betrayal is now known to Rohan and Mordor, and whichever proves the victor will not allow Isengard to share in the victory. He has isolated himself without realizing his peril; he has shown his cards and gained only doubt in return. Such are the empty victories of evil: no matter what Saruman does now–no matter how many armies he defeats, no matter how many homesteads he burns–he will lose. He has only one hope, one chance, one possibility: to turn away from evil, to renounce his actions, to set things right. Alas, given his pride, we shall see that this is near impossible for him. And so Saruman, even while amassing his huge army, is trapped in his lies, his betrayals, his pride, and his doubts: a dreadful place to be.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Memory and The Humble Servant
Year B: On the Turning of the Tide
Year C: On the Division of Darkness and And Then We Meet Again

The Entwives

Treebeard

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

Treebeard said, ‘The Entwives ordered [the plants] to grow according to their wishes, and bear leaf and fruit to their liking; for the Entwives desired order, and plenty, and peace (by which they meant that things should remain where they had set them). So the Entwives made gardens to live in. […] Yet here we still are, while all the gardens of the Entwives are wasted.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Justice, O Lord, is on your side; we are shamefaced even to this day: we, the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem, and all Israel, near and far, in all the countries to which you have scattered them because of their treachery toward you.” (Daniel 9: 7)

Hear now the sad tale of the Entwives: not dead, but lost; not gone forever, but long-vanished. Nature’s two-pronged identity is represented in the complicated relationship between Ent and Entwives: the wild and the cultivated, the free and the ordered, the dangerous uncertainty and the plentiful peace. The Ents loved the Entwives (and Entwives at least endured them), but they could not live together in harmony: now Treebeard and his fellow Ents hope for a world where tree and fruit can be as one, an almost pciture of Eden before the fall. The works of evil have destroyed the gardens of the Entwives, and they are scattered; the forest of Fangorn have been severely reduced, and now even what’s left is in danger. There’s a lesson here about the stewardship of nature, about the benefits of both the wild forests and the tame orchards, about the unwholesome act of wanton destruction. But there is also a sadder, quieter reflection: about hopeless hope, and long-lost loves, regrets deep enough for songs, and the end of things as they were. The Entwives are but a memory, and fleeting in our story–even Treebeard remembers little–but they remain a small detail that pulls at our hearts.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Good Judgement and Ripples of Transgression
Year B: On Not Being Hasty
Year C: On Quenching the Thirsty and The Power of the Natural World

Like a Sack

The Uruk-hai

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

An Orc seized Pippin like a sack, put its head between his tied hands, grabbed his arms and dragged then down, until Pippin’s face was crushed against its neck.”

And in Scripture we hear:

Jesus said to Peter, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’” (John 21:18)

We are trapped, captured, tied up, held prisoner, roughly treated, manhandled, seized, crushed and carried off like a sack by our sins. Like Pippin, we knew the risks and we were foolish; like Pippin, we now find ourselves regretful but seemingly without escape. We are being led where we do not want to go: we know the ultimate consequences of our sins, and we wish not to be taken yet. But with sin, especially those most persistent, most addictive, most deep-seated sins, we can feel like a sack: without agency, without hope. But we can have agency, however small, and hope, however fall off. We can seek to understand our sinful ways and therefore look for opportunities for small acts of resistance and defiance–cut off the ropes that bind us, run off to leave a token of our intention to reform. And even amid the orcish stink of sin, we know that help is always encircling like a band of horsemen. Christ seeks after us with a swiftness that would put even our Three Hunters to shame. Through Sacrament and sacrifice, we can shake off our sackish state.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Missing a Major Part of the Action and Orcs Among Us
Year B: On Orcs
Year C: On Lies and I Can’t Believe the News Today

On the Horses of Dead Men

The Riders of Rohan

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

A great dark-grey horse was brought to Aragorn, and he mounted it. ‘Hasufel is his name,’ said Éomer. ‘May he bear you well and to better fortune than Gárulf, his late master!'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

You say, ‘The LORD’s way is not fair!’ Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” (Ezekiel 18:25)

Hasufel and Arod: these were the horses of now dead men of Rohan. They lived, while their masters perished. For the people of Rohan, horses are their pride and joy: we know the names of both horses, but not that of the man who rode upon Arod in happier times. Hence the disgust of Éomer on the thought of giving equine tribute to Mordor, and the disquiet of the Rohirrim at loaning a near equivalent of their flesh and blood to these strangers, these Three Hunters from afar. Is it fair that the man should die while the horse lives? Is it fair that our prized possessions should be given over to the stranger, while the long, harsh road belongs to us? The horses of dead men remind us of how little we know, and how narrow our ways are. The memory of those who have passed lives on in what they cultivated and cherished; Hasufel and Arod will carry their new Riders to great deeds and fortune against the enemies of Rohan. What is fairer than seeing what one’s loved preserved against the destructive darkness? What ways are better than one’s legacy being succoring the restoration of all good things?


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Sleep and The Bounds of the Law
Year B: On Being Too Short to Have One’s Head Cut Off
Year C: On Ransoming the Captives and Reflections on Physical Health