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

Care for the Fallen

The Departure of Boromir

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

‘First we must tend to the fallen,’ said Legolas. ‘We cannot leave him lying like carrion among these foul Orcs.’ […]
‘Then let us lay him in a boat with his weapons, and the weapons of his vanquished foes,’ said Aragorn. ‘We will send him to the Falls of Rauros and give him to Anduin. The River of Gondor will take care at least that no evil creature dishonours his bones.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Jesus said, ‘If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.  This is the law and the prophets.’” (Matthew 7:11-12)

Time is of the essence, yet we linger by the shores of the river to tend to the fallen. For Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, honoring the dead and ensuring a proper funeral is as important as pursuing either Frodo and Sam or Merry and Pippin–to a degree. Amidst a pandemic that has subsumed all rituals and personal presence around death for the sake of public health, in a society already so cold and sanitized to the end of life, this activity seems folly. Yet to Bury the Dead is an act of mercy; to care for one’s friend and companion, even after they have died, is a good thing. Those who have lost loved ones hold dearly to the acts of kindness and remembrance that take place in the days after the death: people are brought together, old ills are forgiven, old wounds slightly heal. And tending to the fallen has one final value, one other driving consideration: that death is not the end, and good even done to those gone for now will not be forgotten.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Evils of a Single Day and Anguish
Year B: On the Good and Tragic Death of Boromir, Captain of Gondor
Year C: On Our Tempest of Desire and Deathbed Repentance

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

Orcs Among Us

The Uruk-hai

22343664-0-image-a-12_1576574218395

Orcs (Source)

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

A long hairy arm took each of them by the neck and drew them close together. Dimly they were aware of Grishnakh’s great head and hideous face between them; his foul breath was on their cheeks. He began to paw them and feel them. Pippin shuddered as hard cold fingers groped down his back.

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘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)

God has made men and women in their diversity, and that variety is good. We need not worry that there are orcs among us; yet we feel their foul breath and cold fingers constantly. We create out of our fellow brethren orcs and goblins, with hideous faces and unsuitable qualities. Which is why the words of Christ have held such power for all these years: not because there are none who will not act like orcs, and treat us poorly, but because regardless of their behavior they are not orcs: not inhumane, not undignified, not unable to be saved.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Missing a Major Part of the Action
Year B: On Orcs
Year C: On Lies

The Bounds of the Law

The Riders of Rohan

10-ten-commandments-bible

The law (Source)

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

Eomer said, ‘It is against our law to let strangers wander at will in our land, until the king himself shall give them leave, and more strict is the command in these days of peril.’ […] ‘I do not think your law was made for such a chance,’ said Aragorn.”

And in today’s Scripture readings 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)

We enshrine in law, in code, in rules, and in statues those things that by some sort of authority (consensus, history, power) has been determined to be important to observe and to be followed. The law by its definition is not meant to be flexible and malleable, lest it no longer be law, yet because it is imperfect it cannot resist our interpretations and modifications. How we use the law – as a fortifier of the good, as a cudgel against our personal enemies – is the real question, and the one that leads us to consider how fair or unfair our ways are. For the highest law, the law of the Lord, is both fair and perfect, in that it is always true and yet always personable. For it has been manifest in a person – Jesus, the strange chance for us in these days of peril.


Past Reflections:
Year A: On Sleep
Year B: On Being Too Short to Have One’s Head Cut Off
Year C: On Ransoming the Captives

Anguish

The Departure of Boromir

220px-Esther

Esther (Source)

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

‘Alas!’ said Aragorn. ‘Thus passes the heir of Denethor, Lord of the Tower of Guard! This is a bitter end. Now the Company is all in ruin. It is I that have failed. Vain was Gandalf’s trust in me. What shall I do now?'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the LORD. She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, from morning until evening, and said: ‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand.'” (Esther 43:3-4)

Aragorn and Esther both feel powerless. They both feel helpless. They both feel like they have failed. They are in anguish because they seem alone, that their relationships and companion have failed, that things seem in ruin. And that emotion is magnified by decision they must make: for both are taking their own fate in their hand, deciding on a course of action among many bad options. We too can feel anguish at tough circumstances and even tougher decisions. In those times, let us pray that our first reaction will be like Esther’s – to put ourselves before the Lord first and see His guidance in our progression.


Past Reflections:
Year A: On the Evils of a Single Day
Year B: On the Good and Tragic Death of Boromir, Captain of Gondor
Year C: On Our Tempest of Desire