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

Fates Worse than Death

“On Fairy-stories”

In today’s passage from Tolkien we read:

And lastly there is the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape: the Escape from Death. […] Fairy-stories are made by men not by fairies. The Human-stories of the elves are doubtless full of the Escape from Deathlessness. But our stories cannot be expected always to rise above our common level. They often do. Few lessons are taught more clearly in them than the burden of that kind of immortality, or rather endless serial living.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

God said to Abraham: ‘Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust  on a height that I will point out to you.'” (Genesis 22: 2)

Death is often describe as the ancient enemy of man: ubiquitous, unescapable, final. It is our oldest and deepest fear, hence it is our greatest challenge. We may wrestle with, confront, invite, ridicule, embrace, or attempt to ignore death, but in the end, it comes for us all. And yet, there are things worse than death: there is endless serial living, immortality without finality, deathlessness without restoration of life, as Tolkien writes in his essay. There is also reject of the Creator, betrayal of the Source of All Things, a turning away from the good, true, and beautiful, as our Scriptures suggest. In the Christian tradition, these are one in the same: the one who turns from God lives but lives serially; the soul is never destroyed, but instead endures without completeness. It is the emptiness, this hollowness, this severing, which is a fate truly worse than death. Our Lenten pilgrimage calls forth that image to rouse us from our lethargy, and strive like Abraham to seek a better end.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Stories Suited for Children and The Greatest Fairy-story Ever Told
Year B: On Eucatastrophe
Year C: On the Defense of Fantasy and Transfiguration

When the Churches Close

Flotsam and Jetsam

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Will our hearts open, though the doors must close? (Source)

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

The Ents left the plain and gathered round Treebeard, standing quite still. He spoke to them for a little in their own language; I think he was telling them of a plan he had made in his old head long before. Then they just faded silently away in the grey light.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.” (Luke 15:14)

We have found ourselves now in a time of extra-extraordinary crisis, recognizing that, as C.S. Lewis said, all of life, especially from a Christian perspective, is one of extraordinary-ness and crisis. We are self-isolating; we are anxious and afraid; our schools, our stadiums, even our churches have closed. It is bitter to see a place of refuge and succor like a church have to close to ward off disease. Yet perhaps there is no more fitting time than Lent for this to happen. For in a sense, we have been forced to sacrifice our regular spiritual routine–our liturgies, our Sunday obligation, our day-to-day norms–and fast from them this Lent. Such a fast, while not desired, will help us truly understand how deep the roots of our faith run–or how much we have been relying on comfortable ease in our relationship with the Divine.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Small Mysterious Details
Year B: On Being Positively Hasty
Year C: On the Paying of Debts and the Smoking of Pipes

All We’ve Forgotten

The Road to Isengard

s-l1600

Of days old (Source)

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

Said Gandalf to Theoden, ‘Is it so long since you listened to tales by the fireside? There are children in your land who, out of the twisted threads of story, could pick the answer to your question.'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Recall the wondrous deeds he has done, his wonders and words of judgment.” (Psalm 105:5)

We are a people of the now, of the immediate. Things of last year, last month, even yesterday, are dimly remember, even though they seemed so important to us then. In politics, in society, in our workplaces, in our families, we ask: “What now, what next?” Yet there so much wisdom in what should remember less dimly: history, lore, even stories. There was a reason these stories of our ancestors, of our past, were woven, told, and written down: to recall the wondrous deeds that have been done. And if we revisit them, hear them again, we may find answers to questions we have long struggled with.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Being Drawn
Year B: On a Few Well-earned Comforts
Year C: On the Glittering Caves of Aglarond

Trust in the Unseen Power

Helm’s Deep

download

The dawn (Source)

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

‘I look out to see the dawn,’ said Aragorn. […] ‘No enemy has yet taken the Hornburg. Depart, or not one of you will be spared. Not one will be left alive to take back tidings to the north. You do not know your peril.'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.” (Jeremiah 17:5,7)

Things looked grim for Aragorn and his friends at Helm’s Deep. They were outnumbered and surrounded; the fighting was fierce and their morale thin. The greatest source of courage, the embodiment of supernatural strength in Middle earth, Gandalf, had rapidly departed. Yet Aragorn held hope in the dawn and the arrival of unforeseen aid, and prophesied woe to the forces arrayed against him. Even if the great times of uncertainty, we too must hold confidence not in the power of princes, but the in the trust of the greatest of lords


Past Reflections
Year A: On Taking Stock and Making Preparations
Year B: On Spiritual Warfare
Year C: On the Dawn