Wounded Land

Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit

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

They had not come very far from the road, and yet even in so short a space they had seen scars of the old wars, and the new wounds made by the Orcs and other foul servants of the Dark Lord.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Let us know, let us strive to know the LORD; as certain as the dawn is his coming, and his judgment shines forth like the light of day! He will come to us like the rain, like spring rain that waters the earth.” (Hosea 6:3)

Long after the transgression, the land remembers the hurt. Fire and flood, poison and excavation, demolition and destruction: all can permanently shape the lands around which they occur, influencing the growth of trees, the flow of rivers, the pathways of rockfalls, the patterns of animals. The art of stewardship is recognizing our role in these transgressions, at acting more orc-like than hobbit-like in our handling of created nature. That in and of itself is a good thing, but it also trains us to see the transgressions and hurts we carved into mountains and forests of the people around us. Our souls are like Ithilien, fair and yet damaged, in the midst of a struggle between good and evil: our lands are ever in danger of these passing and permanent wounds.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Long Descriptions of Nature and Action in Confinement
Year B: On the Edible Virtues of Coneys
Year C: On the Correspondence of Conflict and What’s for Dinner?

A Shrewd Mind

The Black Gate is Closed

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

Sam frowned. If he could have bored holes in Gollum with his eyes, he would have done. His mind was full of doubt. […] While these doubts were passing through Sam’s slow but shrewd mind, Frodo stood gazing.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Let him who is wise understand these things; let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the LORD, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them.” (Hosea 14:10)

Samwise, despite his name, isn’t the wisest of the Fellowship members. He possess neither great mastery of lore (despite his poetry on Oliphaunts), nor strategic intellect to overcome Frodo’s current predicament. He is neither a master of words or deeds: Sam’s strengths are his steadfast loyalty and resilient hopefulness. And a shrewd, if slow, mind. It is Sam who tallies the observations about Gollum and correctly guesses his intentions; it is Sam who recognizes the things that should and should not be said to keep Gollum from realizing Frodo’s true intentions. There is a hidden prudence about Sam–what might be called “common hobbit sense”– which grounds him and keeps him focused. While that may appear as simplemindedness, in these chapters we realize the sharpness of Sam’s keen mind.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Finding the Gate Barred Against You and Hope in Hopeless Times
Year B: On Oliphaunts
Year C: On Discernment and An Impassable Obstacle

Bitter Reality

The Passage of the Marshes

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

Frodo said, ‘They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Jesus said, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself,  how will his kingdom stand?'” (Luke 11:17-18)

Compare today’s description of the Dead Marshes with Elrond’s recollection of the Last Alliance and the battle against Sauron: for it is here that the battle took place, and these foul and rotting corpses are the remnants of those valiant Men and Elves. There is no doubt that Tolkien is channeling into these passages his experiences of WWI: the death and destruction, the stench and the decay, the bitter reality of war. That both the glory of the Last Alliance and the disgust of the Dead Marshes exist in The Lord of the Rings speaks to the philosophy of Tolkien: he is neither a pacifist nor a warmonger. The consequence of sin–the division of people from God and from one another–may require conflict, and there are noble efforts to fight off evil. But war is never a good thing in and of itself, and its consequences, however important, are always mixed with foul, rotting death.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Corpse Road and Swamp No More
Year B: On the Internal Monologue of Temptation
Year C: On Dead Grasses and Rotten Reeds and Unintended Devastation

The Long Chain of Mercy

The Taming of Sméagol

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

‘Very well,’ Frodo answered aloud, lowering his sword. ‘But still I am afraid. And yet, as you see, I will not touch the creature. For now that I see him, I do pity him.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Moses said, ‘However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.'” (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Arguably (and without spoiling the end of the story), the entire success of the Fellowship and successful conclusion of The Lord of the Rings depends on this moment here. The choice by Frodo to spare Gollum’s life–the mercy the hobbits show on one who had intended to kill them–will link in a chain of moments and choices all the way to the slopes of Mount Doom. But this choice by Frodo did not arise from nothing: instead, it links back all the way to Moria, to Rivendell, to the Shire, to the first conversation Frodo had with Gandalf about the Ring and Gollum. The seeds of pity and mercy were sown by the Wizard before Frodo had even left his hobbit hole, and they have germinated throughout his journey. Now they spring forth, and will bear fruit both sweet and bitter through the pages to come. Yet ultimately when that fruit ripens it will be for salvation of all. The chain of mercy is long and winding, and we often forget how it was first forged: but as Frodo and Gollum show us, it tethers us to unexpected hope.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Forgetting About One’s Rope Until One’s Master is Half-way Down a Cliff Side and Law and Language
Year B: On the Book That No One Likes
Year C: On Admonishing the Sinner and The Gollum Within Us All

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

Love of Thy Neighbor

“The Book of Jonah”

In today’s passage from Tolkien we read:

Yahweh replied to Jonah, ‘You are only upset about a castor-oil plant which cost you no labour, which you did not make grow, which sprouted in a night and has perished in a night. And am I not to feel sorry for Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?'” (Jonah 4:10-11)

And in today’s liturgy we hear:

Direct, O Lord, we pray, the hearts of your faithful, and in your kindness grant your servants this grace: that abiding in the love of you and their neighbor, they may fulfill the whole of your commands.” (Prayer over the People)

It is not enough to say, “I love my neighbor.” The fulfillment of all the commands of God rest upon love of Him and neighbor: therefore, the love of neighbor must be significant, weighty, meaningful. It is not enough for Jonah to listen to God’s command after his experience in the whale; it is not enough for Jonah to have to go to a foreign city that he might naturally describe as the foe of his people. The lesson that God imposes on Jonah is to want the best for his neighbors, however hostile: to celebrate their repentance and change of heart, instead of desiring their destruction and God’s wrath. The anger of the Lord is real and just; but the mercy of the Lord is far preferable. Let us pray this Third Sunday of Lent for the grace to have true compassion for our neighbors, no matter our relationship–and hope for the salvation of all.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Holding of Grudges and Having Been Scattered
Year B: On This Fish, of Which the Author is Fond
Year C: On Translations and In the Belly of the Whale

Action in Confinement

Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit

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A tight space can feel stifling, in both the home and the soul (Source)

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

‘But still we will not sit idle and let Him do all as He would,” said Mablung. ‘These cursed Southrons come now marching up the ancient roads to swell the hosts of the Dark Tower. Year up the very roads that craft of Gondor made. […] The road may pass, but they shall not!'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Let us know, let us strive to know the LORD; as certain as the dawn is his coming,
and his judgment shines forth like the light of day!” (Hosea 6:3)

Most of us live now in some sort of confinement: social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine. Under this duress, our own planning (or lack there of) can turn against us: the roads we had built in our lives to facilitate efficiency, ease our busy schedules, allow for frequent social gatherings, are now used by the Enemy to make us anxious, to make us lonely, to tempt us to doubt and despair. And so, even with the land swelling with uncertain darkness, we must act even in our confinement. Simple intentional choices–to reach out even remotely, to pray even frustrated, to help even a previously-unknown neighbor–are what allow the light to continue to shine forth. In continuing the cause of life and love even through this trial, we are even more so coming to know the Lord.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Long Descriptions of Nature
Year B: On the Edible Virtues of Coneys
Year C: On the Correspondence of Conflict

Hope in Hopeless Times

The Black Gate is Closed

blackgate02

Before the Black Gate (Source)

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

After all Sam never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning; but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

I heard a tongue I did not know: ‘I removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands moved away from the basket. In distress you called and I rescued you.'” (Psalm 81:7 8)

When faced with overwhelming circumstances–things beyond our power to control, to influence, to even understand–what is our response? Do we fall into despair? Or do we resolve ourselves to persevere nevertheless? For even in situations where human hopes seem thwarted, there is a higher form of hope: a hope in a promise long ago given and renewed in every generation, that has rescued us before in our distresses.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Finding the Gate Barred Against You
Year B: On Oliphaunts
Year C: On Discernment

Swamp No More

The Passage of the Marshes

668px-Christ_triumphing_over_Death_and_Sin_mg_0050

Christ Triumphing over Death (Source)

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

‘Yes, yes,’ said Gollum. ‘All dead, all rotten. Elves and Men and Orcs. The Dead Marshes. […] The Marshes have grown since then, swallowed up the graves; always creeping, creeping.'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into being what does not exist.” (Romans 4:17)

The Dead Marshes exists in its terribleness, but they are not a natural phenomenon. They are powered by the Dark Lord, and though it is not stated explicitly in Tolkien’s work, there is reason to believe that they might recede and fade should Sauron be defeated. For that has what has happened in our own world: Christ has drained the swamp of sin and death that once had entrapped us all. And as such, there is no pestilence so great, no disease so extensive, no chaos so strong that can stand against the overwhelming power of He who has authority over the living and the dead.


Past Reflections
Year A: On the Corpse Road
Year B: On the Internal Monologue of Temptation
Year C: On Dead Grasses and Rotten Reeds