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

A New Covenant

Ainulindalë 

In today’s passage from Tolkien we read:

Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike to the former theme, and it gathered power and had new beauty. But the discord of Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it, and there was again a war of sound more violent than before, until many of the Ainur were dismayed and played no longer, and Melkor had the mastery. Then again Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that his countenance was stern; and he lifted up his right hand; and behold, a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others. For it seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies, but it could not be quenched, and it grew, and it took to itself power and profundity.

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt;  for they broke my covenant, and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

The coming of Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Law, the establishment of a new covenant. The world had broken the original covenant with God, but God had not; and the new covenant was “like and yet unlike” the former covenant. And even though the discord of sin and human weakness raged against Christ then and against Christ now, still the new covenant grows, unable to be quenched, taking upon “itself power and profundity.” It completes the promise of the Old while being itself something entirely New; its ripples across our hearts, and only deepens amid the uproar contending with it.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Majesty and Sharpness and That Which Has No Foretelling
Year B: On Music
Year C: On the Splendor of Ilúvatar and An Entertainment Proposal

Our Plans

The Pyre of Denethor

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A room for planning (source)

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

‘Pride and despair,’ Denethor cried. ‘Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind? […] The West has failed. It is time for all to depart who would not be slaves.'”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

The chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, ‘What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.’ 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 11:47-54)

Most of us regularly think ahead: we plan, we prepare, we make arrangements, we set out schemes. And while planning in both unavoidable and often useful, our plans can leave us inflexible and closed off to the changing of circumstances or the wisdom of those greater than us. We think we know how things should play out; we think if our way doesn’t work, there is no other way. But the ways of God are not the ways of man, and we are called to plan and prepare not in pride but in humility: ever revisiting and redirecting our plans to better conform to the Great Plan over all.


Past Reflections
Year A: On What Ifs
Year B: On Agony
Year C: On the Work of the Enemy

The Turning of the Tide

The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

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We are yet another day closer to the end of these trails (Source)

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

But the hosts of Mordor were seized with bewilderment, and a great wizardry it seemed to them that their own ships should be filled with their foes; and a black dread fell on them, knowing that the tides of fate had turned against them and their doom was at hand.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.’ 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.” (Jeremiah 20:10b-11)

We are currently living in a period of crisis. We feel entrapped: it seems like we have been surrounded by fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and sickness, and that this will forever be our world. And yet, the tide is beginning to turn, as we make sacrifices to stymie the disease and reconnect with one another for support. God is shaping our hearts and minds in this storm, and there is the potential for us to shape a better world from the lessons of it: a less haughty society, with greater kindness and connection. Whether the tide officially turns today, tomorrow, or at some later date, when it does let us make it a great wizardry that allows us to rise stronger out of it.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Odes, Ballads, and Epics
Year B: On Laughing in Defiance of One’s Certain Demise
Year C: On the Rush to Judgment 

Long-lasting Promises

The Ride of the Rohirrim

478px-Philippe_de_Champaigne_-_Moses_with_the_Ten_Commandments_-_WGA04717

Moses and the Ten Commandments (source)

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

‘If you are faithful, Ghan-buri-Ghan, then we will give you a rich reward, and you shall have the friendship of the Mark for ever.’”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7)

Its hard to imagine offering such a commitment, such a promise, as a covenant–as an everlasting pact. In our own times, full of constantly changing circumstances and easy ways to void contracts and get out of arrangements, to commit to something for ever–a marriage, a family, a cause, a God–seems foreign and irrational. And yet, we need covenants, for they are the firm foundation upon which we stand amidst the turmoils and changes of our lives. Without such commitments, we are ever adrift, ever uncertain, ever uncomfortable; with such pacts, we are confident, hopeful, and augmented in our strength.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Hidden Ways
Year B: On Uncivilized Peoples
Year C: On Feeling Fully Alive