T;LotR (aka: TL;DR, Lord of the Rings edition)

As the whole world knows, since I’ve squealed about it to just about everyone for the last few months, I’m leaving for New Zealand today. And by that I mean, Middle Earth. It feels like a pilgrimage. Which feels weird to say.  So before you bemusedly believe me a mere super-fan, here’s a taste of why my love for The Lord of the Rings runs so deep.

More than any other fictional narrative, The Lord of the Rings is the catalyst for my spiritual imagination. Growing up, my father read the stories out loud to my brother and I, along with The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess and the Goblin, and many other masterpieces of fiction and fantasy. Long before I began to understand the beauties of the Word of God, its essential story of brokenness, hope, death-that-leads-to-life, redemption, sorrow-in-the-night-but-joy-in-the-morning, fellowship, ultimate restoration, and love-beyond-comprehension was made manifest in my spirit through Tolkein’s world. His story has helped me see my own more clearly and more deeply. For me, Middle Earth is the topography of the life of faith, an image that recalls my wandering heart to the truth of the Gospel.

Acting, speaking and even reflective thinking may at times be too demanding, but we are forever seeing. […] We see clearly or vaguely, but always we find something to see. But what do we really choose to see? […] Just as we are responsible for what we eat, so we are responsible for what we see. […] A spiritual life in the midst of our energy-draining society requires us to take conscious steps to safeguard that inner space where we can keep our eyes fixed on the beauty of the Lord.

Henri Nouwen | Behold the Beauty of the Lord

I wear the One Ring on my finger, a memento mori of sorts that we are all heading towards death. While our cause of death is beyond control, the manner of our death never is. We can choose to die all at once, or in small steps towards Mount Doom. Frodo and Sam, and the rest of the Fellowship, by repeatedly choosing their own discomfort, loss, and pain, embody the life of faith that does not go unrewarded—right when all seems lost, “here at the end of all things,” morning dawns. The weight of the ring grows heavier each day towards the grave, but co-extant with that sorrow is the joy of hope. This joy wounds like swords, more beautiful for how it has rent you of all things that made you seem small and weak, just a hobbit from the Shire. Joy that renders you glorious.

And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.

“The Field of Cormallen” |The Return of the King

As for me, I envy the clarity of Mt Doom. It may be awful and menacing, but it is always in sight. Most days, I don’t know where my Mt. Doom is. It lurks and hides, and veils itself under familiar objects or forgotten memories.  Too often, I feel like Lady Eowyn, trapped by brokenness but desperate to go, to fight, to be of use. I fear a cage of my own smallness and weakness. What can I possibly do in this evil world? I long for battle, to hurl my body and soul into a clash that may destroy me utterly. Maybe then my meager and pitiful life will be of some use. But this is the belief of one living under the shadow, and that is not who I am anymore. I have passed through the Houses of Healing, healed by the Returned King. The hands of the King are the hands of the healer, and that is how I know He is the King.

Then the heart of Eowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her.

“I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun,” she said; “and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren. […] No longer do I desire to be a queen.”

“The Steward and the King” | The Return of the King

To wonder over the fullness of Gospel mirrored in The Lord of the Rings will have to be a conversation we have together, if you like. For now, suffice it to say that this is my paradigm, and this is why I follow King Jesus. Because He has healed me and set joy in my heart which will forever be my strength. No other compares to Him. And every little death I die will only make me more glorious, more like the creature, the workmanship, the poeima He has said that I am. And that He said you are, too, if you will enter under His Kingship.

I was talking with a friend the other day about our mythos, the long and many-chambered narrative that undergirds our lives. The belief that our lives are continually part of a larger story, although we may not always know or perceive what that tale is. I believe this is the gift of faith. Keeping your hand on the string of the plot, even if you are walking in darkness. Remembering that the string was with you in the steps you just took, and trusting in its tautness as a sign that it must continue on ahead of you as well.

The Road goes ever on and on,

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.

I despise the path of obscurity, but I am learning to love it. Goodness is small, and mighty deeds are only accomplished in the pursuit of insignificance. We are most definitely too small to comprehend or handle this world on our own. The twin gifts of Fellowship and Faith are given to see us through.

I’m going there and back again. (Unless I find Faramir. Then all bets are off.)

2 thoughts on “T;LotR (aka: TL;DR, Lord of the Rings edition)

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