Gilraen | Sorrowful Mother

Meditation of the Day

After an even more horrifying encounter with an evil power, the Barrow-wight, our hobbits (and their ponies) are once again rescued by Tom Bombadil, who accompanies them to the edge of his domain, within a short distance of the Road, not far from the village of Bree. It is there, providentially, that a powerful new ally is waiting for them: Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Lord of the Dúnedain, last descendant of the line of Kings of Men that stretches back to Isildur and his father Elendil. It was they who overcame the Dark Lord Sauron an age ago, and took the One Ring from his hand. Like Frodo, Aragorn is one of the principal Christ-figures in the story. It is easy to recognize in him the traits of the Son of David, heir to the throne but cloaked in obscurity and lowliness. Thirty-nine generations separate him from his illustrious ancestor, much like the forty-two generations of Jesus’s genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel. To the inhabitants of Bree, however, he is “only” a Ranger, and they use a derisive nickname for him, Strider.

It is in the Appendices to LOTR that we learn the family history and genealogy of Aragorn. After his father was killed by orcs when he was only two years old, his mother Gilraen the Fair brought him to Rivendell, where he was fostered by Elrond. So great was the threat against him from the Enemy that he was not even told his own true identity or lineage until the age of twenty. He was known only as Estel, “Hope,” corresponding to his grandmother’s prophecy that hope would be born for their people. Many years later, as Gilraen sensed that her death was approaching, she and her son had their final parting, during which she uttered this desolate verse: “I gave Hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept no hope for myself.”

Although in this case it is the son who loses his mother and not vice versa, such a plaintive cry from the mother of the future King resonates with the sorrows that Our Lady was destined to endure, as Mother of the Messiah. The song of the angels at our Saviour’s birth was still fresh in her mind when Mary heard the prophecy of Simeon, that a sword would pierce through her own soul (Luke 2:35). Later, as she stood at the foot of the Cross, her grief was so immense that the Church’s Liturgy puts on her lips the words of Lamentations: “O all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow” (1:12).

To consecrate ourselves to Mary means to seek complete harmony between our hearts and hers. Like musical instruments, our hearts must become more and more tuned to hers, to the full range of her human emotions—from the heights of yearning and ecstasy at the birth of her Son to the total devastation of Calvary. Love desires to share every moment, every experience. As we grow in love for the Blessed Virgin, it is no longer enough for us to learn about the mysteries that unfolded in her life: we desire to be inside the mysteries, with her.

Prayer

STABAT MATER

Mother bowed with grief appalling must thou watch, with tears slow falling, on the cross Thy dying son!
Through my heart, thus sorrow riven, must that cruel sword be driven, as foretold – O Holy One!
Oh, how mournful and oppressed was that Mother ever-blessed, Mother of the Spotless One:
She, whose grieving was perceiving, contemplating, unabating, all the anguish of her Son!
Is there any, tears withholding, Christ’s dear Mother thus beholding, in woe – like no other woe!
Who that would not grief be feeling for that Holy Mother kneeling – what suffering was ever so?
For the sins of every nation she beheld his tribulation, given to scourgers for a prey:
Saw her Jesus foully taken, languishing, by all forsaken, when his spirit passed away.
Love’s sweet fountain, Mother tender, haste this hard heart, soft to render, make me sharer in Thy pain.
Fire me now with zeal so glowing, love so rich to Jesus, flowing, that I favor may obtain.
Holy Mother, I implore Thee, crucify this heart before Thee, guilty it is verily!
Hate, misprision, scorn, derision, thirst assailing, failing vision, railing, ailing, deal to me.
In Thy keeping, watching, weeping, by the cross may I unsleeping live and sorrow for his sake.
Close to Jesus, with Thee kneeling, all Thy dolours with Thee feeling, oh grant this – the prayer I make.
Maid immaculate, excelling, peerless one, in heav’n high dwelling, make me truly mourn with Thee.
Make me sighing hear Him dying, ever newly vivifying the anguish He bore for me.
With the same scar lacerated, by the cross enfired, elated, wrought by love to ecstasy!
Thus inspired and affected let me, Virgin, be protected when sounds forth the call for me!
May his sacred cross defend me, he who died there so befriend me, that His pardon shall suffice.
When this earthly frame is riven, grant that to my soul is given all the joys of Paradise!
Rhyming English translation by Beatrice E. Bullman

Musical Selection

Action Points

  • Spend five minutes (or longer) reflecting exclusively on what it felt like for Mary to see her divine Son dying the shameful death of the Cross, to behold helplessly the undoing of the Body that had been knit together inside her body.
  • Think of a specific person whose sorrow is too great for ordinary human consolation, and entrust them to the Sorrowful Mother.

To Go Deeper

Model of Consecration: Frodo (II)

Meditation of the Day

Once again, Frodo the Elf-friend will be our model of consecration. In the presence of this newly discovered mother, who graciously offers him and his companions complete safety and abundant consolation after their close brush with death in the Old Forest, he makes the appropriate response: he allows himself to “be converted and become like a little child” (see Matt. 18:2-4). Having only just stepped over the threshold and beheld Goldberry for the first time, he allows her to take him by the hand, and accepts her invitation to “laugh and be merry.” For a child, the world is still a place of new discoveries, of limitless possibilities, of wonder. A child doesn’t imagine that God is tired of creating, or of working marvels such as He worked in the Exodus or in the Gospels. And when bad things happen, a child can simply trust that the good God will make everything right again, in His good time.

In the presence of Goldberry, Eve Unfallen, Consoler of the Afflicted, Frodo allows the extreme stress of being the Ringbearer, hunted by the chief servants of Sauron, to simply ebb away from his mind and body, like standing in a waterfall. His heart is “moved with a joy that he did not understand,” and he spontaneously bursts out in a poem that reworks the words of Tom’s own singing about his beloved. Like the peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), its cousin joy is an unmistakable sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22), which in Tolkien’s world translates as the Secret Fire.

As Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, had to learn (John 3), it is not easy for a person used to adult ways to be born again! It requires letting go of deeply embedded patterns of self-protection and self-reliance. But in the presence of the Mother of God, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, He is poured out so evidently and abundantly that what seemed impossibly arduous before becomes almost effortless. This is the fruit of Marian consecration, and it is a grace we can be looking forward to tasting, even as we begin our journey.

Mary, bearing the guise of Goldberry, asks each of us: “Will you let me take you by the hand, clean you up, tend your wounds, nourish you, hold you in my arms, sing you to sleep? All is well in the Father’s house. All is peace and joy for those who obey my Son. Nothing passes doors or windows save moonlight and starlight and the wind off the hill-top.”

Prayer

Why I Love Thee Mary (excerpt)

(Last Poem of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face)

Fain would I sing, 0 Mother blest! the reasons why I love thee;
Why e’en to name thy name, with joy, O Mary! fills my heart;
And why the glorious thoughts of thee, in greatness far above me,
Inspire no fear within my soul, so dear and sweet thou art.
Yet, if I were to see thee now, in majesty stupendous,
Surpassing all the crowned saints in highest heaven above,
Scarce could I dream I am thy child, (O truth sublime, tremendous!
For I should think myself to be unworthy of thy love.
The mother, who desires to be her child’s best earthly treasure,
Must ever share its grief with it, must understand its pain.
Queen of my heart! how many years, thy sorrows had no measure;
What bitter tears thine eyes have shed, my worth­less heart to gain!
So, musing on thy earthly life, in Scripture’s sacred story,
I dare to look upon thy face, and unto thee draw nigh;
For when I see thee suffering, concealed thy mar­velous glory
It is not hard, then, to believe thy little child am I.
When Gabriel came from heaven’s courts, to ask thee to be mother
Of God Who reigns omnipotent to all eternity,
I see thee, Mary! then prefer to that great grace, an­other,
Through all thy consecrated life a virgin pure to be.
And so I now can comprehend, immaculate white maiden!
Why thou wast dearer unto God than heaven itself could be;
And how thy humble, human frame, with mortal weakness laden,
Could yet contain the Eternal Word, Love’s vast unbounded Sea.
I love thee when I hear thee call thyself the handmaid only
Of God, Whom thou didst win to earth by thy humility;
All powerful it made thee then, above all women, lonely,
And drew, into thy bosom chaste, the Blessed Trinity,
The Holy Spirit, Love Divine, o’ershadowed thee, 0 Mother!
And God the Father’s only Son incarnate was in thee.
How many sinful, sorrowing souls shall dare to call Him Brother!
For He shall be called: Jesus, thy first born, eternally.
And oh! despite my frailties, dear Mary! well thou knowest
That I at times, like thee, possess the Almighty in my breast.
Shall I not tremble at the gift, O God! that Thou bestowest ?
A mother’s treasure is her child’s:  I still my fears to rest.
For I, O Mary, am thy child! O Mother dear and tender.
Shall not thy virtues and thy love plead now with God for me?
Then, when the pure white sacred Host, in all its veiled splendor,
Visits my heart, thy spotless Lamb will think He comes to thee.

Musical Selection

Action Points

  • Reflect upon what you have to lose (only your foolish pride) and what you stand to gain (the kingdom of Heaven) by forsaking adult ways and putting your hand in Mary’s, with complete confidence and surrender.
  • When was the last time you can remember singing for sheer joy? Improvising a song, without caring how “good” it was? Maybe today would be a good day to recapture that spirit of childhood.
  • Compose your own version of “Why I Love Thee Mary.” And recite it to her.
  • Learn more about St. Thérèse’s Little Way.

To Go Deeper

Goldberry | Eve Unfallen; Consoler of the Afflicted

This post is dedicated to Daniel Côté Davis, a friend I’ve waited years to meet.

Meditation of the Day

After only narrowly escaping from the pursuit of the Black Riders in Buckland, the hobbits (now four, with the addition of Merry) make the decision to head into the Old Forest–a place of enchantment, known in the Shire from old tales of animate trees with a hostility to creatures that go on two legs (and wield axes). It is a risky gamble, and their course soon begins to go astray, despite their best efforts. They find themselves inexorably drawn by a seductive magic emanating from the dark heart of the forest. Finally they yield to the desire to sleep, whereupon Merry and Pippin are entrapped within an evil tree, Old Man Willow, which also attempts to drown Frodo. They are saved, in the very nick of time, by one of the most enigmatic characters in the novel[1]: Tom Bombadil, who seems blissfully unconcerned about the malevolence of the enchanted trees . . . and just about any other potential threat, at least within his own domain. He laughs, he sings, he makes silly rhymes, he gathers flowers.

These and other traits that we learn about later, at the Council of Elrond, lead many readers and interpreters of Tolkien to see in Tom a kind of Adam figure; that is, Adam before the Fall, still endowed with supernatural and preternatural gifts, and fully exercising his dominion over the created world. “‘Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn'” (Bk1 Ch8). Like our first parents, Tom is simply “the Master.” Nothing frightens or dismays him—not even the One Ring, which can tempt even the wisest and most powerful beings among the Free Peoples of Middle-earth. He lives in a little earthly Paradise.

This Adam has a “helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18): Goldberry, who identifies herself as a “daughter of the River.” Although she has features in common with the nymphs of Greek and Roman mythology, this River-daughter is much closer to humankind: both noble and down-to-earth. Frodo’s spiritual sensitivity picks up the difference between her and the Elves he has met: “Less keen and lofty was the delight, but deeper and nearer to mortal heart; marvellous and yet not strange” (Bk1 Ch7). Upon entering the cottage where she and Tom live and catching sight of her, the hobbits immediately and instinctively bow low, even though they have no idea who she is, and hobbit society is relatively non-hierarchical. Yet we see her fully engaged in the very concrete tasks of domestic life (including the laundry!), and she is more attuned to the material and emotional needs of her guests than Tom at least gives the appearance of being. With a Christian lens, we can easily see her as Eve Unfallen, tender of the Garden, living in the fullness of the gifts with which the Creator endowed her.

In their traumatized state, no doubt the hobbits would have seen her as a mother figure, someone completely safe, whom they could trust to take complete care of them. It is significant, in this context, to recall that Frodo and Sam (at least) among the four hobbits were motherless. To encounter a mother figure after such a narrow escape from mortal peril would have been all the more consoling.  Frodo’s mother died by drowning in a river, in a tragic boating accident, and he has just barely escaped drowning himself. Since Goldberry is the River-daughter, it may even be plausible to see in this encounter an even deeper source of emotional healing: The River is giving Frodo back a mother when he most needs one. It is not surprising that the hobbits instinctively feel closer to Goldberry and trust her more than Tom (as shown when they ask her to explain who he is).

Tom and Goldberry have complementary gifts, that combine to make their simple cottage a haven of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty in close proximity to places of extreme danger for ordinary mortals. While Goldberry is symbolically associated with the element of water, Tom is associated with the element of fire (light). In the natural world, the union of the two elements produces a rainbow, the Biblical sign of God’s primeval covenant of peace with creation. This is fittingly depicted in Alan Lee’s painting of the House of Tom Bombadil:

It may seem like a sharp contrast to go from venerating the high Queen of Heaven a few short chapters earlier to receiving very concrete care from a maiden in a cottage. Yet Mary is both of these together, for us. She is at once exalted and close to us in our humanity. Her freedom from the stain of sin should not make us think of her as aloof and indifferent. She is the most eminent member of our race, after the Son of God, but she is still one of us. She belongs to us, and we to her. She is the Consoler of the Afflicted, the one we should be quick to turn to in every need, big or small. We can feel completely safe in her presence, as safe as the hobbits did at Goldberry’s table. She wants to be called upon with that degree of ease and simplicity. She wants to say to each of us, no matter what we’re facing: “Fear nothing! My Son, the New Adam, has redeemed you.”

Prayer

Arise! the cold blasts from earth have receded,
And in the fields are lovely flowers smiling,
For thee, O gracious Mother, bearer of Life.
Arise, O Mary!

Beautiful Lily blooming ‘mid the brambles,
Death’s haughty author thou alone didst conquer,
Plucking life-giving tree of fruits the fathers
By sin did not taste.

Ark of sweet wood not destined for ruin,
Holding the manna, whence springs forth the power
Summoning forth the bones arisen again
From depths of the tomb.

Thou handmaid, faithful to the Ruler of hearts,
Thy flesh cruel decay could never even touch,
Thy soul of Spirit partaking without end,
Has winged to the stars.

Leaning on thy beloved, arise, go heav’nward!
Accept the crown with stars for thee bedecked,
List to the hymn thy children sing on this day,
Calling thee blessed.

Praise to the Triune Godhead everlasting,
Who hath caused thee, O Virgin, to be crowned,
And providently willed our Queen thou shouldst be
Also our Mother. Amen.

– From: An Approved English Translation of the Breviarium Romanum. London: Burns & Oates, 1964

Musical Selection

Where Are You Mother? feat. Isabel Bayrakdarian

Action Points

  • If we have arbitrarily and unilaterally excluded certain areas of our lives from our Blessed Mother’s care, especially hurts and areas of struggle, let’s consciously choose instead to entrust them to her, today.
  • We can learn more about the medieval wordplay “EVA–AVE.”
  • Like Tom gathering flowers for his lady, we can decorate an image of Our Lady with flowers, or even make a crown of flowers for her.

To Go Deeper

Bonus: Audio Recording

In the House of Tom Bombadil
Old Tom Bombadil and the River Daughter © 2020 by Daniel Côté Davis. Used with permission.

[1]“To one reader, Tolkien said that he did not know Tom’s origin, though he could make ‘guesses’, if he chose to do so, but preferred to leave Tom a mystery. To another, he commented that some things in the world of The Lord of the Rings should remain unexplained: ‘even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)’” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (p. 9), HarperCollins, Kindle Edition.