Frodo’s free decision to accept the Lady Galadriel’s invitation to look in her Mirror is a choice to adopt a contemplative stance, like hers. For him it functions as a rite of passage into the prophetic realm. Although he may have initially preferred to be given more straightforward advice about what he should do, he trusts in her deeper wisdom, and joins her in gazing upon “things that were, things that are, and things that yet may be.” His contemplation is not immediately gratifying, since he has only partial awareness of the meaning of the images that are revealed to him. Among other prophetic visions, he is shown Gandalf, whom he dearly loves and has been elegizing, but with no way of knowing for certain that it is he. Then the visions shift from the hopeful-yet-ambiguous to the horrific, as he beholds the Eye of Sauron and knows that it is searching high and low for him. Galadriel’s response suggests that whatever Frodo may think of his own wisdom, his experience with the Mirror reveals that he belongs to the most elevated circle—those who can be trusted with knowledge of the highest secrets. “Your sight is grown keener,” she tells him. “You have perceived my thought more clearly than many that are accounted wise.” Moreover, he is able to see her ring, Nenya, which Sam cannot.
Those who are unfamiliar with the true nature of prayer may imagine that it is a pleasant, restful respite from the demands of life in this world, a form of daydreaming or escapism. In actuality, prayer is a dangerous voyage into the heart of reality, which includes the cosmic conflict between light and darkness, order and chaos, good and evil. Like Frodo, those who dare to enter the prophetic realm will not remain unscathed. They need a wise, compassionate mentor to guide them through the perils of this adventure, to assist them in the delicate task of interpreting the images, words, and other symbols that will be uncovered. Mary, Queen of Prophets, Contemplative Warrior, is prepared to mentor us in this manner, if we will put our trust in her.
O beloved Mother, you know the ways of holiness and love so well, teach us to often raise our minds and hearts to the Trinity, fixing our respectful and affectionate attention on the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
And since you guide us along the path to eternal life, stay close to us poor pilgrims, open your arms to us, turn your merciful eyes towards us, bring your clarity to us, cover us with your sweetness, take us into light and love and always help us go a step further and higher into the splendours of heaven.
May our peace remain undisturbed and may the thought of God be always on our minds. May every new minute take us deeper into the depths of your venerable mystery until the day that our fully radiant souls, illuminated by the divine union, will see all things in the eternal Love and Unity.
Ven. Marthe Robin (1902-1981)
Identify the top obstacles that stand between you and a life of deeper prayer; then specifically entrust each one to Our Blessed Lady’s wise and gentle guidance.
Galadriel is unique among the rulers of Middle-earth. Her subjects do not reject the use of force, and during the War of the Ring they will need to repel direct military assault from the forces of Sauron; but unlike the Men of Gondor, for example, the people of Lórien do not rely primarily on military strategy to hold the Shadow at bay. Rather, like Melian the Maia (Lúthien’s mother) in the First Age, their Lady maintains her kingdom through a girdle of magic and concealment, and by what we might call the intrinsic power of her own holiness. “Three times Lórien had been assailed from Dol Guldur, but besides the valour of the elven people of that land, the power that dwelt there was too great for any to overcome, unless Sauron had come there himself” (Appendix B).
Hers, then, is fundamentally a spiritual combat against the Enemy. Like Our Blessed Lady, who “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:13), the Lady of Lórien is a contemplative warrior. She reveals this fundamental stance in her first address to the Fellowship: “Not in doing or contriving, nor in choosing between this course and another, can I avail; but only in knowing what was and is, and in part also what shall be” (Bk2 Ch7). This latter phrase resonates with the Johannine writings of the New Testament (the seer of Revelation beholds the God “who is and who was, and who is to come,” Rev. 1:4,8), as do also her comforting words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (a direct quotation of the twice-repeated appeal in Christ’s farewell discourse: John 14:1,27).
Galadriel’s mirror (see Wis. 7:26; 1 Cor. 13:12) is a symbol of her contemplative approach to the struggle against cosmic evil. As she explains to Frodo and Sam, the mirror “shows things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be” (Bk2 Ch7). It is by engaging profoundly with Being, with the Real and True, that she advances the cause of the Light against the Shadow. In accordance with the principle solemnly declared at the outset of John’s Gospel, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (1:5), the Dark Lord has not been able to comprehend her mind: “I say to you, Frodo, that even as I speak to you, I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves. And he gropes ever to see me and my thought. But still the door is closed!’” (Bk2 Ch7). This puts her in marked contrast to two male leaders of the time, Saruman and Denethor, who despite their immense mental powers and strength of will were indeed “comprehended,” and deceived, by Sauron when they used their palantíri. It is not because Galadriel is more intelligent that her mind remains immune to Satanic infiltration, but because she is pure of heart. She is obedient to Being as it comes from the hands of the Creator. She seeks to attune herself to reality-truth as it is, rather than bending reality-truth to her own will. In particular, she does not seek to dominate—or even unduly influence—the free choices of other persons; hence her principled refusal to give any counsel to Frodo or any other member of the Fellowship.
The Virgin Mother of God, as we entrust ourselves to her, will teach us the true means of overcoming evil, both in ourselves and in the world. Yes, energetic, virtuous, and even heroic action is required. Frodo has to physically bring the Ring to Mount Doom. Aragorn has to use his sword to defeat flesh-and-blood enemies in battle. But the most essential activity for any of us is to simply abide in God, to be-in-relationship with Him, to learn His character, to attend to Him and to what He desires to receive from us. It is what Jesus calls the “one thing necessary,” the inner activity that is meant to animate all outer activity. Mary’s Heart is the best mirror we can find, in which to gaze by faith upon the true Light of the world.
St. Teresa of Calcutta’s “Flying Novena” (nine Memorares in a row, followed by a tenth in thanksgiving).
Spend 10 minutes (or longer) just being with Mary, that is, paying loving attention to her without any concern about results or effects.
Instead of offering “quick-fix” solutions to others who share their difficulties with us, we can invite them to ponder, like Mary, what God has done, is doing, and might do if they trust in Him.
This post and the preceding one are dedicated to Sarah de Nordwall.
Meditation of the Day
Exactly two months elapse between the Council of Elrond on October 25, where the fateful decision is taken to “send the Ring to the Fire,” and the departure of the Fellowship, on December 25 (yes, on our Christmas Day! no coincidence there, of course). The entire Quest of the Ring after this will only take an additional three months. Given the absolute urgency of the mission to destroy the One Ring, and the imminent threat of open war with the Dark Lord, ordinary wisdom would seem to advise more immediate action. Why wait so long? Certainly this is not what audiences of the typical action-adventure movie these days would expect; action heroes make elaborate plans in a matter of minutes or hours at most. But here, as with Aragorn’s recourse to an old song to prepare for the onslaught of the Ringwraiths, we touch on a central theme of the novel: real power to overcome evil does not reside in military might, or clever planning, but in the ancient wisdom embodied in song, poetry, legends, folk sayings, prophecies, dreams, and even riddles (like the Riddle of the Ring, received in a dream by Faramir and Boromir). Ultimately, this wisdom connects those who seek it and receive it humbly to the very wisdom of the Creator. In the language of Christian spirituality, we might summarize this message as the priority of contemplation over action—of which Our Lady is the prototype and supreme model (Luke 2:19).
What do we see the members of the Fellowship doing, for these two months? Arming themselves to the teeth? Practising martial arts? Learning woodcraft and the art of camouflage from Strider?
Such was the virtue of the land of Rivendell that soon all fear and anxiety was lifted from their minds. The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have any power over the present. Health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content with each good day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song. (Bk2 Ch3)
Thus the hobbits are allowing the Valley of Rivendell—which, as we have seen, so powerfully symbolizes the Blessed Virgin—to restore their spiritual equilibrium, to lead them into an experience of the “sacrament of the present moment” (cf. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, Bk1 Ch1 Sec2). They are able simply to enjoy the goodness of everyday things, the beauty of art and the nourishment of meaningful conversation.
Even after the choice of the Nine Walkers, during the final week before their departure, we observe the members of the Fellowship prioritizing learning, reflection, storytelling, and friendship over any more immediately practical concerns:
“Aragorn and Gandalf walked together or sat speaking of their road and the perils they would meet; and they pondered the storied and figured maps and books of lore that were in the house of Elrond.”
“In those last days the hobbits sat together in the evening in the Hall of Fire, and there among many tales they heard told in full the lay of Beren and Lúthien and the winning of the Great Jewel.”
“Merry and Pippin were out and about.”
“Frodo (. . .) spent as much time as he could with Bilbo. (. . .) Frodo and Sam were to be found with Bilbo in his own small room. Then Bilbo would read passages from his book (. . .), or scraps of his verses, or would take notes of Frodo’s adventures.”
The members of the Fellowship are not all perfect, far from it. The younger hobbits are still immature and foolish; Gimli and Legolas have inherited their respective cultures’ racial bias against each other; Boromir displays an excessive and narrow-minded concern for the welfare of his homeland; and so on. But upon all of them the Valley of Rivendell bestows some tangible and lasting benefit.
Above all, the grace these Nine receive from their two-month retreat in Rivendell is the gift of one another, the formation of the Fellowship itself. It is precisely in and through the bonds of love that are established among them that each of them will have the opportunity, during their adventures, to grow in virtue and overcome their defects of character.
If we, like the Fellowship, allow Our Lady to act as freely in us as she desires to do, we too will find ourselves drawn into closer communion with (perhaps unlikely!) fellow travelers, spiritual companions who will be the means for us to make real progress along the way of sanctification. Our Lady was instrumental in the birth of the first Christian community, at Pentecost, as she prayed for her Son’s disciples to receive the same Spirit who had overshadowed her. A comparison between the promise of the Holy Spirit to Mary, at the Annunciation (Luke 1:35), and her Son’s promise of the Holy Spirit, to be fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 1:8), shows that they contain identical Greek terms. The Holy Spirit and “power” (dynamis) will “come upon” (eperchomai) both Mary—the ideal disciple—and the community of disciples gathered by the Risen Lord. Whatever was realized in and for her personally, she desires to see realized in us, who are the living members of her Son’s Body.
The parallel is striking, as is the implication. It suggests that Mary experienced a personal Pentecost before the body of Christ’s disciples experienced the ecclesial Pentecost that formed the Church. In both cases, by physical conception and missionary witness, Christ is thus brought into the world. The first is an anticipation and type of the second.
Scott Hahn et al., eds.. Catholic Bible Dictionary (p. 588), The Crown Publishing Group, Kindle Edition.
O Lady clad in white, Mother of our true King, wise and wonderful beyond compare, fair and clear as the dawn of Arda, rich in graces to lavish on thirsty souls, come be the guide of those who wander but are not lost. Allow us to find that which we desire most on this journey: To enter the refuge of your most pure Heart, To be shielded there from all the assaults of the Shadow, To be cherished as your own true sons and daughters, To be clothed in your virtues, To become more radiant beacons in the darkness of this world, So that more children of Ilúvatar may find their way home. All for the glory of the Eternal Father, Through the Blood shed by the Son, In the power and brilliance of the Holy Spirit, the Secret Fire. Amen.
The more urgent a problem appears to be, the more tempting it can be to rush in with an immediate practical solution, without any space for either deeper reflection or an invitation to the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. Genuine discernment takes time; it requires stilling our mind and being more in tune with what is happening right now, with what God might be saying or doing. Let’s ask Our Lady to teach us, today, how to let more of our doing flow out of our being-in-relationship with the living God.
Before facing a challenging task today, pause to offer a single decade of the holy Rosary, meditating on one of the usual mysteries or another event of the life of Jesus or Mary, asking for sufficient light to face the challenge in a way that pleases God.