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.
Note: The following prayer was composed for the Tolkien Marian Consecration 2020 Facebook Group, which you may wish to consider joining.
DAILY PRAYER FOR OUR FELLOWSHIP
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.
- 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.
To Go Deeper
- Anthony Lilles, “Action and Contemplation“
- “Action and Contemplation, re: Martha and Mary“
- Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, “The Rosary: A School of Contemplation“