Dec31

Saved by Mercy :: Tolkien’s Letters

By J.R.R. Tolkien

If you re-read all the passages dealing with Frodo and the Ring, I think you will see that not only was it quite impossible for him to surrender the Ring, in act or will, especially at its point of maximum power, but that this failure was adumbrated from far back.

He was honored because he had accepted the burden voluntarily, and had then done all that was within his utmost physical and mental strength to do. He (and the Cause) were saved—by Mercy : by the supreme value and efficacy of Pity and forgiveness of injury.

1 Corinthians 10.12-13 may not at first sight seem to fit – unless ‘bearing temptation’ is taken to mean resisting it while still a free agent in normal command of the will. I think rather of the mysterious last petitions of the Lord’s Prayer: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. A petition against something that cannot happen is unmeaning.

There exists the possibility of being placed in positions beyond one’s power. In which case (as I believe) salvation from ruin will depend on something apparently unconnected: the general sanctity (and humility and mercy) of the sacrificial person.

I did not ‘arrange’ the deliverance in this case: it again follows the logic of the story. (Gollum had had his chance of repentance, and of returning generosity with love; and had fallen off the knife-edge.)

No, Frodo ‘failed.’ It is possible that once the ring was destroyed he had little recollection of the last scene. But one must face the fact: the power of Evil in the world is not finally resistible by incarnate creatures, however ‘good'; and the Writer of the Story is not one of us.

*Excerpt from the draft of a letter to Miss J. Bum, July, 26 1956. From The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Mariner Books, 2000).

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 36 (Listen – 4:26)
Revelation 22 (Listen – 3:59)

 

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Dec30

How to be Married to your Soul Mate :: Tolkien’s Letters

By J.R.R. Tolkien

The essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called ‘self-realization’ (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification.

No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that—even those brought up ‘in the Church.’

When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. And of course they are, as a rule, quite right: they did make a mistake.

Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.

Only the rarest good fortune brings together the man and woman who are really as it were ‘destined’ for one another, and capable of a very great and splendid love. The idea still dazzles us, catches us by the throat: poems and stories in multitudes have been written on the theme, more, probably, than the total of such loves in real life.

In such great inevitable love, often love at first sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an un-fallen world. In this fallen world we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.

*Abridged from a letter to Michael Tolkien, March 6-8, 1941. From The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Mariner Books, 2000).

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 35 (Listen – 5:25)
Revelation 21 (Listen – 4:34)

 

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Dec29

When Christian Leaders Fail (Part II) :: Tolkien’s Letters

By J.R.R. Tolkien
Higher devotion to religion is, of course, degraded in some degree by all ‘professionals’ (and by all professing Christians. But you cannot maintain a tradition of learning or true science without schools and universities, and that means schoolmasters. And you cannot maintain a religion without a church and ministers; and that means professionals: priests and bishops. The precious wine must (in this world) have a bottle, or some less worthy substitute.
‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation—as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scape-goat. But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act—a state which must go on—so we pray for ‘final perseverance’.
The temptation to ‘unbelief (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others. I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the ‘scandals’, both of clergy and laity.
The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect.
Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit* dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and re-arising.
*Abridged from a letter to Michael Tolkien, November 1, 1963. From The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Mariner Books, 2000).

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 34 (Listen – 6:23)
Revelation 20 (Listen – 2:49)

 

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Dec28

When Christian Leaders Fail (Part I):: Tolkien’s Letters

By J.R.R. Tolkien 

I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the ‘scandals’, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons.

For myself, I find I become less cynical rather than more—remembering my own sins and follies; and realize that men’s hearts are not often as bad as their acts, and very seldom as bad as their words.

In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge).<

If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent—that is, garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac (which is the only alternative)—then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church (in the sense of clergy) in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud.

If not, however, then this spectacle is only what was to be expected: it began before the first Easter, and it does not affect faith at all—except that we may and should be deeply grieved. But we should grieve on our Lord’s behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalizers not with the saints, not crying out that we cannot ‘take’ Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd and cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James’ mother, trying to push her sons.

It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really ‘happened’, and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded of him. We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences.

*Abridged from a letter to Michael Tolkien, November 1, 1963. From The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Mariner Books, 2000).

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 33 (Listen – 4:01)
Revelation 19 (Listen – 3:47)

 

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Dec25

Silent Night

Christ’s life begins and ends in poverty. It’s easy to see the depth of pain in the end; where the Messiah is homeless and stripped of his sole earthly possession moments before being hung on a cross. The beginning of Christ’s life, however, has been sanitized.

“Manger” is a generous word because it distances our minds from the realities of an infant resting in a feeding trough. Jesus’ story starts not just in financial poverty, but also relational poverty. It doesn’t appear that Joseph had family or friends in the town of his ancestors— searching for room in an inn is the task of a foreigner.

While it’s easy to miss all this while we carol, the reality of Christ’s birth was never far from the minds of the authors behind the carols. Born to an impoverished single mother, Joseph Mohr penned the original German lyrics to “Silent Night” around 1816, while serving as the Father of a small village church in the alps. Mohr would spend long sections of his life ill, ultimately succumbing to a pulmonary disease at 55.

Thousands travel to the Austrian Alps to visit the town where Mohr is buried, but only because it’s a now thriving ski resort. It’s easy to miss the full impact of Mohr’s life; present luxury quickly overwhelms past reality.

Although far from affluent, Mohr also found himself significantly more comfortable than his family had been. In this, he chose to leverage everything he had for others. Mohr died penniless after reportedly donating all his money to children’s education and care for the elderly. (Mohr demonstrates how a Christian with wealth should live not in guilt, but in thankfulness and generosity.)

The lyrics to “Silent Night” can easily trick our mind’s eye into seeing comfort and privilege that simply were not present—Heavenly Peace entered our world through the depths of poverty. Silence and stillness were not present that night for the reasons the affluent find them, but because God’s presence filled our barren world with radiant sufficiency. Truly, Jesus was Lord at his birth.

Listen: Silent Night by Sarah McLauchlan (3:48)

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 30 (Listen – 4:56)
Revelation 16 (Listen – 3:17)