The tone is quickly changing and will become ever darker, but illuminated with many moments of grace that will come fast and furious at times. There are lighter moments still though. I think of Frodo, standing there under the stars, so very beautiful, lit by his own self-contained moonlight and what a wonderful marvel that would have been to behold. Here we are also introduced to Sam's love of Elves.
The meat of the chapter though is Gandalf's catechism lesson to Frodo about the Ring and about pity. The orc attack drove Bilbo into the tunnels just in time to find the Ring is termed in the Prologue to this tale to be seemingly an "accident" and the finding of the Ring to be "mere luck". But there are no "accidents" in God’s plans. Everything and everyone is carefully placed, even those who are not aware they have been. Free will is not interfered with, but used to God’s greater glory as the Great Music continues to play out. Hearts are fashioned so they will respond freely in the fashion God knows from all time that they will. When the Ring leaves Gollum, in response to its master’s call, God makes sure Bilbo is there to put down his hand in the dark and find it. He does not stop the call from being sent out from Sauron, but once more, he sends a hobbit to ‘intercept’ that call as He had with Déagol & Sméagol. It was not Bilbo’s choice to find the Ring, nor was it was the choice of the Ring to find Bilbo. The frightened hobbit had no idea what it was or what value it had. It was just a pretty little thing and he found it useful. He was not aware that he was an instrument of the One. Only much after the fact does Gandalf, Frodo and the rest of us learn how fateful that journey in the dark truly was. When Bilbo stays his hand from slaying Gollum, he does not know that he is laying some very important groundwork for the destruction of the Ring, the future salvation of his beloved nephew and heir, as yet unborn, and, indeed, helping to determine the fate of the entire of Middle-earth. He sees in Gollum the pitiable, horrifying condition of one enslaved to sin and realizes in some dim way, that "there but for the grace of God, go I". Because Bilbo extended that pity, Frodo is later able to learn from it when he takes his own journey and extends it himself to Gollum and even more importantly, Sam learns from Frodo to do it, as Faramir had done earlier. When Frodo first meets Gollum, he sees in the wretched, twisted creature the same thing his beloved uncle had: a reflection of who he could become, just as he reflects Bilbo in pity. Another step is taken toward the destruction of the Ring. He has gone from "What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature" to "For now that I see him, I do pity him."
The very fact that Bilbo adopted Frodo as his heir is a moment of grace. Even tragedies have their place in the making of who we are and what we are meant to do. If Frodo’s parents hadn’t drowned, then there would have been no need for Bilbo to adopt him and make him his heir, and eventually heir to the Ring; no living so very close to Sam; no setting down roots in the fertile soil of that humble gardener’s loving heart; no blossoming of that beautiful relationship which is so vital to the Quest that it would have failed without it. It is no coincidence that Sam was born the same year Drogo and Primula were drowned. One sees how each piece fits together in the story. How many threads going back decades did God weave into the destruction of the Ring; how many things He guided to happen just at the right time. It is quite amazing actually. Such threads run through our lives also. It is entirely possible that Frodo and Sam would have still met had Frodo’s parents’ lived on to a ripe old age and Bilbo still made him his heir upon leaving for Rivendell, but God chose the way and events He did, for a reason and though we may not understand it all ourselves when tragedies interrupt our lives and lead us off in directions we wouldn’t have otherwise traveled, we have the comfort that God has allowed everything for a reason and ultimately that good will come of it. We just need to have faith and trust that He loves us far more deeply than we can imagine and wills nothing but what will help us come to Him in His heavenly Home which is the home He wishes for us also.
After discovering that Bilbo lied about how he come by the Ring, Gandalf tells Frodo, "I might perhaps have consulted Saruman the White, but something always held me back." There is no time that God is not actively involved in His children’s lives. At the time, Gandalf does not know what prudence held him back from revealing his knowledge of the Ring’s whereabouts, nor did he know that Bilbo’s ring was the Ring, but he trusts in that "still, small voice" that he heard in his heart.
At Gandalf’s behest, Aragorn sought long and hard for Gollum, but in vain and finally on his way home, as he tells the Council of Elrond, "...by fortune, I came suddenly on what I sought: the marks of soft feet beside a muddy pool." Each step is being guided here. We need never to doubt or think that God is not actively, personally involved in our lives. If we are open to His purposes for us, He will guide and guard on the way and reveal bit by bit what we are to do. We need only to surrender ourselves into His Hands, as Aragorn and Gandalf spent a lifetime doing, as Frodo offered himself up to do, though at first he struggles with his vocation and his fear of it.
How many times since he asked "Why was I chosen?" have others echoed him down through the ages with the same protest as he that they were not "made for perilous quests" and have "so little" of heart, wits and courage needed for such grand and dangerous things? Jeremiah, Isaiah, Gideon all protested in one way or another, not understanding at first the call, thinking themselves too young (Jr 4-8), unclean (Is 6:5), too weak (Gideon, Jg 6:12-16). But they all still said in the end: "Here I am, send me" (Is 6:8). They all said as Jesus did during his Agony in the Garden, "Nevertheless, let Your will be done, not mine." (Lk 22:43). They accept they have been chosen and submit themselves to that. Frodo does not realize Who chose him, but he fully acknowledges that he has been chosen, so he is aware, in whatever dim way, there is a Chooser above him Who has selected him. We have been chosen too, each one of us, and the more we surrender control over ourselves to God, the more wonders He can and will work in our lives and we will discover our own unique vocations.
When he is first told of the Ring, Frodo, however, doesn’t want to get involved. He most definitely wants the Ring to be destroyed, the danger to be removed, but he doesn’t want to be the one to do it. It’s very frightening to realize that it’s up to us sometimes to be that instrument of God’s Will to destroy the evil that has sprung up in our time. No wonder he wishes, as we have all at times, "I wish it need not have happening in my time." Moses resisted his call at first. Jonah fled and had to be swallowed by a whale before he accepted his. It is natural for us to resist what seems to be impossible or incredibly dangerous. We don’t like to leave our comfortable lives. Frodo longed for adventures, even for a dragon to come by and shake things up a bit, but he wanted a happy adventure in which he could return happy and whole at the end of it. Destroying the Ring was quite a bit outside his comfort level. Still he learns as we do at times that we may seek adventure, but Quests seek us. By ourselves we can do nothing; with God we can do everything. We can still be broken by our task, but we can be healed by the same One who laid the Cross upon our shoulders and will help us carry it if we let Him. It is not evil that comes from God’s Hand, but love, even when it’s in the form of the Cross, perhaps even especially then: "The Everlasting God has in His wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost Heart," says the great Bishop, spiritual director and Doctor of the Church, St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622). "This cross He now sends you He has considered with His all-knowing eyes, understood with His divine mind, tested with His wise justice, warmed with His loving arms and weighed with His own Hands, to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you. He has blessed it with His Holy Name, anointed it with His grace, perfumed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God."But He does not ask us to carry our Cross alone. God understands how weak our wills are, how easily we are overcome at times. That is why He sets others at our sides, for there is strength in numbers and when one is weak, the others can be strong and strengthen the one who is faltering. That is why Sam and all the others, and in the end, Sam and Sméagol alone, were placed at Frodo’s side, for he had the greatest burden. "Better two than one by himself, since thus their work is really profitable. If one should fall, the other helps him up; but woe to the man by himself with no one to help him up when he falls down. Again: they keep warm who sleep two together, but how can a man keep warm alone? Where one alone would be overcome, two will put up resistance; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken"(Eccl 4:12). There is no way any one person could have destroyed the Ring. Frodo had many invisible guardians also. We are not alone in our struggles, even if we feel that we are. Jesus had Simon of Cyrene, Frodo had Sam. The saints and martyrs have had others encouraging and strengthening them, even at times Jesus Himself or His Mother. Time and time ago it is shown that "Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam" and a third being was needed for the final victory. When we are terrified to accept the burden that we fear will crush our fragile spirits, we should realize from Whose loving Hand it comes from and when we are bowed under the weight and our strength is failing, there will be others to help and God will not abandon us ever. "Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life," counsels St. Francis de Sales. "Rather look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things;and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in His arms. Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. The same Everlasting Father who takes care of you today, will take care of you today, and every day. He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations."
Sometimes we need to pass through the fire to be tested and there we will find the strength we didn’t know we had. Frodo thought he had "so little" of heart, wisdom and courage but God knew he had a great store of it, as all hobbits do in a crisis. He let the Quest play out as it did so Frodo would know what Frodo was capable of. So He will let our Quests play out so we can discover our strengths. With His help, we will not be found wanting. He will not give us a task that beyond us. He knows what our true strength is and will give us enough grace to accomplish it if we cooperate with Him. Frodo did not fail. He succeeded brilliantly when anyone else would have failed. He was never meant to be Ring-destroyer, since God knew that would be beyond his strength, beyond anyone but Himself. He was present there at the Fire as He had been all along to save Frodo and all Middle-earth when His beloved child’s mortal flesh, will and strength collapsed under the terrible power of the demonic. We are not alone. It is sometimes in the darkness that we can best see the light. Even Jesus was terrified of his coming trials, so God perfectly understands that we feel we are not up to our tribulations or what we fear could be terrible. He knows how our heart quails. But Jesus went on, Frodo went on, the martyrs went on. We need to go on. We are guided and guarded the whole way and though the path may indeed become very dark, the Light will always be there with us, though at times we may not perceive it. Things will be much easier for ourselves if we surrender to Him and let Him work through us. "I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much," Blessed Mother Teresa said who walked through decades of darkness, faithfully serving her God, though for His own good purposes, He chose to hide His face from her, so she could be a shining example to others of perseverance amidst the terrible night. Frodo is another who has inspired many to walk through their own dark nights. They have all shown by their actions that wisdom of Gandalf's words: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
Even after Gandalf tells him of the dangers of the Ring, how it will "possess" and "devour" its bearers and will cause him to fade or become invisible permanently if he uses too often and how he would then walk "in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings", Frodo agrees to guard the Ring "whatever it may do to me." He is terrified by Gandalf’s words, but because he doesn’t want anyone else to be harmed by it, he is willing to take that harm himself and try to contain it within himself if he can. At this point he doesn’t truly understand what those words will come to mean to him, what the terrible cost will be, or that he will be asked to bear the Ring much longer than "for the present" which is all his original plan was until someone better, wiser and stronger than he could take it. But he and everyone else will learn that there is no one else better. Once Frodo accepts his vocation, he embraces it fearfully but over time completely. He’s willing to, even expecting to, sacrifice his life. Even before he leaves the Shire, he doesn’t expect to return. Though he does physically, he cannot completely mentally or emotionally. He is not the same person. He sacrificed everything for the Quest. In that crucible of suffering, everything was burned away, including his identity as a happy, innocent, carefree hobbit. He is stripped down to naked will and endurance and clothed in grace. It is that innocence and that grace which enabled him to be the Ring-bearer. Though he hopes at first to be able to leave the Ring at Rivendell and be done with it, he still steps forward and volunteers to take the Ring to Mordor to destroy it, and this when he’s even more aware of its powers and has already almost died bearing it. We may all think we are unequal to a task looming before us, but God will suffuse us with the strength and grace to accomplish it if we are open to accepting it. Frodo was. He succeeded perfectly as Ring-bearer, which is what he was created to do. He was not created to be Ring-destroyer. That was Gollum’s task.
Another lesson that will later bear fruit in Frodo's heart is that he hears Gandalf speak of the small hope for Gollum’s redemption that later enables Frodo’s own hope and efforts for a "cure" for Sméagol. That pity and the lessons learned from the painful presence of the Ring will also in its time extend to Saruman. Gandalf and Galadriel also attempt to convince Saruman to repent, but no avail. Frodo doesn’t want Saruman killed, even after the murderous attack on him at Bag End because even though the cure is beyond them, the Ring-bearer hopes it can be found elsewhere and it won’t be if Saruman is killed. These three recognize that a fallen soul must be given opportunities to redeem itself and they are responsible to extend the offer, though, it’s up to the fallen whether to act upon or not. That Saruman and Sméagol are both unable to come back, the former because of pride, arrogance and hatred, and the latter because his will was not strong enough, is not the fault of those who made the attempt. Frodo, Gandalf and Galadriel are being their "brother’s keeper". It would count toward their credit at judgement that they stretched forth the possibility of redemption. Even though Gandalf considers it, in Saruman’s case, to be "dangerous, and probably useless," he also says "it must be done". It was their responsibility to try while there was hope left as it our responsibility to fraternally correct our erring brethren. Even after nearly 500 years as Ring-bearer, there was still a little Sméagol left in Gollum and that is no small wonder. That is why we should not give up trying to help and praying for the cure of those held in the chains of the Enemy. We can always return when we’ve strayed, though the further into our fall, the harder it will be to rise and return. But "while there’s life, there’s hope" as Sam says, quoting his Gaffer. We will learn in heaven all the good we did. Perhaps someone was saved only through our prayers who would have been lost otherwise, who somehow found the strength to fight their way back to God, out of the darkness into the light.
Gandalf renounces the Ring at Bag End when both Bilbo and Frodo unwittingly tempt him with it because he doesn’t trust himself not to use it if it was in his possession. He is glad when he returns from death that the "deadly peril" of the Ring is no longer something he or anyone else can be tempted to use. Even as Gandalf the White he fears it, perhaps even more so, because his power is greater. Good and strong as he is, he knows he is also weak and that is where his true wisdom and strength lies. It is the wisdom and strength Saruman, his superior, had already abandoned, though no one knows that yet.
Frodo's already growing attachment that will grow to addiction to the Ring is shown here as well.
I love the powerful images also that are here. To name just two, Frodo closing his fist around the Ring to hide it from the dark hand he imagines reaching out to grasp it and him imagining the Fire itself while looking into his own small fire and seeing such great darkness and then coming 'back' to Bag End and being surprised that all is still actually light. He does have a tremendous imagination, doesn't he, quite right for a scribe and lover of tales to have. I wonder if part of his torment though was the Ring taking advantage of that and showing him terrible visions as it consumed him more and more until there was nothing left but itself. It would have done that no matter what but perhaps it would have tormented Frodo more because he had such a lively imagination.
November 4, 2008
One Ring to Rule Them All
This is a blog post written by a beautiful young Catholic lady on the blog "The Road Through Middle-Earth". Her blog is devoted to the works of Tolkien, which she is reading through and then commenting on the chapters and events from the books on her blogs. I have been following it ardently, and enjoy reading her wonderful... meditations. Her writing have made me look at the Hobbit and the Fellowship (the only ones she has been writing about so far) in a entirely new and wonderful way. She has graciously given me permission to re-publish this post that she wrote when she began reading the Fellowship of the Ring. Please take the time to read it, and then why don't you check out the rest of her blog as well?