Toward Advent: a reflection


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It comes in the darkest time of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere, and at a time when our ancestors needed fire and a celebration to remind them that the light would come again, as would the warmth. Ad venire – looking towards his coming, hence Advent, is our Christian way of expressing the same feeling, but in a deeper fashion. In our modern era it is a time of rush and busyness, but for Christians we must, somehow and from somewhere, find the time and space for the quietness in which we can contemplate the mystery of the Incarnate Lord. For it is the deepest and greatest of mysteries, that the omnipotent God should have responded to our disobedience and selfishness with love, and love that extended to the Cross.

All of this tends to make many modern people uncomfortable – one of the many sad consequences of the imbalance that has entered into our theology – as though mercy and judgment were somehow not part of each other. If we have no sense that there is anything from which we need saving, we shall never know the need for a Saviour, and may think that our problems can have some worldly cure; they cannot, and down that road of illusion lies ultimate despair. The darkness is broken only by the Light, and as long as we focus on that Light, the darkness cannot win; our broken sinfulness can distract us, can lead us away from the light into the deeper darkness, and that is the aim of satan, whose only pleasure is that others should have a share in his despair; mosery likes company.

Our consumerist culture has, to use a popular term, culturally appropriated Christmas, and we cannot wholly escape that; but we can turn it to our own purposes, just as our forebears turned the Winter Solstice celebrations. We can be sure to read the Scriptures set for the season and to pray on them; we can be sure to set aside time for prayer and prepare ourselves for the anniversary of his coming. The Sunday Advent readings remind us of what is to come, and if we stay with them, then we shall be prepared for the Christ Mass.

This, then, above all times, is a time of prayer. Jessica’s wonderful post yesterday is a reminder to us all of how powerful prayer is, and how those who are its object can be buoyed up by it. It is our conversation with God, and even if we think he is not talking back, he is, it is just that we do not, perhaps, know how to listen.

Jessica has asked me to say a big thank you to all of you who responded to her surprise post, and says we shouldn’t get over-excited – but she is very grateful. And with that, whilst the secular world uses this Friday to splurge out, we can use it to focus our minds on the reason for the coming season.

Thanks and Thanksgiving


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I am touched beyond words by what my dearest friend Dave (Neo) wrote today and will break my silence to say so.

It has been a long year, and at times a dark one. Of it I will say no more here, save to echo what was in Neo’s post – my thanks to all who have cared (and still care) for me. My thanks also go to Neo, Dave Smith, Chalcedon, Geoffrey and everyone who comments and reads here – and it was lovely that David Monier-Williams, who was here before here existed, so to speak, was the first to comment on Neo’s post – thank you for your prayers and kindnesses David – and indeed, all the Davids, brave cavaliers all of you. I liked the description, ‘AATW family’ – so much so that I sought for, and got, permission to say so.

To all those who have asked via Neo and C, how I am, and have passed on your prayers and good wishes, let me say at once not only how grateful (more Thanksgiving) I am, but how supported I have felt by them; no one who has been prayed for as I have could doubt the efficacy of prayer. There were times it was all that kept me afloat – that and the love of God. Our Lady felt very close, and she carried your prayers to me – I felt them through her. If I’d ever wondered what intercessory prayer was, I don’t now.

As Neo said, my illness is in remission – well, that’s what the medics say. In reality they’ve no idea what happened, me too, but I’m happy to say so; but then I’m not a highly trained medic with a puzzle in front of me, I’m just a woman who was very ill and now isn’t. None of us can know what will happen next, and I’m as superstitious as the next very superstitious person – but into His hands we all commend ourselves.

I haven’t kept up with the blog, or indeed the news, as limited access to the media seemed to be one of the ways to getting better – not as though I am up to the cut and thrust of debate (oh well, OK then, what’s new there then?). But that doesn’t mean I have not prayed for you all – or that I will stop.

As some of you know, I spent a year in America when I was younger, and that intensified a love of America that came from a crush on John Wayne and a love of American films. It’s so easy, looking and admiring that great nation, to forget how precarious were its origins, and now, with so much political correctness, almost to have to apologise for them. But those brave Pilgrims might easily have suffered the fate of those Vikings who had tried to establish settlement much earlier, and in fact almost did suffer that fate. But their faith in God which led them to cross a vast ocean in vulnerable wooden ships, kept them firm and saw them through. May that be said of us all – and let us always give thanks to Him who alone is truly worthy of all thanks and praise.


Happy Thanksgiving


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Today, in America is Thanksgiving Day. It is a day of celebration of what we have made of God’s gift to us all. Its history reaches all the way back to our Pilgrim forebearers, who felt called to thank God that they had survived the first year in the Massachusetts Bay.

Now it is a day of parades, football, serious overeating, and sleeping off that overeating by sleeping through the football on TV. But I think we all deep in our hearts do remember to thank “The Big Guy” for all we have, and the freedom to enjoy it.

President Washington certainly knew something about dark days, far darker than ours are today, and he (and Congress) thought it fit to remember the Author of our blessings. So should we.

From the Heritage Foundation

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

That’s the reason for the day put as well as anyone has, ever.

My family’s traditional table grace is this

But for the AATW family, we have another reason to thank God. It was just a little over a year ago that Jess wrote this:

There was a moment, just over a week ago, when I thought that was it. If it was His will, then I was ready to bow to it – after all, I would be going home, and have many people there with whom I look forward to being reunited – and for my friends here, well it would be but a short while before we were united again. But, for whatever reason, God decided it was not my time, although, as the medics keep telling me, it may well be, and soon, as the cancer may return as mysteriously as it seems to have gone; bless them, you can’t expect a medic to believe in miracles.

I do believe in them, and in my case they come, at least in part, through the dedicated care of doctors and nurses – and hospital chaplains – as well as the prayers of friends and family. We are, as people, so much better than we sometimes allow ourselves to be in the press of everyday life, and during times like the one I have just been through, you see people at their best, as they set aside the ephemera of every day and focus on what we can do best when we act in the image of God – that is the giving of love and of care. As one reaches some kind of extremis time changes, it ceases to be linear. There were times when it moved swiftly, times it moved so slowly minutes seemed like days; and, in my condition, times when whole days vanished in a morphine-induced oblivion.

And now a year later, I think it meet to report that she has had her first annual examination and is still cancer-free, and so nearly recovered from the ordeal, that she has little memory of it now. She is considering her future, and while I have no inside information, and wouldn’t be able to share it if I did, I believe that it will conform to the prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer which concludes this post.

GOD, who art the giver of life, of health, and of safety; We bless thy Name, that thou hast been pleased to deliver from her bodily sickness Jessica, thy servant, who now desireth to return thanks unto thee, in the presence of all thy people. Gracious art thou, O Lord, and full of compassion to the children of men. May her heart be duly impressed with a sense of thy merciful goodness, and may she devote the residue of her days to an humble, holy, and obedient walking before thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving

Christianity in the public square


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One reflection on the fuss over the showing of the advertisement for the Lord’s Prayer in cinemas, would be that it shows up the ambivalence our society has with Christianity and, probably with the idea of religious faith of any variety; I think it does not know what to make of it. My comments apply to the UK, and I’d be interested in what our American readers and commentators have to say about their own situation, but here the only exposure most children get to religion is via school, where, even in Church of England or Catholic schools, teachers bend over backward to be inclusive – which is a euphemism for not teaching much about Christianity. They will get lots of comparative religion, but how much use this is to children who don’t understand what religion is might be a good question to ask. When I was teaching, it was always difficult for Heads to find trained RE teachers and we usually made do with teachers whose expertise was elsewhere; as someone with a doctorate in a religious topic who was also an elder in his local church, I ended up as our ‘lead’ in this area; not ideal, but better than the alternative – which was the PE teacher (who happened to have some spare space in his timetable!). If that was the case in a public school (for our US readers, that means ‘private’ – yes, I know, but the English are odd like that!), then it is even worse in many State schools.

In one sense one might say this has not changed much – there was always a problem filling RE, but back when I started it was easier to do because there were always a number of teachers who, like men played a role in their local churches and could be plugged in to cover the subject when needed. Now that is rarely the case. That reflects the wider aspect of the problem – the gap between wider educated society and religion. So, if our children are not getting much by way of religious education at school, and if the wider society of which they are part is religiously illiterate, it can be said with some confidence that they will not get that sort of education anywhere else.

At my own chapel, we put on a weekly Bible study class, but that is mainly taken by those already members of the fellowship. We started a weekly introductory class back in September, and that has a small membership, but they are all adults, and all came via our street preaching; none of them know much about religion, and we had to start from the most basic of basics. All those in the class had education up to the age of 18, and two of them have degrees, but not one of the eight knew anything much about Christianity except what they’d picked up from the media – and most of that was negative.

After 12 weeks we have made some progress, but when we decided to set up the course, we asked around other churches to see what they did, and found the answer was very little. I’d hoped the C of E, who do something which looks useful, might prove a little more ecumenical than they have, but you can’t always have what you want – or what would make economic sense (they have seven in their class!). But at least we are doing something. Very few others are.

So, I can see where the C of E was coming from with its advertisement – the state of play is dire, and I am not sure how well-equipped we are to deal with a favourable response – but it would be a nice problem to have.

Honest doubt


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There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds
So wrote old Tennyson in In Memoriam, a poem I doubt many now read. When they did, it was the fashion of some to quote these lines as though Tennyson himself approved of such a position, but no honest reading of it can support that line, as it goes on to describe the way in which the poet overcame his doubts. But it is natural that from time to time men should have their doubts – and so when the Archbishop of Canterbury confesses that he had his doubts about the presence of God after the Paris massacres, that should occasion neither surprise nor criticism – though it has done both. His own view in his own words can be found here, and should be read before anyone casts aspersions.
What is called ‘theodicy’ – the question of why bad things happen to good people, has perplexed us all from time to time, I should guess. Chalcedon passed this on to me from one of his sons, who is a Pastor in Stoke, and it seems to me to answer the question of how we should react pretty well:
So what do we say? We go to the cross, first of all, where God is most present IN the suffering and dying one. And we go to the empty tomb, where we see the victory of God. Then we go to the end of this story, to the Second Advent, and the day of God’s Judgement of the world. Yes, there are times when this world’s evil causes doubts, and our response must be to fight those doubts, and overcome them by the Cross.
Hard to beat that, I think.
Christ knew this world’s keenest woes, and he took them upon himself that our sins should be remitted. But he could not drive out of this world the stain or original sin, nor could he save us, in this world, from its consequences. So, bad things will happen, not because of God, but because of sin – our sin and the sinfulness of others. There is one remedy only, and that is in the Cross of Christ. If you doubt it, then ask where else a remedy is to be had? Save for Christ, there is none. There can be the dulling of it all by indulgence in sin which will soon take our minds off what ails us – only to leave us with a spiritual hangover of immense proportions. Sin is sin and it means to destroy us. The evil deeds of ISIS come from where all evil originates – the devil who encompassed our fall. Salvation comes from where it has always come from – the name of Jesus. In him alone are we made righteous, and in him alone do we have eternal life. As Paul tells us:
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Give us this day … patience Lord!


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Justin Welby

Here we go again. We are coming up to Christmas, and we’ve had years of daft stories of silly local councils wanting to celebrate ‘winterval’ so as not to offend anyone except Christians and grammar pedants. Now we have something new, Cinema chains banning adverts from the Church of England for the Lord’s Prayer. We are still a nation with an Established Church whose Queen is crowned by the archbishop of Canterbury and where Spiritual Peers sit in the Lords, but the purveyors of the filth and nonsense which fills our cinemas object to the Lord’s Prayer! Or rather, someone who works for them is worried that someone somewhere will object to the advert. Look for yourself here. The only thing I object to are the modernised bits, but I’ll get over myself, I’m sure.

The C of E is furious, not least because it had been given to believe that the cinema chains would welcome it; perhaps the latter feared that the Jedis would object? The spectacle of men who make money out of peddling some pretty dubious stuff most of the time, objecting to showing the Lord’s Prayer has about it the stuff of irony and farce. Cranmer gets it brilliantly correct here:

it “carries the risk of upsetting, or offending, audiences”. Which is a bit odd, when you think how many films they screen which carry the same or greater risk.

I wonder how many people would even have been aware of this campaign without the ban? It seems that the enemies of the Church have learned precisely nothing from the experience of watching the Church in previous generations trying to ban some of their nonsense (I’m old enough to remember the fuss over Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’). It didn’t work for us, it simply gave the offensive stuff free publicity; now they are returning the favour.

I think the website a good thing, and it is very useful in demystifying the whole business of ‘prayer’, not least for a generation which actually has no idea what it is, but has been taught to distrust it. Far more people will see it now than would have seen it, and it is getting far more publicity than anyone could have imagined. The offendotrons will never realise that their modern form of puritanism is as popular as the older forms – or perhaps they do so dimly, which is why, like the old puritans, they seek to use the law to suppress views which they can’t otherwise deal with.

It’s a great irony, and I can’t help being mildly amused at the spectacle of bishops up in arms because a failing medium won’t advertise their product. We’re told that the cinema chains have a policy which forbids such things, so it is a bit surprising no one knew about it first – or perhaps they did and calculated that this would happen; if so, the advertising agency deserves a bonus, as its tactics have worked to perfection.

As Advent approaches, there is still time for the usual ‘winterval’ nonsense, but let Christians go to that prayer site and ponder the wonders of prayer. God came into the world that we might have life, and life more abundantly – not so we could drink super-sized sodas and eat too much popcorn whilst watching films with a budget which could fed the poor for years.



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Neo’s reposting of some of the best of Jessica’s piece continued yesterday with a reminder of the importance of leadership – which is apt for the final Sunday in the liturgical year which celebrates Christ the Universal King.

Jesus’ leadership during his earthly mission was one which contradicated the expectations of his followers and contemporaries. The Messiah was the one who would come and fix all things, and he would smite his enemies and he would restore all things – then the Children of Israel would come into the fullness of their inheritance; John and Andrew argued over which of them would sit on his right hand when that day came. They looked to the patterns of leadership with which they were familiar. But Jesus had already warned them not to imitate the Pharisees. He did not condemn them all – indeed his followers were expected to exceed them in holiness – but he did condemn any leadership which involved swaggering in a lordly fashion over others; we see that echoed very clearly in what St James says about the treatment of poor man and rich men. Jesus’ leadership is that of the servant of the servants of God.

Mankind is a fallen race. Those Protestants who wonder how a Church founded by Christ can have in it men who call themselves “Princes of the Church”, and who dress in fine attire, have, of course, the answer already, and it is one present in some of their own leaders with their mega churches and scandals about donations and mansions; all have sinned, there is none amongst us who is fully spiritually healthy. Lord Acton came to his famous conclusion that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ from his study of history. Men who have sturggled hard to climb the ladder to power, rarely do so just to become the servant of others; the fight is hard, the cost (financial and personal) heavy, and some rewards are expected for these things. Men succumb easily to petty temptations. If these things were not so, there would be no need for us to have been redeemed.

But how far do Our Lord’s words apply to the leaders of this world? As Geoffrey reminded us this week, it is not sufficient to say that we must turn the other cheek when faced with an enemy such as ISIS. It is also not sufficient, however, just to utter strong words and follow them with bombing expeditions; we have been there, done that and reaped a version of the whirlwind. Leaders have a duty of care to their people, and in the situation in which we find ourselves, they are finding that the demands placed on them are not the ones they expected.

It is easy to be cynical about our leaders, not least because of their own cynicism about how to win our votes, but democracy, as Aristotle warned us two millennia ago, would always be open to the temptation of demagoguery. But Churchill was right when he said it was the worst of all systems – except for all the others. It is our last and best hope in this world. In naming Christ King, the Church, as ever, tries to frame him in ways in which we can understand. May that be a reminder to our leaders, political and spiritual, that there is someone to whom they will all have to answer on the Last Day. However hard we might find it, let us pray for our leaders – they need it, as do we.

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe


Jesus before Pilate

John 18:33-37

This is the last Sunday in Year B, and so we leave behind St Mark’s Gospel. On this Sunday before Advent, we deal with the theme of Christ as King.

St Cyril of Alexandria reminds us of the cunning of Christ’s accusers, for although they had no evidence against him, by focussing on the notion that he was setting himself up as a rival to Caesar, they had picked an issue which Pilate could not afford to ignore. Pilate knew how unwillingly the Jews submitted to Rome, and he would have been worried for his own security as well as his reputation back in Rome if there was a rebellion. So Pilate takes that accusation to Jesus and asks anxiously whether it is true.

Tertullian reminds us that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and that in showing that he turned from all the vain pomp of this world, he had already shown that. But men like Pilate and the Pharisees could not understand such a man.

Jesus tells him that his kingdom is not of this world. Both Chrysostom and St Augustine comment that the kings of this world should note this well, and note that the Church does not want to share the rule of this world with them. Christ’s kingdom is those who believe in him and who believe him when he said: “You are not of this world, even as I am not of this world”. His kingdom will endure to the end of the present order, and the tares will grow with the wheat.

St Augustine says that Jesus was not afraid to confess himself a king, but that his reply was nuanced enough to make his own point without accepting Pilate’s definition; PIlate can think only in worldy ways. Jesus refers to his own birth in the Incarnation – his coming into this world in our flesh. Christ witnesses to the truth to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.

Here, as St Cyril comments, Jesus shows the stubborness of the hearts of PIlate and the others, for they cannot understand because they are not of the truth – as Isaiah [7:9] pointed out ‘If you will not believe, neither will you understand’. PIlate shows this when he asks what is truth when he is standing before Him.



Saturday Jess: Frodo & the mystery of suffering


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20121115-180317.jpgAs I read through our posts and comments this week, I was struck by how much of the content was driven by leadership (or its lack), and doing our duty, including our duty to defend our citizens, to the point that we recalled that St. Augustine said not doing so is a sin.

As the war of terrorism on us all is seeming to heat up, it is time to ponder what our duty is. No one will be surprised to know that Jessica joins us in mourning the victims in Paris last week. But is our duty to them more than mourning? Jess is exceptional at drawing lessons from diverse sources, an example of what a proper liberal arts education can be and do. And here she draws lessons for us all from the Lord of the Rings. Neo

Frodo and the mystery of suffering

I have been enjoying Nicholas’ Tolkien related posts, so much so that I am tempted into one of my own. As these are no more than my own witterings, I offer any apology necessary in advance – but here goes.

A friend, who had never read the books commented that she found Frodo an unsatisfactory sort of ‘hero’. I know what she meant, but it seemed to me she missed the point. Frodo is in many ways an innocent victim who ends by sacrificing himself and all his hopes for the sake of others.

A the start of the Fellowship of the Ring no one knows the secret of the Ring. It seems almost an innocent trinket, which can be used to amuse others and to disappear oneself. Had it not been for the curiosity of Gandalf, then the Ring might well have fallen into the hands of the Enemy. When its secret is revealed, Frodo’s first reaction is to: ‘wish it need not have happened in my time’. Gandalf’s comment is worth meditating upon: ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

That is the key to what will happen to Frodo. His first reaction is one which tests Gandalf more than Frodo can realise, as it is to offer the Ring to him freely; with it, Gandalf could become the master of Middle Earth, but he is not tempted, and so the journey to Rivendell begins. That, perilous as it turned out to be, with Frodo suffering an assault which, but for the skill of the elves would have been mortal, should have been the end of it for the Hobbit. He had endured fire and sword to deliver the burden to those wise enough to make a decision about what to do with it; yet, as is the way of this world too, the Wise turn out to have no idea what to do. It is left to Frodo’s sense of duty to produce an answer which, however unlikely, is one upon which all can agree; he says he will take it – even though he does not know the way.

This is the central decision of Frodo’s life. He takes upon himself a burden which he feels unfit to carry, but it is precisely that pity (which he had once criticised in Bilbo’s sparing of Gollum, but now feels himself) which moves men to self-sacrifice, which pushes him forward where wise men fear to tread. Elrond the wise agrees, not because his reason tells him so, but because ‘I think this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will.’ He is right, but his intuition is proven right in a way no man could have predicted, and which was hidden even from the wise.

Frodo is sustained through the early stage of the journey by the courage and leadership of Gandalf, in whom he has infinite faith. Thus it is that the loss (as it seems) of Gandalf in the Mines of Moria is another almost mortal blow. Worse was to come. Boromir’s fall into temptation shows Frodo that he must leave the others and find his way to Mordor – alone.  But Frodo’s wish to spare others the fate he feels is his alone is alleviated by the love of Sam, who will not leave his master.

One of the defects of the  film for me was that it failed to capture the complexity of this relationship, preferring instead the cheap trick of having Frodo reject Sam because of Gollum’s mischief, so that there can be a reconciliation which tugs at the heartstrings. Tolkien was too subtle for Hollywood. In the book we see the trials wearing away at Frodo, as the suffering and the power of the Ring increase and his own energies and optimism fail; but we also see Sam suffer. Their suffering unites them, and even though Sam cannot enter fully into the suffering of Frodo, he can elect to share it. It is only when Frodo appears to be dead that Sam is willing to desert him – and he almost immediately realises he should have listened to his heart and not his head – before going on to heroically rescue his master. As Tolkien puts it: “His love for Frodo rose above all other thoughts, and forgetting his peril he cried aloud: ‘I’m coming, Mr. Frodo!’”

Sam, we see, is in many sense, earthy, he is less sensitive, less spiritual, if you will, than Frodo; and this is Sam’s salvation. Sam, of course, is not tried as sorely as Frodo. His worst moment is when Frodo expresses his anger at Sam having the Ring, but Frodo is shocked into realising how bad things have become: ‘O Sam! cried Frodo. ‘What have I said? What have I done? Forgive me! After all you have done. It is the horrible power of the Ring. I wish it had never, never, been found. But don’t mind me, Sam. I must carry the burden to the end. It can’t be altered. You can’t come between me and this doom.’ Nor will Sam, that never was his aim; he just loves his master and will do what duty is set for him to whatever end may be in store. Sam’s lack of imagination and peasant stoicism is, in many ways, Frodo’s salvation.

But as the trudge to Mt Doom begins, Frodo is now all but consumed by the Ring, which is like a great wheel of fire on which he is being sacrificed. As he confesses his utter weariness and defeat, it is only Sam’s artless offer from love, to carry the thing, which rouses Frodo from his utter weariness:

A wild light came into Frodo’s eyes. ‘Stand away! Don’t touch me!’ he cried. ‘It is mine, I say. Be off!’ His hand strayed to his sword-hilt. But then quickly his voice changed. ‘No, no, Sam,’ he said sadly. ‘But you must understand. It is my burden, and no one else can bear it. It is too late now, Sam dear. You can’t help me in that way again. I am almost in its power now. I could not give it up, and if you tried to take it I should go mad.’

But if the reader is imagining that Frodo will now be given the strength to do what needs to be done, Tolkien has another ending in mind. The Ring was, as Frodo had feared, too powerful for him. His sense of duty, and the love of Sam. brought him to Mt Doom, but as he stands by the great fires he shows he has fallen: “‘I have come,’ he said. ‘But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine.”

Only now are the words spoken by Gandalf shown to be prophetic:

‘Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.’ 

Gollum, consumed as he has been by evil, proves the unexpected source of salvation for Middle Earth – and for Frodo – biting off the finger on which the ring is set, and falling into the fires, to the ruin of the work of the Enemy. Grace and mercy, not the will of Frodo, not all their works, bring salvation.

Sam, of course, after their rescue, looks forward to Frodo being able to resume his old life. One of the main problems with the famous film is that it misses out the whole ‘Scouring of the Shire’ which reveals how Pippin and Merry (and did he but know it, Sam) have grown in stature; it also shows that Frodo knows he will not come into his inheritance. This leads to one of the exchanges which still makes me cry:

‘Are you in pain, Frodo?’ said Gandalf quietly as he rode by Frodo’s side. 

‘Well, yes I am,’ said Frodo. ‘It is my shoulder. The wound aches, and the memory of darkness is heavy on me. It was a year ago today.’

‘Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,’ said Gandalf.

‘I fear it may be so with mine,’ said Frodo. ‘There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?

And at the end, as Sam realises that Frodo is, once again, planning to slip away, there is this:

Where are you going, Master?’ cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening.

‘To the Havens, Sam,’ said Frodo.

‘And I can’t come.’

‘No, Sam. Not yet, anyway, not further than the Havens. Though you too were a Ring-bearer, if only for a little while. Your time may come. Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.’

‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’

‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you.

Frodo knows that what he has done is not for him; his suffering has been an offering to others, not least to Sam.

We cannot know why we are called to suffer, and like Frodo, we can only wish that whatever burden we bear had not come to us. But if we are faithful, we will find from somewhere strength to carry it, though in the process, and in this world, we may ultimately be worn down by it. Without the sacrifice which Jesus made for us, it would indeed be in vain; but He has died not for Himself, but for us, that we might, at the last, be inheritors of the Kingdom.


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