Just now I came across some very unexpected free time and I said to myself (aloud, mind you,) “What if I wrote a blog entry right now?” So I’m doing that incredibly dangerous thing: beginning to write with no end of either kind in mind.

These couple weeks have been very busy. I’m playing in the pit for the musical, which has devoured my evenings, I’m beginning tutoring on Thursday, and lots of medium-sized assignments have begun to crop up out of nowhere. Also I’ve been having a fair number of meal dates. (Alice is popular—Hooray!)

All of these things have done a fair job of keeping my mind off of something I’ve been avoiding thinking about: mercy. You see, I always thought the principal thing about mercy was to give it. But I’m slowly beginning to realize that I’m not usually on that side of the transaction. I sin against God and sin against others, but since I’m no paragon of virtue, I find that people very rarely sin against me. So in my dealings with mercy it is usually being offered to me by kind, wounded hands.

I’ll tell you: I don’t like taking it. It’s not that I mind admitting I was wrong, but often, I cannot bear to be set right. I don’t like taking “the bleeding charity.” I would rather wallow in my sin and say, “No, but I belong here—you will not raise me up.”

That realization has been nagging at me for a few days now, asking me to deal with it, and today in Fantasy we talked about Return of the King. I re-read one of my favorite passages, the passage that first made me cry. But this time, to my great discomfort, I read it differently.

“Wormtongue!” called Frodo. “You need not follow him. I know of no evil you have done to me. You can have rest and food here for a while, until you are stronger and can go your own ways.”

Wormtongue halted and looked back at him, half prepared to stay. Saruman turned. “No evil?” he cackled. “Oh no! Even when he sneaks out at night it is only to look at the stars. But did I hear someone ask where poor Lotho is hiding? You know, don’t you, Worm? Will you tell them?”

Wormtongue cowered down and whimpered: “No, no!”

“Then I will,” said Saruman. “Worm killed your Chief, poor little fellow, your nice little Boss. Didn’t you, Worm? Stabbed him in his sleep, I believe. Buried him, I hope; though Worm has been very hungry lately. No, Worm is not really nice. You had better leave him to me.”

A look of wild hatred came into Wormtongue’s red eyes. “You told me to; you made me do it,” he hissed.

Saruman laughed. “You do what Sharkey says, always, don’t you, Worm? Well, now he says: follow!” He kicked Wormtongue in the face as he grovelled, and turned and made off. But at that something snapped: suddenly Wormtongue rose up, drawing a hidden knife, and then with a snarl like a dog he sprang on Saruman’s back, jerked his head back, cut his throat, and with a yell ran off down the lane. Before Frodo could recover or speak a word, three hobbit-bows twanged and Wormtongue fell dead.

Do you see me? Do you see me in the character I’ve always pitied, and, therefore, from whom I’ve felt comfortably separate? Do you see me in the refusal of the outstretched hand, the whimpering return to agony and rottenness? Do you see that it does not end well?

I don’t understand. I don’t understand why I would rather label myself with my sin than with God’s grace. I don’t understand why I do not want what is good. I don’t understand why I would rather be endlessly chastised than forgiven. I don’t understand why I’d rather look at my feet than at His glory.

I behave as if Christ on the cross meant nothing, as if “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” did not absolve me also, as if no one’s ever told me He loves me.

I feel a bit like the one hundredth sheep, who has caught herself deep in the briars. Come find me, Lord. I’m crying mercy, or beginning to, at the very least.

Frodo Baggins and Gospel Truth

In the last few weeks I’ve begun to really read the Lord of the Rings properly for the very first time. I’ve had them all read to me more than once, and I’ve seen the movies plenty, and I’ve always felt a little guilty that I didn’t appreciate them as I knew I ought. But now, for the first time since Annie and Karen and I formed our own “Council of Galadriel” in fourth grade, I’m really coming to them as an adult. Let me tell you a secret: THERE IS SO MUCH THERE.

I don’t mean just mean all the intricacies of Tolkien’s fathoms-deep lore, which I sometimes find fascinating and sometimes find annoying.  I mean wisdom. It is startling how willing the characters are to pronounce something good or evil. Barrow wights? To be feared. Orcs? Terrifically icky. Uruk-hai? Even more foul. The Balrog? The worst of the worst. Saruman? An infamous traitor. Sauron? Black and awful. But the Shire is all that is good. Gandalf is wise and infinitely trustworthy. Samwise is forever loyal.

We so rarely speak in definites. We are frightened to call things what they are. We do not like to talk about good and evil because it makes things hard. It means that if we intend to be good, there is a very real evil which we needs must pit ourselves against. And we might suffer and die and fail. Tolkien’s characters are not oblivious to this, yet we could learn much from them.

Aragorn hides from his opportunity for goodness and his ultimate destiny, even going so far as to look fairly objectionable at first meeting. Yet, “All that is gold does not glitter, all who wander are not lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.” The point is, Aragorn is absolutely, unequivocally gold. And so too, is the rest of the fellowship. Boromir wavers and falls. The ring, which exponentially increases the dreadful power of sinful desire and service to evil, affects his mortal nature, but we must not forget his departure. He dies valiantly protecting Merry and Pippin, and with his last breath, he tells Aragorn that he has failed. Aragorn denies it saying, “No! You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory.” Boromir dies the death of a  good man.

Perhaps the most striking are the Hobbits, because it is quite clear at the beginning that they do not really understand evil, because they have not known it. They know the goodness of food and friendship and the abundant blessings of the shire. They have hardly heard of Mordor. Again and again, one wise character after another points out that had they known the perils ahead they could not have mustered courage to come.

But even Frodo does not really know the darkness fully. At the Council of Elrond, when everyone has (finally) stopped talking, they sit in quiet desperation, wondering what is to be done. At length, out of the silence, the hobbit speaks. “’I will take the ring’ he said. ’Though I do not know the way.’”

It reminded me suddenly of a passage from book three of Milton’s Paradise Lost. The scene is heaven, and God the father is asking a question:

Which of ye will be mortal, to redeem

Man’s mortal crime, and just, the unjust to save?

Dwells in all Heaven charity so dear?

He asked, but all the Heavenly Quire stood mute,
And silence was in Heaven: on Man’s behalf
Patron or intercessor none appeared—
Much less that durst upon his own head draw
The deadly forfeiture, and ransom set.
And now without redemption all mankind
Must have been lost, adjudged to Death and Hell
By doom severe, had not the Son of God,
In whom the fulness dwells of love divine,
His dearest mediation thus renewed:—

Christ stepped into the silence and offered to take sin to the cross, as Frodo offers to take the ring to Mount Doom. Apparently, Tolkien knew his Milton, but I’ll tell you something else which Tolkien probably also knew: Christ was no Frodo. He knew the way ahead. He had no ignorance with which to swaddle courage. He knew every step of suffering, all the blood, sweat, and tears, He knew that if He did this thing, he would have to endure separation from His Father. For He was God on High, not a homey, hairy-footed hobbit.

And yet, with that terrible knowledge He makes Himself in the form of a man, all so that “From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.”

Adventure is out there!

I started planning this entry on I-40 East coming home from Nashville. That has been my nice surprise of the month: I got to spend this past week in Missouri at my grandparents’, which you will have heard about in entries like this one and especially this one.

I didn’t bring my little computer at all and so was basically sans internet and mostly sans phone for over a week. I sat in the Raleigh airport a week ago Friday waiting for my flight and my head was spinning. I had just finished powering through season two of Mad Men at such a rate that sitting there I kept thinking every man I saw was Don Draper. Not that North Carolina boys are a bad-looking lot, but my, my, Alice, let’s not get carried away. My brain was fairly addled, and I felt disembodied. I felt as if I was no longer quite in possession of a self.

So here’s what I did all week: I read Tolkien, I washed a few windows, and I worked on a story. I had one white night, I watched one Jimmy Stewart movie, and I cooked some beans. I cleaned my grandma’s cabinets and went to Walmart only twice. One lovely afternoon I floated in the pool with a book and a milkshake from Tastee Treat.

I woke up a little, I think. It was a slow waking. I did not notice that I felt particularly different. Perhaps I was simply spending less time noticing myself and more time noticing the breeze on the dam of an afternoon, how many pages I had managed to fill in my little notebook, and marvelous quotes from the Hobbit to copy into it, though what I am writing is not at all a conventional adventure story. All hearty things for a kid in my condition—nothing like a computer screen to make you dwindle.

Then on Friday evening I sat in my aunt and uncle’s house watching the opening ceremonies and at the soaring shots of the countryside and the sound of the children’s choirs, I felt a near-forgotten longing. By the time all those Mary Poppinses floated down to vanquish Voldemort I had nearly lost my head.

I wanted to go. Karen and I had planned since we were sixteen to go to the 2012 Olympics. We were supposed to be there! What was I doing watching it from the couch? At the very least I was supposed to be headed there to study abroad this year. Off to visit the dear homeland of the Pevensies, the Bastables, the Mennyms, Pongo and Lady, the BFG and every other dear friend. (There is no faster way to my heart than British children’s literature.)

And thus it was that without warning I found myself saying to my mom in the car yesterday: “What if I got a job in England next summer?” Because, of course, I need money, (even at the end of this summer, I’m still scrambling for work,) but maybe I can quietly trick my scared little self into an adventure, if I make the arrangements fast, before myself notices.

I have often felt frightened and trapped and every miserable thing for the last year or so, but in the words of the indomitable Bilbo Baggins when he is trapped in a dark tunnel, lost from his friends and pursued by narsty, narsty goblins:

“Go back? No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”

He does not even think of standing still.