Thursday, May 31, 2012

Beyond Hope

I read once that Tolkien wrote with the pessimism of the pagan poets [1].  They uphold honor in despair, dying well, the heroic quest at the cost of losing everything you love.  But I read Tolkien and see hope scribed into every chapter.  No light, whimsical child’s hope: Tolkien’s hope is not ignorance of all things capable of clouding the good.  It’s a “fool’s hope,” [2] where anyone can see that in all likelihood, if things go on as they are, the fool will be disappointed.  In Tolkien, the fools know themselves to be fools. 

Elven-King Fingolfin’s story weighs on the side of hopelessness.  The Silmarillion describes him as “fey” [3] when he challenges Melkor himself, living up to the epic’s heroic virtues.  What hope has an elf against a Vala?  But the Vala ought to be contended, resisted, fought.  Though the high king of the Noldor (elves) finally fell, his fight was not without effect.  The Dark Lord Melkor limped forever after. 

At first reading, it seems that Aragorn commends this sort of despairing courage when he instructs his friends, “There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.” [4]  But Gandalf, the wizard who knows his life-encompassing hope is foolish, lends a bit of insight early on.  Recognizing he is a fool, he embraces humility.  Do you hear it in Gandalf’s words? “Despair, or folly?  It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.  We do not.  It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope.” [5]  He acknowledges that he may not have all the facts.  Indeed, thinking that he knew what the end would be was the prideful downfall of Denethor, who let his enemy select the facts he discovered, and so turn him to despair, and madness.  Tolkien’s works regularly discourage the assumption that we know the future. 

He also discourages despair.  I know it doesn’t seem true.  There are some pivotal scenes driven by characters that rashly pursue death and glory.  Aragorn is accused of it when he takes the Paths of the Dead, but that perspective is refuted.  Though the way had been shut for long ages, the time had come.  Such is the way of hope.  Things go on in a certain way until the due time, and then change springs upon the world.  

Perhaps most potent is the image of grey-eyed Dernhelm.  The warrior’s silent, calm assurance going in search of death chilled Merry.  And it awakens our empathy.  Why shouldn’t it?  Who hasn’t felt that life is going from bad to worse, and decided to rush forward to the end instead of waiting to be burned with the house?  I think maybe Tolkien intended to carry us along with this character, so that we could reach the same end.  Dernhelm was proud, seeking glory before duty, though demonstrating loyal love to King Theoden by staying close to him.  And glory was achieved.  And darkness did descend on the desperate hero.  Even as Dernhelm revealed herself as Eowyn, golden hair glittering in the storm-piercing sunrise like a figment of hope; she was cast down, poisoned, and taken for dead.  [6]

But now we come to it:  Tolkien’s hope is the kind that stands further and deeper than all those things – than despair and darkness and loss.  He knew about a resurrection hope, about seeds bringing forth fruit after they have fallen into the ground and died.  Maybe he knew that fruit is more glorious than merely putting an end to your enemies.  His hope embraces grief.  It accepts hard things.  Good is not determined by the outcome, but by some transcendent standard.  And this hope joyfully trusts that there is someOne good who may intervene yet. 

For Eowyn woke, and repented her destructive ideals.  Day came again.  Darkness was not unescapable.  Faramir described the moment, “I do not know what is happening.  The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days.  But my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny.  … in this hour I do not believe that any darkness will endure!” [7]  So Eowyn moved and married, healed and tended gardens. [8]  Her story is a fuller exposition of the transformation the Fellowship underwent in Moria.  They lost their way and lost their guide.  They had descended black depths and awakened demons so that they lost hope.  But on the field high on the mountain slopes, “they came beyond hope under the sky and felt the wind on their faces.” [9]

[1] Hopeless Courage by Loren Rosson, III (
[2] The Return of the King: “The Siege of Gondor” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 797)
[3] See etymology of “fey” at
[4] The Two Towers: “The Riders of Rohan” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 430)
[5] The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Council of Elrond” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 262)
[6] The Return of the King: “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 823-824)
[7] The Return of the King: “The Steward and the King” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 941)
[8] The Return of the King: “The Steward and the King” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 943-944)
[9] The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 323)

See also, The Silmarillion: “Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin” by JRR Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

To God be all glory.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Missed Marveling

I missed marveling at the blossoms on the trees this year. I didn't walk under them a single time. I saw them, soooo early this year in Colorado, and I delighted in the rows of varying pink down the edge of the street - as I drove on by. I thought to myself, "It's early. A heavy snow is coming, a frost. They'll be gone. Promise of fruit, these flowers, will wither and brown. Too good to be true. And I'm not ready for spring yet." Now having evaded spring's normal reprise of winter, it's summer for all intents and purposes, and I sit at work wishing I could lie in the grass but on my days off I'm too busy. I need to say "no" to other things, and go out and play. I need to embrace the wonder of life and growth and the God who authored them. Scratch the to-do list; press into God. To God be all glory.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why I Chose Not To Go To College

A friend asked me the other night to tell her why I chose not to go to college.  My answer was so long it reminded me of a blog post.  So here it is.  

In order of chronology or importance: 

1) I couldn't decide what I wanted to study.

2) I wanted to be lots of different things.

3) I didn't want to waste my time or money.

4) I prayed that God would show me what He wanted the desires of my heart to be.

5) God showed me that all the things I couldn't decide between had to do with being a wife, a mom, and a friend - and doing those things well. 

6) I didn't believe that God would give me an MRS degree just for going to college, especially if He didn't lead me there.

7) I wanted to prepare for the life God was calling me to.

8) Not going to college gives me lots of time for ministry as well as for preparation. I realized so many of my acquaintances focused on getting good grades instead of keeping up relationships. God absolutely calls Christians to be in relationship with one another. 

9) I don't believe a woman needs a degree as a back up to provide for herself "in case" something happens to her father or husband. Rather, I believe in a Church that is called to care for orphans and widows - and fathers who are expected to provide for their own. 

10) I believe in remaining part of my father's household until I join someone else's through marriage. I've been indecisive about whether this means I must live in his house (not go away to college). There aren't a lot of good schools in the Denver Metro Area, especially for the subjects I was interested in. 

11) I have a sufficient job for the mean time. There are many people I have heard of who graduate and cannot get a job as good as mine for quite a while. 

12) Libraries are free. Internet learning is cheap. Practice and experience are good teachers.

13) Public schools require me to submit, in a way, to ungodly counsel and instruction. Christian schools claim to promote the truth, but are sometimes more subversive than openly secular ones. 

14) The economics of college tuitions and degrees is shifting. The cost of school goes up to disastrous levels, especially when debt is used to fund it. And the improved employment I may have been able to receive (should I have ended up working after college) isn't enough to compensate. So many people go to college now. It doesn't really make a person stand out on an application. I'm a sort of rebel hoping to reform the system by boycotting it. I think we would have a work force more prepared for their vocation if they were trained in ways other than classroom lectures, books, and tests. 

15) Having saved money and not gone into debt for school has left me with more freedom - to give, to only work part time, to do ministry, to be ready to go where God sends me. 

16) College tends to put off making decisions and taking responsibility. The path is decided for a person, when college is the expected next step. And it's still school, just like a child has been doing for the past twelve years. So it keeps grown-ups in a more child-like setting. This doesn't mean that a person cannot behave in a mature way while in college; it's just another intermediate step between childhood and the kind of life that an adult will spend most of his or her time on.

I hope that doesn't sound judgmental. I don't think that it is inherently wrong to go to college. My answer is just ten years of thoughts on the subject and how God has shaped my life through the question.

To God be all glory.