Wednesday, January 16, 2013

An Unexpected Kindness (*Minor Spoilers*)

Two weekends ago, I watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for a second time. After my second go-round, I give it *drumroll*...3.75 out of 5. I had a lot of fun, at times it was epic, but tone and pacing were just shy of greatness. Also, try as I might, that rock 'em sock 'em rock giant scene still just seems completely superfluous, redundant, and adds nothing to the characters or the story of The Hobbit qua film. It was just big and bombastic for no reason.

But that rock giant scene proceeds a scene with some of my favourite lines in the movie: Gandalf telling Galadriel why he chose Bilbo Baggins to round out Thorin's Company:
"Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is in the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage."

For me, that dialogue really sums up why I love the Lord of the Rings so much. And I love the world of Middle-Earth that has been brought to the screen, and am excited to see The Hobbit added to that world, alongside the The Lord of the Rings films. Author J.R.R. Tolkien called his Lord of the Rings a "fundamentally Catholic work...unconsciously so at first, but conscious in the revision...the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism." In Tolkien's story, the One Ring was destroyed on March 25th - the Feast of the Annunciation, when the old time made way for the new. You could also see the whole story as a kind of Passion play. And within this beautiful story is a plethora of Catholic virtue: Courage. Perseverance. Friendship. Integrity. Repentance. Hope in the darkness. The inherent goodness of creation. Divine Providence. Resurrection and Redemption. Love. The way that everything about the story permeates with a striving for the Good, fighting against evil and for freedom, so that everyone can do and live as they ought, is beautiful. Goodness just seeps out of every frame of the story, and this includes the action scenes in the movies. When push comes to shove, the Fellowship of the Ring is ready to throw down in order to keep the darkness at bay. The intensity of the action scenes really shows how much everyone is willing to sacrifice.

And the action scenes are incredible; some of the most impressive ever brought to screen. But so many of my favourite moments in those movies are not the big and fancy, but the "small every day deeds of ordinary folk." It's as if all the intensity of the action is encapsulated in the small, the simple, and the unassuming:

Sam, drowning in the river Anduin, about to be pulled out by Frodo - but not before Sam's limp hand suddenly comes back to life and grasps at Frodo's arm.


Aragorn, impossibly outnumbered at the Gates of Mordor, turns to his 500 troops before charging the enemy in one last act of courage in order to destroy the Ring.

"For Frodo."

 The entirety of the Shire, where above all else, hobbits love things that grow.

Wendell Berry Land!

I'm reminded of what Blessed Mother Teresa once said: "We cannot do great things, only small things with great love." The small things that we do are can have the biggest impact. All of us are Frodo, Sam, Bilbo; all of us are small and unassuming, but by God's grace, our very being and our acts of love can keep the darkness at bay. And are not the greatest, most beautiful aspects of our faith also the smallest and most unassuming? I put this part of our faith up for contention:
(The Last) debate over. 
 What looks like the smallest, simplest, most unassuming, humblest piece of bread is in reality the biggest punch to the devil's face. The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is what keeps the darkness at bay. Tolkien coined the term Eucatastrophe, defined as "the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which ensure that the protagonist does not meet some terrible doom." It is the sudden joyous turn that pierces the heart. For Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, destroying the ring and defeating Sauron was their eucatastrophe. But Tolkien also connected the term to the gospel. He called the Incarnation the eucatastrophe of human history, and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation. And of course, implied in the Resurrection is the Eucharist. It is the light in the darkness, the small overtaking the big, the humble overtaking the proud. Do we have a kind of eucatastrophe when we gaze upon our Lord? Do we feel Him piercing our hearts with joy when we consume Him in the mass? The joy and light is already there. And if, through Baptism and the Eucharist, we really are "mini-Christs" and are a part of His Body, people should experience a eucatastrophe when they meet us. It could be one conversation or one simple gesture, but regardless, people should see that we are loved and that we are loving because Christ first loved us. Darkness has tried to overtake the light, and it has failed. Darkness has fallen. We need to respond to this truth and live it. Then, by the power of the Eucharist, others will see kindness, courage, and love in one of the most unexpected of places - in us.

Mornië alantië

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