“The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow if I can, pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins some larger way, where many paths and errands meet, and whither then? I cannot say.” – Bilbo Baggins, spoken upon his departure from Bag End at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
“Here is your God, he comes with vindication, with divine recompense he comes to save you. A highway will be there, called the holy way; no one unclean may pass over it, nor fools go astray on it. ” – Isaiah 35:8
I grew up reading the “Lord of the Rings” and hanging out on porches filled with good friends, dwindling sunlight, musings on “what if’s” and wondering about where the next Road might lead me. I thought Hobbits should have been real folk, that I wished I knew them personally, and I was so excited to read “The Two Towers” that I actually sat down on the floor of our school library in a back corner on my “study hall” break to start reading it, and the librarian found me there over an hour later and scolded me for being late to my next class. True story.
Someplace along the way, and I don’t know when, my highways became a whole lot more by-ways and I started to forget about orcs and trolls and eagles and buried treasure. I overlooked Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits and things called Gollum. I think it was a bit of that sad Peter Pan-growing up bit that strikes all of us as we grow older. I read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books to my children over a decade ago (maybe two, which is kind of startling because that means they might have been a wee bit on the young side for it…) but over time, I only recalled the general movie-star plot line. Two weeks ago, I enrolled in a Lord of the Rings Catholic class on JR Tolkien – and it was there that I finally picked up the books and read again the trilogy – and stumbled across that verse that I quoted above. It was like finding an old friend seated on a back porch rocking chair puffing away on Pipe Weed. asking if it was snack time for elevensies. It reminded me of a time when I really thought Hobbits existed – and when in my youth I expected that real people of great virtue would travel the super highway of God and save us from sheer ruin before we imploded on our own imaginary, closely guarded castles of gold, silver, jewels and self-righteousness. To free us from our very own Smaug, trapped on an island of self-preservation with no road leading out of those snares of despair. I was looking for a hero, and the trilogy was full of heroes. In the real world – not so much.
So, to read those oh-so-familiar words of the very humble Bilbo again today, well, gee – my hardened heart was wax melted once again into the flame. We are called to be pilgrims on a long and sometimes arduous journey, friends. Better yet – we are called to be heroes. I am blessed that my journey down from the door where it all began was filled with faith, love, family and friends. I might have marveled to think about where the adventures of Bilbo and Frodo might take me, but I was never full of self-loathing, or hatred, or envy – or fear. My porches were full of dark nights with my dad waxing on about the stars over my head and lessons about the Milky Way, and encouraging me to think about galaxies bigger than I could imagine. My days were overflowing with family and cousins (and second cousins) eager to draw imaginary swords out of scabbards to fight ferocious dragons guarding jewels and breathing fire. We didn’t live to escape trials and tribulations; instead, we thrived on that. We couldn’t wait to face them.
Not so, today. Not so. Not all are so lucky to travel on the super highway to meet God. Times of loss, despair, desolation, distrust – all so damaging and very common today. It grieves and pains my heart. Our Catholic Church in particular is in great need of a hero. A Savior. My feet are eager to lead the way, but the road is very long.
Then without another word, he turned away from the lights and voices in the fields and tents…he jumped over a low place in the hedge at the bottom and took to the meadows, passing into the night like a rustle of wind in the grass.
May we all find our feet to carry us far when the way is hard and the dragons threaten to consume us. May we all find a little bit of Hobbit in our souls to drive us forward when the way is troubled. We are the stuff that makes heroes more than wishful thoughts in crumpled pages and faded ink. We just have to recall the door where it all began, and return there. And knock until it is opened.
Hope. Faith. Love. Perseverance. Endurance.