J.R.R. Tolkien

Book Tour Entry #3: A Deep Restlessness for Something More

This post begins with a passage from The Lord of the Rings, and it requires a brief introduction.

The event described below happens after Frodo and his eight companions have met the fairest elf in Middle-Earth, Galadriel, in the woods of Lorien. Such is her beauty and wonder that a deep sadness and a profound sense of loss overtakes the company as they finally leave her land and say goodbye to her: 

Suddenly the River swept round a bend, and the banks rose upon either side, and the light of Lórien was hidden. To that fair land Frodo never came again.
The travellers now turned their faces to the journey; the sun was before them, and their eyes were dazzled, for all were filled with tears. Gimli wept openly.
‘I have looked the last upon that which was fairest,’ he said to Legolas his companion. ‘Henceforward I will call nothing fair, unless it be her gift.’ He put his hand to his breast.
‘Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! Truly Elrond spoke, saying that we could not foresee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord. Alas for Gimli son of Glóin!’
‘Nay!’ said Legolas. ‘Alas for us all! And for all that walk the world in these after-days. For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.

***

The powerful passage above brings to mind two passages in the Bible:

Psalm 84:1, 2 (NKJV):

“How lovely is Your tabernacle,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints
For the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV):

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”

When Legolas addresses Gimli’s grief, he speaks one of the most profound lines in Tolkien’s trilogy: “For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.” 

There is something deeply unsatisfying about life in this world. Nothing seems to fill the subterranean ache in our hearts that grasps and longs for something beyond the horizon of life. Even in our bliss we feel restless. It feels as if another world is hiding behind the roar of our happiest days like a secret cave behind a waterfall.

Time doesn’t help. When we finally reach a moment of great happiness—we obtain some goal, we get a job we love, we go to college, we buy a house, we marry someone we love, we have children—the first thing we notice is how quickly Time is pushing us along. We want to stand still and bask in the glory of that wonderful moment, but Time, like an impatient police officer gruffly managing a crowd, hurries us along to the next moment. Any joy to be had in this world begins moving away from us as quickly as it arrives.

We’re left wanting more.

A deep restlessness stirs. We wish those moments of happiness had never ended. Deep down we wish everything good could go on forever.

Ecclesiastes hints at this when it mentions God hiding eternity in our hearts. We’re discontent with the finiteness of human joy. Deep down we sense that joy was never supposed to end. God’s original plan had aimed for something better than the fleeting, half-formed happiness of this world. A vague awareness of this blissful eternity haunts every soul, especially because each of us, in our own way, are destined “to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.”

But Psalm 84 offers us a practical solution: refocus our many longings in life—like mirrors redirecting lasers—until our deepest longing points to Christ, the Author of Life. When we make God the object of our deepest desire, when our heart and flesh faints for the beauty of His presence on a daily basis, we begin to taste a supernatural kind of joy that never fades. This, of course, does not mean that our efforts to pursue God always yield a perfectly blissful experience. The journey of pursuing God, like hiking up a steep mountain, can be tiring and frustrating. (After all, our spirits are willing but our flesh is weak.)

But it is worth it.

By pointing our heart’s desire to God above all other pursuits, we grasp toward something that is itself eternal. Nothing in our earthly lives—money, relationships, romance, jobs, ministries—are eternal. When the beautiful tabernacle of God becomes our great desire—that dwelling place beneath His great pavilion where we go in our hearts to enjoy sweet fellowship, prayer, worship, and a continual feasting on the Word—a peace settles over our spirits in the place that was once incurable and restless.

Why?

Because we’ve finally set our hearts on a joy that is always available in rich potency and unfading quality. We’ve finally put our hope on riches that never fade or run out.

We’re finally beginning to taste and know the eternal love that has haunted us—a joy and source of life in Him we can never lose.

Abba, please change my cravings. Change my wants and needs and rearrange my heart until You genuinely are my greatest craving, want, and need—my deepest longing. If my hunger for You is weak and fickle, change me. Transform me. Reshape my heart. Stir a new hunger. Renew my vision of Your beauty so that I see what I am missing. Allow that sudden awareness of my lack of You to stir a deeper hunger until knowing You becomes the great pursuit of my life. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Starlight On the Western Seas: An Excerpt from a Tolkien Devotional

Right now it's the magic hour in California, that time between dusk and starlight when sunlight meanders and fades. The sky looks like a Monet painting at the moment, and the air is cooling fast.

Somehow it's the perfect atmosphere for something Tolkien-esque.

I'm working on a new 5-day e-devotional inspired by the Lord of the Rings novel by J. R. R. Tolkien. I'll be using this devotional as a free incentive for future projects (like for my new book), but I wanted to share some of it with you because, well, you're awesome.

I've finished Day One of the devotional. Here it is below. I hope it inspires you somehow.

-Kevin


"Starlight on the Western Seas"

We still remember, we who dwell

In this far land beneath the trees

The starlight on the Western Seas.

Frodo and Sam halted and sat silent in the soft shadows, until they saw a shimmer as the travellers came towards them.[From "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."]

***

I will remember the works of the Lord;

Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.

I will also meditate on all Your work,

And talk of Your deeds.

-Psalm 77:11,12 (NKJV)

A deep longing fills every page of Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. Across its panorama Tolkien speaks of glimmering starlight, glittering sunsets, and the swelling blue of night as travelers pass beneath moon and star and night breeze—and all of it is seen from the eyes of hobbits who love to walk, who pine for adventure and great vistas and wonders. The smallness of the travelers, combined with their big-heartedness, makes Middle-Earth seem larger than life and filled with wonder.

But beyond these features of Tolkien’s masterpiece, there’s something else that adds a deeper layer of yearning: the long, bittersweet memory of Middle-Earth. Every turn of the road and every shaded grove holds some ancient tale in it—some distant connection to memories and legends that endure in the songs of elves or in the lore of the kings of Westernesse. 

This is partially why The Lord of the Rings fills the reader with such longing. The culture of Middle-Earth finds extraordinary value in remembering. All memories worth remembering are committed to song or to handwritten books (like Bilbo’s and Frodo’s books).

In a similar way, in our relationship with God, there are moments when deep longing and perhaps even deeper wells of memory intersect, and we stand on the pinnacle of some night looking up at the stars, remembering things that God has done in our lives—remembering the tokens of love, big and small, that He has written into our stories.

Remembering was a serious business among the peoples of Middle-Earth. Remembering was at the center of everything they did. This is a good trait to imitate. In the Word, God urged His people to remember all He has done and to meditate on those good things. We should do the same.

In fact, why not be like Bilbo and Frodo and write your own chronicle that details your adventures with God? Buy a journal and begin writing down everything you can remember that God has done in your life. Return to the journal often and meditate on those things.

Abba, thank you for Your works in my life and the way you slip tokens of love, big and small, into my story. Help me to see those tokens, those love notes you slip to my heart—little beacons of light like stars glimmering in the night—and help me to remember those good things so that the remembering becomes a way of life. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Is Your Faith an Adventure or a Quest? The Difference Between the Two

Is Your Faith an Adventure or a Quest? The Difference Between the Two

Our culture loves admiring (from a safe distance, mind you) the glory of quests. We love watching them in movies and reading about them in novels, but in actual practice, we much prefer adventures not quests. In fact, our Western culture, despite all the lip-service it pays to them, tends to avoid quests with the same fear that it avoids death.

Why?

While listening to a Timothy Keller sermon ("Real Security and the Call of God" sermon, 2/10/10) he explained something striking about adventures and quests.

In Ode to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (and Mushrooms too)

"They had supper in the kitchen on a table near the fire. "I suppose you three won't want mushrooms again?" said Fredegar without much hope. "Yes we shall!" cried Pippin...Hobbits have a passion for mushrooms, surpassing even the greediest likings of Big People. -The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (p. 114)

 

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He Sought Her Ever, Wandering Far...

Here's an excerpt (the first few stanzas) from J.R.R. Tolkien's Beren and Luthien poem. It always brings stabs of joy -- far-off longings that always cause the eyes to look up, to search the horizon for something or someone behind the sunrise -- and it captures the bittersweet sharpness of love. It's the perfect example of the enchanting ancient melancholy that forever hangs over Tolkien's Middle Earth:

"The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinuviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.

"There Beren came from mountains cold.
And lost he wandered under leaves,
And where the Elven-river rolled
He walked alone and sorrowing.
He peered between the hemlock-leaves
And saw in wonder flowers of gold
Upon her mantle and her sleeves,
And her hair like shadow following.

"Enchantment healed his weary feet
That over hills were doomed to roam;
And forth he hastened, strong and fleet,
And grasped at moonbeams glistening.
Through woven woods in Elvenhome
She lightly fled on dancing feet,
And left him lonely still to roam
In the silent forest listening.

"He heard there oft the flying sound
Of feet as light as linden-leaves,
Or music welling underground,
In hidden hollows quavering.
Now withered lay the hemlock-sheaves,
And one by one with sighing sound
Whispering fell the beachen leaves
In wintry woodland wavering.

"He sought her ever, wandering far
Where leaves of years were thickly strewn,
By light of moon and ray of star
In frosty heavens shivering.
Her mantle glinted in the moon,
As on a hill-top high and far
She danced, and at her feet was strewn
A mist of silver quivering...."

You can read the full thing here, but these were the stanzas that especially stuck out to me today.

The Biblical Hope in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"

The Biblical Hope in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"

It was the perfect atmosphere for emerging from the film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the final installment of Jackson's Hobbit saga -- and the final appearance of a Middle-Earth movie on the big screen. (The Tolkien Estate refuses to allow any more movie adaptations.) What struck me about this final film was its poignant Biblical message about having too strong an attachment to the things in this world -- whether those things be money, possessions, power, the pleasures and triumphs of a career, even our identities.