There are a few profound moments in the book The Lord of the Rings that were not included in Peter Jackson’s wonderful filmic depiction of the story. One is near the beginning of the novel, where the hobbits are protected from the Nazgul that hunt them by a band of migrating Elves. One of the Elves, Gildor, reminds Frodo of an important truth: “But it is not your own Shire. Others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more. The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out”. It is a powerful reminder that although we may try to do all we can to impose order on our own worlds, the reality is that most of what happens in life is outside of our control. Gildor’s advice is a caution against complacency. The world, whether or not we like or accept the fact, is a hostile place. It will not always play by our rules.
If we want to protect ourselves, and especially our hearts, there inevitably must come a time when we accept that our Shires cannot protect us. I have, in my previous posts, been arguing a case for finding life’s abundance through ‘guarding our hearts’ (Proverbs 4:23). We start the journey, I believe, by accepting that the comfortable ideals, philosophies or political systems that we believe protect us from life’s hurts are destined to fail us. Our self-made walls will eventually crumble. The world’s evils cannot be thwarted by hiding from them, or worse, refusing to acknowledge their existence. In order to guard our hearts, I believe we need to take up arms.
If we accept the war analogy, then we would be well advised to adopt military strategies to guard our hearts. The first one I wish to propose is this: no battle is ever won by people acting alone. Individuals may make decisions and courageously perform extraordinary actions of enormous significance, but ultimately winning a war is a collaborative effort. I believe the battle for our hearts is no different. We cannot win it by ourselves.
In another beautiful moment not quite captured by the film, disaster is averted by Aragorn’s wisdom. Haldir and the Elves refuse to allow Gimli, representing their ancient foes, the Dwarves, to travel into Lothlórien unless he is blindfolded. Gimli refuses and is preparing to fight. Aragorn decides that the entire fellowship – even Legolas, himself an Elf – will be blindfolded too. Haldir makes a trenchant observation: “Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.” The evils of the world are inescapable; even in the seeming sanctuary of Lothlórien, prejudice and hatred thrive. And evil will always be more powerful when we are isolated. Whether as groups – like the Elves and the Dwarves, or the men of Gondor and the men of Rohan – or as individuals, the wellspring of life that springs from our hearts is never more threatened than when we believe that we are self-sufficient.
In a very poignant gesture of reconciliation, Galadriel echoes the yearning of Gimli’s heart, using the very words he uttered when gazing upon the ruined glory of Moria earlier in the book, displaying deep empathy for his hurt:
“Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla, and fair were the many-pillared halls of Khazad-dûm in Elder Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone.” She looked upon Gimli, who sat glowering and sad, and she smiled. And the Dwarf, hearing the names given in his own ancient tongue, looked up and met her eyes; and it seem to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding. Wonder came into his face and then he smiled in answer.
He rose clumsily and bowed in Dwarf-fashion, saying: “Yet more fair is the living land of Lórien, and the Lady Galadriel is above all the jewels that lie beneath the earth!”
Setting out to guard our hearts, then, means forgiving. It means moving on from past hurts and learning to trust. It means finding a fellowship of men and women with the same vision of restoration. It means being willing to serve others in their heart-quests, to say as Sam does of Frodo: “Leave him! … I never mean to. I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon; and if any of these Black Riders try to stop him, they’ll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with…” If the battle is to be won, we will need to proceed unfettered by our prejudices or our pain, and learn to trust and to be trusted.
As we start to plan the way forward, plotting the way towards our own Mordors, we must ask ourselves some important questions: who do we need to forgive if we are to go forward unimpeded? Who will our allies be? How can we help others on their journeys? I will encourage you with the words Galadriel spoke to a disconsolate Frodo, who felt hopeless I the face of what seemed an insurmountable darkness: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Not without help, of course, and certainly not by maintaining the status quo, but then nothing worthwhile was ever won easily. Take heart, friends. The shadow of Mordor may lie heavy upon us, but the end is yet to be determined. The battle is far from over.