“A Man May Do Both”

by Gjergji Evangjeli

 

For anyone who has yet to memorize the whole of The Lord of the Rings, the above reference is to a conversation between Aragorn and a rider of Rohan. Aragorn has just finished recounting his travels into the Golden Wood and the capture of Merry and Pippin by the orcs when is met with incredulity by this unnamed rider. “Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in daylight?” he asks. Aragorn responds, “A man may do both … For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!”

Aragorn’s response to the rider’s hermeneutic of suspicion is significant for two distinct reasons, which should be well remembered and kept close to our minds and our hearts. First, it exposes the true character of legend. Sam, when he is forced to reconsider his understanding of the great tales, says, “Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't.” To a Christian, that quote may bring to mind the story of twelve undoubtedly pleasant, but hopelessly uneducated Jewish boys who changed the course of history forever. They had lots of chances to turn back, only they didn’t.

 

Even in our small lives, the same principle is true. Much like the story of Beren and Lúthien—which we are told is not finished, but continues on to the day of the events of The Lord of the Rings—the greatest story ever told, the great love story between God and His people, is yet unfinished, because you and I are part of it. We do not know what the future holds for anyone, but as C. S. Lewis reminds us, “there are no ordinary people.” There are no mere mortals, rather, “It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” Whether in the course of our lives we are met with extraordinary challenges and overcome overwhelming odds, such that truly deserve to be commemorated in song, or lead a life of quiet virtue and simple devotion, we are meant to be part of the Great Song which is to be sung at the ending of the world.

 

Second, it points to the error of the impoverished modern view of the world and everything in it. The Christian East and the Christian West invite us into a view of the world that is, on the whole, sacramental. God tells us, as He told Moses, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5). St. Gregory the Theologian suggests that the sandals, made from the skin of dead animals, represent the deadness of our material fixations, which separate us from God. Far be it from me to suggest going barefoot, especially in this weather, but we should perhaps consider going without our spiritual buffer that prevents us from walking on God’s green earth.

 

The contemporary mind, so intently focused on a reductive attitude toward just about everything sees the earth as merely a mixture of various organic and inorganic substances. It is not that that focus is somehow bad or wrong, but rather that it is incomplete. It is a bit like a tremendously detailed study of the pigments and proportion of the Mona Lisa, which somehow manages to pierce with much subtlety at everything in the painting while miserably failing to notice the painting itself. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, while talking to the old star Ramandu, Eustace blurts out, “In our world a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” Ramandu responds, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

 

The ancients referred to the sky as ‘the heavens’ and were filled with awe, even though they knew so little about it. We, who know so much more about the great vastness of the heavens refer to it as ‘space’ and choose to focus much more on the empty spaces between the great lights. It would do us well to take our eyes off our telescopes and microscopes and instead attempt to see.

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