Lessons of Theoden

On a recent revisit to The Lord of the Rings, I was particularly struck by Theoden, the King of Rohan. When we meet him early in The Two Towers, he is an older gentleman, and his mind has been contaminated by evil. However, after an exorcism from Gandalf, he returns to his right mind and leads his people to battle.

But he goes into battle knowing that he will not see the end result. He is fighting for the freedom and preservation of Rohan, Gondor, and all Middle Earth really. However, he knows that he will not see the liberated Rohan (and Gondor) in his lifetime. In all likelihood, he will die in this war or soon after its end. He knows this. He is not fighting for himself. The young men around him-Faramir, Eomer, and Aragorn-fight with the hope that they will see their goal accomplished. They will live in the free Rohan, the free Gondor, the free Middle Earth. Theoden does not go to war with this hope. Theoden goes to war with the mentality that he will not see the end of the war. If his side wins the war, he is unlikely to see the end. He does not fight for himself. He fights for others.

I was struck by this in the context of Christianity. I teach middle school religion, and at times I wonder why I’m doing this. Why am I teaching other people’s children about the history and the faith of the Catholic Church? Why do I as a childless woman pour an hour of my day every school day (and more time preparing myself outside the building) into teaching children about the importance of having a relationship with Jesus Christ? I will probably never really see or know these kids after they graduate from middle school. I am unlikely to see them as adults or to see what becomes of their faith. Why am I fighting for a something that I will never actually see?

Theoden fights because he believes in the cause. He wants his people-especially his niece and nephew-to see better days, to live in a better world. While he may not live to see a free Middle Earth, a Middle Earth free from Sauron’s evil, he wants others to live in this world. He wants to make a better world for others even if he does not have the opportunity to see that world for himself.

Forth, and fear no darkness!

Similarly, I want a better world for my students. I want them to know and understand their faith. I want to share Jesus Christ with them. Even if I never see the end and I never know what happens to them, I want to share Jesus with them. I want them to hear about a Jesus who loves them. I fight to pass down the faith of our fathers. I may not know if they come to a full and deep relationship with Jesus. But I fight to give them that opportunity. Like Theoden, I have hope for their future, for them to find a future full of hope, joy, and goodness.

Why I Celebrate the Lives of Dead Authors

Yesterday, a friend of mine remarked that I had to be one of the only people she knew who celebrated birthdays of authors. (I had just been whining about how I had to celebrate Jane Austen’s birthday alone and I won’t be able to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakepeare’s death because I’ll be at her wedding.) She said this in a manner that implied (probably unintentionally) that it is weird to celebrate the birthdays of dead people whom you never knew “just because” they penned great works of literature.

I agree that it is not terribly common to celebrate the lives of dead people whom I never knew because they penned great works of literature that inspire my life, move my soul, and draw me into closer relationship with the God who made both me and those writers and inspired their souls to write such works. But just because a thing is uncommon, that does not mean that it should not be done. Every November 22 and 29, I drink a toast to C.S. Lewis because while I never met the man, he has inspired my heart and soul and enriched my life in enormous ways. I would not be the woman that I am today without his writing. I am grateful to him for all that he did as a human being, as a Christian, and as a writer. I owe him so much, and those toasts (for his birthday and deathday) are one way that I can honor him.

The good, the true, and the beautiful are often considered to be the transcendentals. I believe that life is meaningless without those three elements. Culture is not worthwhile unless is carries with it those three things. I am enormously grateful to Evelyn Waugh for his openness to those three elements in his writing. In reading his works, I can see the importance that he placed on these elements. In reading Waugh, I have seen his faith and grown in my own. He has encouraged me to think about new ideas and to look at God in new ways.

Similarly, my beloved J.R.R. Tolkien reflects these ideas in his works. Professor Tolkien was a devout Catholic who fervently believed in the Lord of time. He also believed that literature could be (Lewand often is) inspired by the Divine Creator.

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

Lewis, Tolkien, and Waugh are but three examples of writers who reflected their Christian faith in their writings. Other writers did this as well, some in more obvious ways than others. This sort of literature is an important element of high culture. Culture demands truth, beauty, and goodness to survive. Our souls, which eternally crave God, desire this kind of literature, this kind of culture. It is important to celebrate this culture, to embrace it. To me, it is important to take time to celebrate the authors who celebrated and encouraged this sort of culture.

I think that C.S. Lewis might find it odd that I celebrate his birthday. I’m sure that Jane Austen would look a bit askance at the idea that I celebrate her birthday. But they celebrated culture. They embraced the idea of celebrating life. Their characters embraced life. Their characters rejoiced in good things. And while they might not completely understand this, I believe in celebrating them as a way of honoring what they did for literature and as a way of celebrating life, of celebrating the good, the true, and the beautiful.

These authors wrote in part because of a desire for another world. Faith inspired these authors. Hope inspired them. Look at the worlds that they created. Look at the characters that they created. Shakespeare, Austen, and Waugh give us characters who at the very least reflect strong virtue, high virtue. They show us right and wrong, good and evil. They show us morality and the exercise of such a thing. Lewis and Tolkien give us glimpses of eternity, of heaven. These authors must be embraced and celebrated. They point us towards God, and that is a beautiful thing, which must be embraced and celebrated.

Trust

At the beginning of Advent, I chose “trust” as my theme for the season. I wanted to spend the forty days prior to Christmas learning to trust God more fully.

Trust isn’t an easy thing for humans. I don’t trust easily-in God or in humanity, and it’s an area in which I always have room for growth. Going into Advent, I chose a quotation from my beloved St. Teresa of Jesus as my focus/theme: Trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.

That idea is not easy for me. It is not easy for me to accept that I am where I’m meant to be. There are things in my life that I think ought to change. However, during Advent, those things didn’t change. Instead, I began to learn to change my attitude towards those things. The biggest lesson that I learned during Advent is to ask the Lord to change me instead of asking him to change my circumstances.

Yesterday, I was describing a situation in my life to a friend. She asked me how I was being patient in that situation. How? I’m asking God for grace in that situation and choosing to be patient. My roommate can tell you that it is not always a situation in which I am serene and peaceful. But I’m not in charge. I’m not the Lord of the Universe. My plans are not the best. I am trusting that His plans are bigger and better than mine. Screaming and yelling won’t get me the best. Trusting God will.

So I’m choosing to trust the Lord. As I told my godmother yesterday, I am praying that my life will go in the direction that the Lord wants. I know what I want, but I’m choosing to surrender my own desires to him. Is it easy? No. Is it good? Yes.

As Mr. Beaver told Lucy, he is not a tame lion, but he is the King. I’m choosing to ride the lion and trust in his plans for me. I’m learning to ask him to change me instead of asking him to change my circumstances. His plans are bigger and better than mine. Oh Father, make me good and make me good NOW. Make me what you want me to be.

” For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

-Jeremiah 29:11

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

Halfway Out of the Dark

For regular readers of my blog, it can be no secret that I love Advent. I love this season of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s coming into the world. I have to admit that one of my favorite things about Advent is my Advent wreath.

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Here’s the thing about that “wreath.” I love light. I love candles. I think that candles and candlelight are beautiful. But I also love these particular candles because they represent Christ the Light of the World. I love the idea of Christ the Light coming into a world made dark by sin and Death. He brought his brilliant radiance into the world and changed everything.

As the Byzantine Tropar of Christmas says,

Your birth, o Christ our God, has shed upon the world the light of knowledge. For through it, those who worshipped the stars have learned from a star to worship thee the Son of Justice and to know you, the Dawn from on high. Glory be to you, o Lord!

Christ came into the world bringing light and truth. Even if Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25, it is appropriate that we celebrate the coming of Jesus just after the Winter Solstice. As the days begin to lengthen and the daylight begins to increase, we celebrate the birth of him who must increase in our lives and our hearts, of him who brings light into our lives. And the darkness flees from Christ, the Light of the World. Darkness does not understand Christ. When we welcome Christ into our hearts and our homes, darkness has no choice but to flee from his light.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not comprehend it.

-John 1:5

Christmas is in 20 days. We are halfway through the Fast of Philip. My Advent wreath is half illuminated. We are halfway out of the dark. We are halfway to the great celebration of the coming of the Light of the World. As we complete these forty days, I encourage you to seek out the Light of the World and ask him to dwell more fully in your heart.

38 Days

Christmas is 38 days away. I have 38 days of Advent in front of me. That really is not a long time.

Earlier this evening, I was looking at all of the things that I have to accomplish in the next 38 days. I have work demands. I have school goals. A dear friend is getting married in 31 days. There are some potential changes in my future. And some of those things can feel big and scary. Some of them make me nervous. Others can be a bit overwhelming.

But it’s 38 days. And each of these 38 days is in the hands of God. That is not a scary thought. These 38 days are in a good and safe place. They are in the safest place ever. They may not be easy. They may bring challenge and change. I do not know exactly what my life will look like in 38 days.

But I do know who holds those 38 days. I know that they are held by someone who loves me and desires only the best for me. That best may not always be fun or easy or comfortable. But it is good. HE is good.

And really, 38 days…that is not so many days. That is not so much time. Yes, much can happen in 38 days, but God will not bring me to anything that he cannot or will not bring me through.

Bring it on.

” For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

-Jeremiah 29:11

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

What do I want to be when I grow up?

Someone asked me that question today, and it got me thinking. The context of the question was professional, and in that sense, my answer is that I want to teach English to non-native speakers. In particular, I want to do that work with children.

But that’s not the answer in my heart of hearts. In my heart, my answer to that question is undoubtably this. I want to be a mama. I have been told so many times throughout my life that I would be a wonderful mother, and I believe that. When I discerned my vocation eight and a half years ago, I felt that the Lord was calling me to marriage and motherhood with the word “I have made you to be a mother.” These words have been repeated in at least three separate moments since then. I really believe that the Lord who made me and knows my inmost being made me to be a mother.

And while I’m nowhere near marriage, I believe that same Lord made me for marriage and has called me to marriage. I believe that I was made to be a wife and a mother. And if that doesn’t come into my life yet, then I believe that the Lord has a reason for this. There is a reason for my singleness. There is a purpose that the Lord wishes to accomplish through my singleness. I may not always enjoy or embrace my singleness, but there is a value to it. No matter how difficult I might find this season of my life or how angry I might get at the Lord for not bringing a husband into my life yet, there is a purpose and a value to this season. I need to learn to better seek the Lord’s will and learn his desires for this season. I need to better trust him in this time.

Because more than I want to be a mother or a wife or a teacher or anything else, the thing that I most desire to be when I grow up is a good and holy woman of God. I want to be a woman with a heart that always says yes to the Lord like the Theotokos did. I want to be a woman of Godly strength, of hope, of joy, of faith, and of love. I want to be a holy woman of God. And regardless of what happens to me personally or professionally, I want to lead a life that draws others closer to Christ.

But as he who has called you is holy, you also be holy in your conduct because it is written “Be holy, for I am holy.”

-I Peter 1:15-16

What do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be a good and holy woman of God. I pray for this each day, and I would ask each of you to pray for that as well.

The Promise to Pray

Over the summer, I’ve been dealing with a tough situation. I’m looking for a new job, and the search has been difficult at times. I’ve talked with various friends and family members about this over the summer, and I’m grateful for the enormous amount of support that I have received.

I recently realized that the people who I view as most supportive are the ones who promise to pray for me. I’ve asked several friends to pray for me, and they always respond in the affirmative. One of my coworkers ends every serious (more than a quick “hi, how are you?”) conversation we have these days with “I’m praying for you.” It’s a simple four-word sentence, but it means the world to me. Someone is praying for me. Actually, a lot of someones are praying for me.

That means the world to me. These people are showing me their love and support by promising to ask the Lord to help me. We don’t know how this situation will end. We don’t know exactly what the Lord’s will is in this moment. But we’re surrendering it to him. We’re asking him to bless it. We’re trusting him with it. And praying for someone else’s needs and wants-that’s an act of love.

These people can’t find me a new job. They can’t change the circumstances of my life. But they can love and support me in a difficult time in my life. And that is what prayer is. Prayer is an act of love. Praying for another person is an act of love. In our prayers, we are submitting ourselves to the Divine Will. We are humbling ourselves before the Lord and placing our trust in him.

We don’t know exactly how the Lord will answer our prayers, but we believe that he will answer them. And so we pray. We pray for our own wants and needs. We pray for others. And the promise to pray is an act of faith in God and of love both for God and for the other. After all, prayer is one of the most powerful things in the world.

“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”

-Mark 11:24

Please keep praying. Keep your eyes fixed on the Lord.