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a light in dark places

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

I’ve got a fairly long piece drafted on gun violence and gun control, but I don’t think now is the best time to share it. Probably after the holidays.

In the mean time, though, I did want to wish a merry Christmas to everyone. It’s hard in light of the Connecticut shootings and the rhetoric coming in its wake to really capture those Advent virtues of hope, peace, joy, and love, so the best I can do is offer some borrowed words of encouragement from some other heroes in a situation they thought rightly was hope.

nt. I do not counsel prudence. I said victory could not be achieved by arms. I still hope for victory, but not by arms. For into the midst of all these policies comes the Ring of Power, the foundation of Barad-dûr, and the hope of Sauron.

‘Concerning this thing, my lords, you now all know enough for the understanding of our plight, and of Sauron’s. If he regains it, your valour is vain, and his victory will be swift and complete: so complete that none can foresee the end of it while this world lasts. If it is destroyed, then he will fall; and his fall will be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again. For he will lose the best part of the strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape. And so a great evil of this world will be removed.

‘Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.

‘Now Sauron knows all this, and he knows that this precious thing which he lost has been found again; but he does not yet know where it is, or so we hope. And therefore he is now in great doubt. For if we have found this thing, there are some among us with strength enough to wield it. That too he knows. For do I not guess rightly, Aragorn, that you have shown yourself to him in the Stone of Orthanc?’

‘I did so ere I rode from the Hornburg,’ answered Aragorn. ‘I deemed that the time was ripe, and that the Stone had come to me for just such a purpose. It was then ten days since the Ring-bearer went east from Rauros, and the Eye of Sauron, I thought, should be drawn out from his own land. Too seldom has he been challenged since he returned to his Tower. Though if I had foreseen how swift would be his onset in answer, maybe I should not have dared to show myself. Bare time was given me to come to your aid.’

‘But how is this?’ asked Éomer. ‘All is vain, you say, if he has the Ring. Why should he think it not vain to assail us, if we have it?’

‘He is not yet sure,’ said Gandalf, ‘and he has not built up his power by waiting until his enemies are secure, as we have done. Also we could not learn how to wield the full power all in a day. Indeed it can be used only by one master alone, not by many; and he will look for a time of strife, ere one of the great among us makes himself master and puts down the others. In that time the Ring might aid him, if he were sudden.

‘He is watching. He sees much and hears much. His Nazgûl are still abroad. They passed over this field ere the sunrise, though few of the weary and sleeping were aware of them. He studies the signs: the Sword that robbed him of his treasure re-made; the winds of fortune turning in our favour, and the defeat unlooked-for of his first assault the fall of his great Captain.

‘His doubt will be growing, even as we speak here. His Eye is now straining towards us, blind almost to all else that is moving. So we must keep it. Therein lies all our hope. This, then, is my counsel. We have not the Ring. In wisdom or great folly it has been sent away to be destroyed, lest it destroy us. Without it we cannot by force defeat his force. But we must at all costs keep his Eye from his true peril. We cannot achieve victory by arms, but by arms we can give the Ring-bearer his only chance, frail though it be.’”

This is from the Last Debate, where Gandalf addresses the lords of the West – Aragorn, Imrahil, Eomer, etc. He recognizes that there is no hope through their own strength, through force and coercion, but that by doing what they must, they may open up a window for someone else to succeed. To my mind that’s the ideal behind the Christmas narrative: that victory comes not through overwhelming other people in a show of force, but through self-sacrifice and a radical kind of love that would drive God to give up greatness to become like us.

I hope this passage, and what comes after, gives everyone a bit of encouragement this holiday season.

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