Let us not mock God with metaphor

“Seven Stanzas at Easter” by John Updike (from Telephone Poles and Other Poems):

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Thou hast broken open the all-devouring belly of Hell and snatched me out

Here are a few of the many hymns from last night with the start of Lazarus Saturday. Toward the end, several of them break into the voice of Lazarus himself or of Hell itself.

Calling Lazarus from the tomb, immediately Thou hast raised him; but Hell below lamented bitterly, and groaning, trembled at Thy power, O Savior.

Calling Lazarus by name, Thou hast broken in pieces the bars of Hell and shaken the power of the enemy; and before Thy Crucifixion, Thou hast made the enemy tremble because of Thee, O only Savior.

O Master, Thou hast come as God to Lazarus, bound captive by Hell, and Thou hast loosed him from his fetters, for all things submit to Thy command, O Mighty Lord.

The palaces of Hell were shaken, when in its depths Lazarus began once more to breathe, straightway restored to life by the sound of Thy voice.

As man, Thou hast shed tears for Lazarus; as God, Thou hast raised him up. Thou hast asked, O Loving Lord: Where is he buried, dead these four days; thus confirming our faith in Thine Incarnation. [Because, Jesus would have to ask “where” only as a human.]

Wishing in Thy love to reveal the meaning of Thy Passion and Thy Cross, Thou hast broken open the belly of Hell that never can be satisfied, and as God Thou hast raised up a man four days dead.

Joining dust to spirit, O Word, by Thy word in the beginning, Thou hast breathed into the clay a living soul. And now, by Thy word, Thou hast raised up Thy friend from corruption and from the depths of the earth.

“Thou hast called me from the lowest depths of Hell, O Savior,” cried Lazarus to Thee when Thou hast set him free from Hell; “and Thou hast raised me from the dead by Thy command.”

“Thou knowest all things, yet hast asked where I was buried. As man by nature, Thou hast wept for me, O Savior, and Thou hast raised me from the dead by Thy command.”

“Thou hast clothed me in a body of clay, O Savior, and breathed life into me, and I beheld Thy light; and Tho hast raised me from the dead by thy command.”

“Thou hast broken open the all-devouring belly of Hell and snatched me out, O Savior, by Thy power; and Thou hast raised me from the dead by Thy command.”

“I implore thee, Lazarus,” said Hell, “Rise up, depart quickly from my bonds and be gone. It is better for me to lament bitterly for the loss of one, rather than of all those whom I swallowed in my hunger.”

Let Bethany sing with us in praise of the miracle, for there the Creator wept for Lazarus in accordance with the law of nature and the flesh. Then, making Martha’s tears to cease and changing Mary’s grief to joy, Christ raised him from the dead.

Shaking the gates and iron bars, Thou hast made Hell tremble at Thy voice. Hell and Death were filled with fear, O Savior, seeing Lazarus their prisoner brought to life by Thy word and rising from the tomb.

the direction in which their unmarred fulfillment must lie

J.R.R.Tolkien in his notes on “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth.”

Finrod, however, sees now that, as things were, no created thing or being in Arda, or in all Eä, was powerful enough to counteract or heal Evil: that is to subdue Melkor (in his present person, reduced though that was) and the Evil that he had dissipated and sent out from himself into the very structure of the world.

Only Eru himself could do this. Therefore, since it was unthinkable that Eru would abandon the world to the ultimate triumph and domination of Melkor (which could mean its ruin and reduction to chaos), Eru Himself must at some time come to oppose Melkor. But Eru could not enter wholly into the world and its history, which is, however great, only a finite Drama. He must as Author always remain ‘outside’ the Drama, even though that Drama depends on His design and His will for its beginning and continuance, in every detail and moment. Finrod therefore thinks that He will, when He comes have to be both ‘outside’ and inside and so he glimpses the possibility of complexity or of distinctions in the nature of Eru which nonetheless leaves Him ‘The One’.

Since Finrod had already guessed that the redemptive function was originally, specially assigned to Men, he probably proceeded to the expectation that ‘the coming of Eru’, if it took place, would be specially and primarily concerned with Men: that is to an imaginative guess or vision that Eru would come incarnated in human form. This, however, does not appear in the Athrabeth.

***

We are here dealing with Elvish thought at an early period, when the Eldar were still fully ‘physical’ in bodily form. Much later when the process (already glimpsed by Finrod) called ‘waning’ or ‘fading’ had become more effective, their views of the End of Arda, so far as it affected themselves, must have been modified. But there are few records of any contacts of Elvish and Human thought in such latter days. They eventually became housed, if it can be called that, not in actual visible and tangible hröar, but only in the memory of the fëa of its bodily form and its desire for it and therefore not dependent for mere existence upon the material of Arda.* But they appear to have held, and indeed still to hold, that this desire for the hröa shows that their later (and present) condition is not natural to them, and they remain in estel that Eru will heal it. ‘Not natural’, whether it is due wholly, as they earlier thought, to the weakening of the hröa (derived from the debility introduced by Melkor into the substance of Arda upon which it must feed), or partly to the inevitable working of a dominant fëa upon a material hröa through many ages. (In the latter case ‘natural’ can refer only to an ideal state, in which unmarred matter could for ever endure the indwelling of a perfectly adapted fëa. It cannot refer to the actual design of Eru, since the Themes of the Children were introduced after the arising of the discords of Melkor. The ‘waning’ of the Elvish hröar must therefore be part of the History of Arda as envisaged by Eru, and the mode in which the Elves were to make way for the Dominion of Men. The Elves find their supersession by Men a mystery, and a cause of grief; for they say that Men, at least so largely governed as they are by the evil of Melkor, have less and less love for Arda in itself, and are largely. busy in destroying it in the attempt to dominate it. They still believe that Eru’s healing of all the griefs of Arda will come now by or through Men; but the Elves’ part in the healing or redemption will be chiefly in the restoration of the love of Arda, to which their memory of the Past and understanding of what might have been will contribute. Arda they say will be destroyed by wicked Men (or the wickedness in Men); but healed through the goodness in Men. The wickedness, the domineering lovelessness, the Elves will offset. By the holiness of good men—their direct attachment to Eru, before and above all Eru’s works—the Elves may be delivered from the last of their griefs: sadness; the sadness that must come even from the unselfish love of anything less than Eru.

***

Desire. The Elves insisted that ‘desires’, especially such fundamental desires as are here dealt with, were to be taken as indications of the true natures of the Incarnates, and of the direction in which their unmarred fulfillment must lie. They distinguished between desire of the fëa (perception that something right or necessary is not present, leading to desire or hope for it); wish, or personal wish (the feeling of the lack of something, the force of which primarily concerns oneself, and which may have little or no reference to the general fitness of things); illusion, the refusal to recognize that things are not as they should be, leading to the delusion that they are as one would desire them to be, when they are not so. (The last might now be called ‘wishful thinking’, legitimately; but this term, the Elves would say, is quite illegitimate when applied to the first. The last can be disproved by reference to facts. The first not so. Unless desirability is held to be always delusory, and the sole basis for the hope of amendment. But desires of the fëa may often be shown to be reasonable by arguments quite unconnected with personal wish. The fact that they accord with ‘desire’, or even with personal wish, does not invalidate them. Actually the Elves believed that the ‘lightening of the heart’ or the ‘stirring of joy’ (to which they often refer), which may accompany the hearing of a proposition or an argument, is not an indication of its falsity but of the recognition by the fëa that it is on the path of truth.)

Where are these other things?

J.R.R.Tolkien in “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth.”

“But do you know that the Eldar say of Men that they look at no thing for itself; that if they study it, it is to discover something else; that if they love it, it is only (so it seems) because it reminds them of some other clearer thing? Yet with what is this comparison? Where are these other things?”

“We are both Elves and Men, in Arda and of Arda; and such knowledge as Men have is derived from Arda (or so it would appear). Whence then comes this memory that ye have with you, even before ye begin to learn?”

***

“Ever more you amaze my thought, Andreth,” said Finrod. “For if your claim is true, then lo! a fëa [meaning something close to “soul”] which is here but a traveller is wedded indissolubly to a hröa [meaning something close to “body”] of Arda; to divide them is a grievous hurt, and yet each must fulfil its right nature without tyranny of the other. Then this must surely follow: the fëa when it departs must take with it the hröa. And what can this mean unless it be that the fëa shall have the power to uplift the hröa, as its eternal spouse and companion, into an endurance everlasting beyond Eä, and beyond Time? Thus would Arda, or part thereof, be healed not only of the taint of Melkor, but released even from the limits that were set for it in the ‘Vision of Eru’ of which the Valar speak.”

“Therefore, I say that if this can be believed, then mighty indeed under Eru were Men made in their beginning; and dreadful beyond all other calamities was the change in their state.”

***

“They say,” answered Andreth: “they say that the One will himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end. This they say also, or they feign, is a rumor that has come down through years uncounted, even from the days of our undoing.”

holding to her breast the old kind world

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro:

“Because whatever the song was really about, in my head, when I was dancing, I had my own version. You see, I imagined it was about this woman who’d been told she couldn’t have babies. But then she’d had one, and she was so pleased, and she was holding it ever so tightly to her breast, really afraid something might separate them, and she’s going baby, baby, never let me go. That’s not what the song’s about at all, but that’s what I had in my head that time. Maybe you read my mind, and that’s why you found it so sad. I didn’t think it was so sad at the time, but now, when I think back, it does feel a bit sad.”

“…That’s most interesting. But I was no more a mind-reader then than today. I was weeping for an altogether different reason. When I watched you dancing that day, I saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.”

the human vocation to make the hundred thousand billion galaxies with a hundred billion stars into paradise

This is from “Darwin and Christianity – Part 8: The Genesis Account (part 2)” recorded as a podcast on “Speaking the Truth in Love” for Ancient Faith Ministries by Fr. Tom Hopko. Here he is talking about the first chapters of Genesis and describing how God made the Garden of Eden:

So there’s a real question here whether the entire creation was paradise from the beginning. In this narrative, it doesn’t seem so. It seems that paradise is only where man is, and it’s only where man is in communion with God, where man is adoring God, obeying God, keeping God’s commandments, and his job is to make all of creation into paradise. I’m even tempted to say nowadays maybe it’s the human vocation to make the hundred thousand billion galaxies with a hundred billion stars into paradise and to do so in the power of the risen Lord and the Holy Spirit in the age to come. That might be it. Who knows? But in the beginning you just have this little garden of Eden, this little paradise spot.

Deësis from Dormition Cathedral in Moscow

I am scheduled to become a godfather for the first time in a few weeks, and I just purchased an icon for the baptismal name that my godson is taking (after John the Forerunner and Baptist). After purchasing this icon, I did a little research to track down its source, and I am recording this here to pass along. (First are the images. Below them is the information that I found regarding the source.)

deisis-din-vladimir-sec-xiii-3

deisis-din-vladimir-sec-xiii-1-4-sf-ioan-botezatorul

deisis-din-vladimir-sec-xiii-1-1

Suzdal_deesis

This Deësis is from Dormition Cathedral in Moscow. Originally written in the first third of the 13th century. Vladimir-Suzdal in Russia. Tempera on wood. 61.5 cm by 146.5 cm. It was located in the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow (Kremlin) on the southern wall, above the tomb of Metropolitan Philip. Restoration was begun in 1935 in the State Armory, continued and completed in 1936 in the State Tretyakov Gallery.

In Byzantine art, and later Eastern Orthodox art generally, the Deësis or Deisis (Greek: δέησις, “prayer” or “supplication”), is a traditional iconic representation of Christ in Majesty or Christ Pantocrator: enthroned, carrying a book, and flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist (and sometimes other saints and angels). Mary and John (and any other figures) are shown facing towards Christ with their hands raised in supplication on behalf of humanity.

it is the silence with which white men in this country have surrounded the anguish implicit in their racism

Wendell Berry in The Hidden Wound:

For whatever reasons, good or bad, I have been unwilling until now to open in myself what I have known all along to be a wound—a historical wound, prepared centuries ago to come alive in me at my birth like a hereditary disease, and to be augmented and deepened by my life. If I had thought it was only the black people who have suffered from the years of slavery and racism, then I could have dealt fully with the matter long ago; I could have filled myself with pity for them, and would no doubt have enjoyed it a great deal and thought highly of myself. But I am sure it is not so simple as that. If white people have suffered less obviously from racism than black people, they have nevertheless suffered greatly; the cost has been greater perhaps than we can yet know. If the white man has inflicted the wound of racism upon black men, the cost has been that he would receive the mirror image of that wound into himself. As the master, or as a member of the dominant race, he has felt little compulsion to acknowledge it or speak of it; the more painful it has grown the more deeply he has hidden it within himself. But the wound is there, and it is a profound disorder, as great a damage in his mind as it is in his society.

…There is a peculiar tension in the casualness of this hereditary knowledge of hereditary evil; once it begins to be released, once you begin to awaken to the realities of what you know, you are subject to staggering recognitions of your complicity in history and in the events of your own life. The truth keeps leaping on you from behind. For me, that my people had owned slaves once seemed merely a curious fact. Later, I think, I took it to prove that I was somehow special, being thus associated with a historical scandal. It took me a long time, and in fact a good deal of effort, to finally realize that in owning slaves my ancestors assumed limitations and implicated themselves in troubles that have lived on to afflict me—and I still bear that knowledge with a sort of astonishment.

…I feel in the story as it has been told to me a peculiar muteness, which I now know has followed me through all my life; it is the silence with which white men in this country have surrounded the anguish implicit in their racism. The story has passed from generation to generation in flight from its horror.

…I have already said enough, I think, to make clear the profound moral discomfort potential in a society ostensibly Christian and democratic and genteel, but based upon the institutionalized violence of slavery. Though he no doubt represented a minority, Bart Jenkins was not an anomaly in that society; he served one of its designated functions, and his mentality and behavior were therefore characteristic. His fellow citizens had to contend with him as a reflection of something in themselves, and short of attempting to change the society, they had to try to live as painlessly as possible with the harsh truth that he represented. Their solution was to romanticize him. Since he was indelibly a man of violence, the only ideal figure at all close to him was that of the knight, the archetypical “gentleman and soldier.” Once this mythology was accepted, the moral ground could be safely preempted by rhetoric. And so we arrive at the language of Kentucky Cavaliers in Dixie—a poeticized, romanticized ornamental gentlemanly speech, so inflated with false sentimerit as to sail lightly over all discrepancies in logic or in fact, shrugging off what it cannot accommodate, blandly affirming what it cannot shrug off.

If the private language of family memory has conveyed what we know to have been true of ourselves but have not admitted or judged, then the public language of Mosgrove (and many others) conveys what we wish had been true. Between them they define the lack of a critical self-knowledge that would offer the hope of change. This lack is the historical and psychological vacuum in which the Walt Disney version of American history was not only possible but inevitable. To my mind Disney is nothing more than a slicked-out, commercial version of Mosgrove. As a people, we have been tolled farther and farther away from the facts of what we have done by the romanticizers, whose bait is nothing more than the wishful insinuation that we have done no harm. Speaking a public language of propaganda, uninfluenced by the real content of our history which we know only in a deep and guarded privacy, we are still in the throes of the paradox of the “gentleman and soldier.”

However conscious it may have been, there is no doubt in my mind hat all this moral and verbal obfuscation is intentional. Nor do I doubt that its purpose is to shelter us from the moral anguish implicit in our racism—an anguish that began, deep and mute, in the minds of Christian democratic freedom-loving owners of slaves.

Another interesting example of this sort of confusion used as moral insulation is to be found in the very fabric of the liberalism of early Kentucky. Niels Henry Sonne, in Liberal Kentucky, 1780- 1828, points out that the Kentuckians of that time supported all the principles of religious freedom, but gave their most fervid support to that of the separation of church and state. Political power was denied to practicing clergymen by the constitutions of 1792 and 1799, and it was not until 1843 that prayers were permitted to be said on any regular basis at the sessions of the legislature. According to some, one of the immediate reasons for this was “the clergy’s insistence upon attacking the institution of slavery.” And so beneath the public advocacy of the separation of church and state, an essential of religious liberty, we see working a mute anxiety to suppress within the government of the state such admonitory voices as might discomfort the practice of slavery. For separation of church and state, then, read separation of morality and state.

On the Death and Birth of Aragorn

“The funeral-boat of Boromir.” Anke Katrin Eißmann. 1999.

One month ago, my fourteen-year-old daughter told me that I should write a tribute to Aragorn for March 1st, the date of his birth and his death. I was proud that she had March 1st associated with Aragorn in her mind and flattered that she would want me to write a tribute to him. Therefore, with some advanced notice and a few snow-days in the interim, I wrote it.

Near the end of my first time hearing The Lord of the Rings trilogy read out loud to me, I can remember looking back on my first impressions of Strider and hardly believing that I had once mistrusted him. Tolkien’s roguish introduction to Aragorn in the common room at The Prancing Pony is a profound reason for the love that so many have for Aragorn. We first come to know Aragorn through the eyes of the hobbits, as a relatable yet mysterious character. In the rest of the story, we are introduced to his many names and honors only gradually and in small, appreciable glimpses. Collecting together material from all of Tolkien’s writings, Aragorn is exalted virtually beyond comprehension:

  1. one of the children of Lúthien;
  2. the son of Arathorn II and his wife Gilraen;
  3. the wielder of the sword Andúril (reforged from the shards of Elendil’s sword Narsil);
  4. Isildur’s Heir and commander of the Grey Host;
  5. crowned as King Elessar Telcontar (meaning “Elfstone” and “Strider”);
  6. the restorer of the divided kingdoms of of Arnor and Gondor;
  7. the last of the Númenóreans and the Elendili in the Third Age;
  8. the first king of the Forth Age;
  9. the last of the Dúnedain or Rangers of the North;
  10. and the husband of Arwen (son-in-law of Elrond), therefore a re-uniter of the two Half-elven families (Arwen being the daughter of the immortal Elrond and Aragorn being the 60th-generation descendant of Elrond’s twin brother, Elros, who chose mortality).

Long before Frodo Baggins encountered Strider just outside of the firelight in the inn at Bree, Tolkien himself had already been loving and developing Aragorn’s elaborate family story for several decades. Tolkien started to write the story of Aragorn’s exalted linage in 1914 at age 22 while serving in World War I, and Tolkien did not start connecting his humble hobbit story (written in the 1930s) to the story of Aragorn’s epic heritage until 24 years later in 1938 at age 46. These older epics were not inspired by Aragorn but led up to him, and they were not published until after Tolkien’s death (when they were first collected as The Silmarillion). This blending of worlds in The Lord of Ring ended up taking many years and being written in large part as a series of chapter-letters to his son who was serving in World War II. We hobbit-like people of this current age (pragmatic and democratic to a fault) are virtually incapable of reverencing Aragorn’s illustrious ancestry (the content of Tolkien’s first and deepest love). We fans are blessed indeed that Tolkien thought of hobbits in his midlife and then eventually found a way to bring them into contact with Aragorn and his world. This happy collision guided us gently into the final days of the Maiar, high elves, ents, and Númenóreans.

Aragorn ends up playing an essential part in this wooing of our imaginations when we first encounter him as the despised and enigmatic Strider. When Aragorn stands up to reveal his power and authority to Frodo and the other hobbits (leaving them with a terrible decision to make), this rough-looking Ranger of the North becomes a critical link between the humdrum world of the Shire and the mythic world of ancient men and elves. Aragorn’s own suffering in life had prepared him to play this part graciously and well. He was never frustrated by the ignorance of those around him regarding the many legends, peoples, and royal families of which he knew so much. One example of this is when Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas explain to an impatient and suspicious troop of the Riders of Rohan that they are tracking two hobbits. A rider standing beside Éomer replied with a laugh:

“Halflings! But they are only a little people in old songs and children’s tales out of the North. Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in daylight?”

“A man may do both,” said Aragorn. “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, more than most men, could do both. He could stride the green earth in daylight while defending the truth that we also walk in legends.

In his early years, Tolkien was systematically creating a mythic backstory that the barbarians of his island did not have. Tolkien literally worked backwards from the oldest languages and stories of his island peoples, creating the histories and the word-roots of multiple languages in a process of reverse-evolutionary legend-making. With the Númenóreans of Aragorn’s family tree, Tolkien was giving a proper mythic ancestry to kings such as Arthur (late 400s to early 500s), Alfred the Great (c. 847 to 899), Cnut the Great (c. 995 to 1035), and William the Conqueror (c. 1028 to 1087). By the time that Tolkien was finished, he had carefully crafted multiple languages and evolving alphabets (of elves, men, and dwarves) as well as complex dynasties for each of these races that covered many generations—leading all the way back to the singing into existence of the world by an exhaled order of powers who directly served Eru Ilúvatar (in the high elvish language of Quenya, Eru means “The One” or “He that is Alone” while Ilúvatar means “Allfather”).

Tolkien was filling in (for his own delight, initially) stories that sit behind the misty past of the English-speaking peoples—working in a layer of mythic time that was equivalent to the places of Cain, Seth, Enoch, Nimrod, and Solomon within the stories of the Semitic peoples from the Fertile Crescent to Ethiopia. This project was certainly born out of a great love for his own English people, but it was not done under the assumption that his ancestry was somehow uniquely noble. German Nazi’s were interested in having his books translated into German, and sent a letter to his publisher praising the books and asking if they could verify Tolkien’s ancestry. Disgusted by this inquiry, Tolkien wrote (on July 25, 1938):

If I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Aragorn stands at the beginning of the age of men (were Tolkien leaves off all of his story telling), and it is clear that Aragorn’s linage extends to the people of today. Tolkien clearly desired to give the English people a mythic ancestor who could be a worthy source of pride. Aragorn himself honored all men and races of creatures, elevating the hobbits above himself at several points. Tolkien’s images of evil in his works speak boldly against all forms of corrosive power and pride. We see a portrait of this worthy ancestor that Tolkien wanted to give to his own English people in these words of Legolas:

In that hour I looked on Aragorn and thought how great and terrible a Lord he might have become in the strength of his will, had he taken the Ring to himself. Not for naught does Mordor fear him. But nobler is his spirit than the understanding of Sauron; for is he not of the children of Lúthien? Never shall that line fail, though the years may lengthen beyond count.

However, with The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien achieved far more than the story of a particular people. Anyone can learn to love Aragorn and the fellowship of which he becomes a part. Harper Collins publishing house reports official translations into 39 languages, and fans report quite a few more.

In college, a group of four dear friends and I began to call ourselves the Dúnedain. I do not want to take this tribute in a personal direction and to pay honor to myself, but I want to illustrate my own gratitude. Without presuming to speak for these friends, I can say that my own love for Aragorn was focused on his most relatable and basic of human traits: the loss of his parents as a child (to learn only late in life of his royal lineage), the long line of exiled and hidden kings before him, the love of a woman whose character and beauty humbles him, the endurance (along with his comrades) of mistrust and suffering while waiting in the wilderness over many years, his long watch-keeping on the outskirts of the Shire, his faithfulness to Gandalf through many risky and (sometimes) pointless-seeming assignments, his respect and care for a noblewoman who falls in love with him, his compassion for the fall of a great lord who could not pass by the opportunity to seize power in an attempt to restore his people and achieve much good. This long list fits into simple and familiar categories that anyone can appreciate.

But perhaps Aragorn’s most endearing quality in the end is his respect for the hobbits, his great faithfulness to them, and his ultimate trust in them. He starts by giving them the freedom to accept his help or not. He trusts them to take on the greatest task alone. He tracks two of them over many weary days in almost utter hopelessness. And he places them on his own throne at the end of all their labors. Aragorn admired the Shire-folk deeply, and this enduring love makes his humanity clear.

These simple qualities won my heart as a child and have left me (along with many dear friends and family) profoundly indebted. In later years, I came to learn that Aragorn followed in an ancient tradition of those who died on the day of their birth and of those who foresaw their coming death and accepted it immediately, with complete peace and contentment. However, these higher and mythic qualities are not what first won my heart. To this day, these epic elements only point me remotely to values and stories that I can barely comprehend. Like many others who have come to love Aragorn in the 64 years since Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings, I’m still learning what this love means, and I expect to continue learning this until my own death.

“Strider.” Oil on hardboard, 24″ x 30.” ©2010 Matthew Stewart.