This is the ending to J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle.” I love this story of how a modest lifetime is made to be of great worth: “for many it is the best introduction to the Mountains.” It is also noteworthy that Tolkien fills the highest heights of heaven with ringing laughter (in an ending that echoes Chesterton’s ideas about God and laughter).
“It is proving very useful indeed,” said the Second Voice. “As a holiday, and a refreshment. It is splendid for convalescence; and not only for that, for many it is the best introduction to the Mountains. It works wonders in some cases. I am sending more and more there. They seldom have to come back.”
“No, that is so,” said the First Voice. “I think we shall have to give the region a name. What do you propose?”
“The Porter settled that some time ago,” said the Second Voice. “Train for Niggle’s Parish in the bay: he has shouted that for a long while now. Niggle’s Parish. I sent a message to both of them to tell them.”
“What did they say?”
“They both laughed. Laughed—the Mountains rang with it!”
From a selection of prayers excerpted by Bishop Theophan the Recluse from the works of Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian:
We search for You in prayer, O Lord, for all is comprehended in You. May we be enriched by You, for You are wealth that does not diminish with the changes of time.
May Your loving-kindness come to our aid! May Your grace defend us! From Your treasury, pour out upon us restoration to heal our sores.
We must seek You above all else, and not seek anything else but You, for he who seeks You finds all in You.
In You is wealth for the needy, heartfelt joy for the sorrowing, restoration for all the wounded, consolation for all who mourn.
Accept our prayer, O our Lord, and grant us Yourself. May we live in You. May we possess You instead of all else, for then all is ours.
Grant, O Lord, that we may be Yours. And according to Your loving-kindness may You be ours: for the righteous Father gave You to us for the healing of our sores.
You are ours according to the will of Our Father; and You are ours according to Your own desire. You are with us, O Emmanuel! You are with us, as our Lord.
Accept these prayers from us, O our God, Who have descended to us. Accept the tears of sinners and show mercy to the guilty.
According to Your desire You have been united with us; be the intercessor of our prayer. Raise it up to Your Father and establish peace in our souls.
C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man:
Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them — how Plato would have every infant “a bastard nursed in a bureau”, and Elyot would have the boys see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women, and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry — we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses.
From Lila by Marilynne Robinson:
“What?” he said. The worrying had worn him out. He gave a sermon once about the disciples sleeping at Gethsemane because they were weary with grief. Sleep is such a mercy, he said. It was a mercy even then.
“I’ve just never had the care of a child.”
“We’ll be ﬁne.” He nestled against her. That sound of settling into the sheets and the covers has to be one of the best things in the world. Sleep is a mercy. You can feel it coming on, like being swept up in something. She could see the light in the room with her eyes closed, and she could smell the snow on the air drifting in. You had to trust sleep when it came or it would just leave you there, waiting.
How could she know what he had sanctified to that child’s mind with his stories, sad stories that had made them laugh. …As if all that saving and keeping their father had done was providence indeed, and new love would transform all the old love and make its relics wonderful.
From Home by Marilynne Robinson.
That’s the most interesting question in the world. How big is big enough? The Amish pretty much have solved it. Industrialism doesn’t propose a limit. David Kline, my friend, went to a Mennonite meeting. They were asking what community meant. And he said, “When my son and I are plowing in the spring, we rest our teams at the highest point on our farm. And from there we can see 13 teams at work. And I know that if I got sick or died those 13 teams would be at work on my farm.” Rightness of scale, you see, permits obedience to the Gospel’s Second Law.
…I like my physical life. I mean, I’m committed to live my physical life. I want to live my actual life, my body’s life, and die my body’s death with as little interference as possible. But I think that life for most people is getting less physical all the time. There’s a sort of death wish now operating among us. The future is eating us alive. If you’re obsessed with the future you can’t live in the present, and the present is the only time you’re alive. If you’re alive in the present, however bad the world is, goodwill still has scope to operate. You still can do a little something to make it better. Now is when the butterﬂies are ﬂying and the ﬂowers are blooming and the people who love you are putting their hands on you. That’s where it’s happening.
…If the teacher thinks that the place she’s teaching in is a good and worthy place then certain things are going to be communicated. “I’m teaching you things that could make you a powerful person. I don’t want you to start from here and get an education and come back here and desecrate this place.” Now most teaching has been done by people who think, “Coming from here is no advantage. I’m trying to give you something that will help you go to a better place.” Nowadays we easily forget that education makes bad people worse. But if you’re teaching for homecoming you can’t forget it.
Wendell Berry in this interview.
How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James K. A. Smith:
Not only were things invested with signiﬁcance in the premodem imaginary, but the social bond itself was enchanted, sacred. “Living in the enchanted, porous world of our ancestors was inherently living socially” (p. 42). The good of a common weal is a collective good, dependent upon the social rituals of the community. “So we’re all in this together.” As a result, a premium is placed on consensus, and “turning ‘heretic’” is “not just a personal matter.” That is, there is no room for these matters to be ones of “private” preference. “This is somethingwe constantly tend to forget,” Taylor notes, “when we look back condescendingly on the intolerance of earlier ages. As long as the common weal is bound up in collectives rites, devotions, allegiances, it couldn’t be seen just as an individual’s own business that he break ranks, even less that he blaspheme or try to desecrate the rite. There was immense common motivation to bring him back into line” (p. 42). Individual disbelief is not a private option we can grant to heretics to pursue on weekends; to the contrary, disbelief has communal repercussions.
How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James K. A. Smith:
To sense the force of this shift, we need to appreciate how this differs from the “enchanted” premodern imaginary where all kinds of nonhuman things mean — are loaded and charged with meaning — independent of human perception or attribution. In this premodern, enchanted universe, it was also assumed that power resided in things, which is precisely why things like relics or the Host could be invested with spiritual power. As a result, “in the enchanted world, the line between personal agency and impersonal force was not at all clearly drawn” (p. 32). There is a kind of blurring of boundaries so that it is not only personal agents that have causal power (p. 35). Things can do stuff.
At this point Taylor introduces a key concept to describe the premodern self: prior to this disenchantment and the retreat of meaning into an interior “mind,” the human agent was seen as porous (p. 35). Just as premodern nature is always already intermixed with its beyond, and just as things are intermixed with mind and meaning, so the premodern self’s porosity means the self is essentially vulnerable (and hence also “healable”). To be human is to be essentially open to an outside (whether benevolent or malevolent), open to blessing or curse, possession or grace. “This sense of vulnerability,” Taylor concludes, “is one of the principal features which have gone with disenchantment” (p. 36)
Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship (1.20-26):
AELRED: It is proper for my friend to be the guardian of mutual love or of my very soul, that he may in loyal silence protect all the secrets of my spirit and may bear and endure according to his ability anything wicked he sees in my soul. For the friend will rejoice with my soul rejoicing, grieve with it grieving, and feel that everything that belongs to a friend belongs to himself…
IVO: Since there is so much perfection in true friendship, no wonder those whom the ancients praised as true friends were so few. From so many centuries past, as Cicero says, legend extols only three or four pairs of friends! But if in our own Christian times friends are so few, I seem to be slaving in vain to acquire this virtue, for I am terrified now by its astonishing height, and I almost despair of reaching it.
AELRED: As a wise man once said, “for great achievements, the effort is great in itself.”