A Hobbit’s Guide to Synchronicity

Free at last from their orc captors Merry and Pippin run deeper into Fangorn Forest along the line of the Entwash as quickly as the tangled forest will allow until they reach a steep hill with what appears to be a kind of natural stair cut into its side. They can see the sun shining upon the hill top and keen to get some kind of idea of where they are and to enjoy the sun they decide to climb the stair.

“Up we go!” said Merry joyfully. “Now for a breath of air and a sight of the land!”


And so they arrive in time to encounter Treebeard, the oldest of the Ents who are the shepherds of the trees of the forest, an encounter that will change the direction of the whole story. And we might be forgiven for thinking that Tolkien has given way here to one of those rather lazy “just in time” moments, an unlikely coincidence, except for the fact that he believed that such moments do happen. Tolkien believed in Providence and you may remember that Gandalf once said to Frodo that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring and therefore that Frodo was meant to have it too.

For some, like me, who believe in Providence as did Tolkien, it might be enough to have a sense that there is an unseen hand for good at work in the world. Gandalf calls this “an encouraging thought” and it is for those of us who believe in it. I am struck that some normally sceptical people are prepared to believe in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the Market, forgetting perhaps that as well as being an economist Smith was also a moral theologian. I know too that in the 20th century, Carl Gustav Jung developed the idea of Synchronicity, arguing that as well as events being linked by cause and effect they could also be linked by meaning and that in the search for meaning a skilled therapist might help someone look for events that appeared to be coincidences. More recently, Joseph Jaworski, founder of the American Leadership Forum, wrote a book of the same name as a reflection on his own experience as he sought to move from a self-centred and inauthentic life to one that was consciously meaningful and of service to others. The book argues that once we begin the search for meaning in our lives events will, in a sense, conspire to aid us in that search. In his excellent foreword to the book Peter Senge speaks of the essential importance of commitment if we are to live a life that will be shaped, as it were, by synchronous events.


As we saw last week we might find Pippin scratching his head and smiling ruefully if we were to try and explain this to him. He is unlikely to engage in the kind of search for meaning that we have talked about. But Pippin and Merry know about commitment and have practiced it ever since they decided that they would go with Frodo and Sam when they left The Shire carrying the Ring with them. Gandalf knew about their commitment  too and persuaded Elrond that he should trust their friendship as being of more importance to the success of the Quest of the Ring than the presence in the Fellowship of two trusted members of his household. Merry and Pippin may have thought of themselves as being a nuisance, mere luggage on the journey, but it is their friendship, their total commitment to Frodo, that brings them, carried as it were by the orcs, to the story changing encounter with Treebeard that we will think about in the next few weeks. I wonder where the events of your life might be carrying you?


10 thoughts on “A Hobbit’s Guide to Synchronicity

  1. I remember once talking to you and saying how the feeling of a benevolent guiding hand has been my starting point.

    However, do you think that the opposite also true? I am reminded of having to reading Thomas Hardy for a course that I was on and, at times, nearly gnawing the skirting boards with frustration with all the appalling ‘coincidences’ that befell his characters! On a more serious note, I have met people who seem to have an extraordinary string of bad luck.

    I am particularly struck by the motif of commitment. When things were quite dark, a dear friend once sent me to quotes:

    “If one advances confidently in the direction of one’s dreams, and endeavours to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
    Henry David Thoreau

    “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    • As with so many mysteries, I think that once one tries to make a law of something (i.e. Providence, as Adam Smith tried to do with his “invisible hand”) it hardens and becomes life-denying. I particularly liked the Goethe & think we should take it and make it our own as we develop the seminar we hope to launch in 2014. We should “Begin it now”!

    • I would love to read it if that were possible or do you have any memory of it that you would like to share? For a truly Christian understanding of Providence I think it is essential to differentiate it from some kind of dead hand of fate. That is why I would not call Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” a true example of Providence, for example. It is too mechanistic & only works for a deist world view. I think something much warmer and life-giving is happening in The Lord of the Rings. Jung’s Synchronicity comes much closer. If you have the time do let me know what you think.

      • I think the important difference between Providence and Fate lies in the matter of choice and freewill, and that was a big part of my paper. Tolkien does emphasize, especially in the Silmarillion, that it the choices of every creature are woven into the pattern, and that is Providence, as opposed to “fate” which would involve creatures whose path is already decided for them. At least, that’s how I see it. 😉

        It has been so long since I wrote it, that I would probably be ashamed of my paper now, but I do remember talking about the fact that Gollum decides his own destiny, tragic as it is. The behavior and choices of others influence him, but how he reacts to them is ultimately his choice, and I get the impression that the choices are freely made. Harmful decisions, especially to himself, are taken and redeemed in the ultimate pattern of his life. Gollum, though lost, is the destroyer of the Ring. Without him, it is likely that all would have been lost, and therefore the “pity of Bilbo” did, indeed, rule the “fate” of many.

      • That line about the “pity of Bilbo” ruling the fate of many is so important in the story, isn’t it? My one unease, and it is not about the principle of the matter, but something much more personal, is that I feel I have made enough mistakes in my life to have “decided” my own destiny to my hurt and yet this has not happened. Thanks to the forgiveness of others and simply to the way “good fortune” (grace?) has followed me in a way I do not think I deserve my life has not gone down some unhappy path. I hope I would still hold that to be true if some great suffering were to be required of me though, of course, I do not know.

  2. I feel the same way, but I feel that I also know that God is extremely patient with me, and I do believe that is Grace. I have always been one to expect “the other shoe to drop” and maybe it will. We are not promised an easy road, only a road where we are not abandoned. But as I go along, I just try to be thankful for mercy and grace. We can’t usually see the consequences, or full consequences, of our actions from our perspectives, and Providence, therefore, is likewise obscured most of the time. It’s easier to see it in a story where we drift above the action, than in our own lives where we can’t see the forest for the trees. At least, that’s how I see things.

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