One of the greatest illusions from which we can suffer is the belief that life works out as a consequence of our strategies and plans. We believe that if we can get the strategy right we will get the outcome right. But life rarely works out that way. As British prime minister, Harold MacMillan once said when asked what he feared most, “Events, dear boy, events”.
After the encounter with Saruman at Isengard the company begin to make a steady progress back towards Helms Deep. It is when they make camp after the first day’s travel that an entirely unexpected event changes the story completely. Pippin had been the first to reach the Palantir, the Seeing Stone of Orthanc, after Wormtongue, ignorant of its purpose, tried to drop it from a high window onto one of his enemies below. From the moment Pippin touched the Stone he wished to look more closely at it but when he did so he encountered the one person that anyone using it was able to see, Sauron the Dark Lord. And so for the first time Sauron looked upon a hobbit, the creature he had wanted to see ever since he first heard the name of Bilbo Baggins and learned that a hobbit possessed the Ring of Power that he made and then lost in battle at the end of the Second Age over three thousand years before.
Immediately Gandalf knows that everything has changed, that Sauron will believe a hobbit to be held by Saruman in Isengard and that it is Saruman who still holds the Stone of Orthanc, for it is by this means that they have communicated while Saruman has fallen into treason and betrayal. “That dark mind will be filled now with the voice and face of the hobbit and with expectation,” says Gandalf. Any belief that Gandalf had that there might be still some time to make preparation has gone; and when a moment later a Nazgul flies overhead, one of Sauron’s mightiest servants, making his way to Orthanc to confront Saruman there. Gandalf’s response is immediate.
“The storm is coming. The Nazgul have crossed the River! Ride, ride! Wait not for the dawn! Let not the swift wait for the slow! Ride!”
Gandalf sweeps up Pippin and rides with him upon Shadowfax, the swiftest steed of the age. They must go to war at Minas Tirith, the great citadel of Gondor, and they will reach it before anyone else.
Events, coming suddenly upon Gandalf, have changed everything, requiring a leap of faith with no guarantee of the outcome. All he knows is that everything must be risked upon one venture. All must be at the battle and give all in the battle. Nothing can be kept in reserve.
There will be times in our own lives when all must be risked in such a manner. How can we be ready when such a time comes? As we have seen we cannot determine when the moments of crisis will come in our lives and that it is an illusion to believe that we can exercise control over them. What we must do is to live our lives in such a manner that will prepare us to act just as Gandalf does when such moments come. The tradition of the Christian faith calls such moments the coming of the Kingdom when all comes to judgement, when all must be ventured upon a leap of faith. It is the tradition of this faith that “the Law leads us to Christ”, that if we are to be ready for the Kingdom we must develop a life of disciplined waiting. Simone Weil called this disciplined waiting, “Forms of the Implicit Love of God” and said it can be expressed in three ways, by love of neighbour expressed in acts of justice, by love of the order and beauty of the world and by love of religious practice. Each of these, she said, can prepare us for the Kingdom that is at hand, the moment of crisis to which all our lives will come.
Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Merry, Pippin, Théoden and Eomer have all come to the great crisis of their lives and they must venture their lives upon it. How they will acquit themselves will be determined by the preparation that they have made for this moment.
4 thoughts on “Wait not for the Dawn!”
“We believe that if we can get the strategy right we will get the outcome right. But life rarely works out that way.”
It’s funny what a difference a few weeks or months can make. Re-reading this I get different things from it now. That’s a mark of good writing on your part, too. ^_^
In my own writing, I’ve been working through just this idea, the two sentences I’ve quoted above. We’re not utterly helpless or powerless. We do have decisions to make, decisions that matter deeply. But we are in a world that we do not control… which is a good thing, though unsettling. My characters, protagonists and antagonists, could execute a plan flawlessly, make all the right decisions and moves, and still fail. Their finiteness, their cosmic smallness, limits them. But at the same time, every little move and choice can cause earthquakes and raise or flatten mountains in the spiritual realm, and even have far-reaching and unknowable effects in the physical realms. I guess that is one great reason why trust in God is so precious. Because we can see so little, that we are practically walking blind.
Thank you so much for leaving a comment here. It was good to go back to this posting again. I feel, on re-reading it, that I was too dependent on my reading of Simone Weil. The principle of living a life that prepares us for the moment of crisis still stands. I need to think further about how we go about living that life.
What matters in this part of The Lord of the Rings is that when the crisis comes Gandalf is not thrown off balance. He had always known that he must be at the battle before Minas Tirith. All that has changed is that he must be there faster.
Although Tolkien does not use the language I believe that trust in God is at the heart of this. Gandalf knows that there is a spiritual battle and he knows that he must give his all and not hold anything back. There are times when we should hold something in reserve. This is not such a time. He knows little of what lies before him. He knows nothing of what has happened to Frodo. None of this matters. He knows what he must do. To be absolutely sure of what to do in a crisis takes a lifetime’s preparation; of a few years like ours or of a few thousand years like his. That is why we need leaders like Gandalf. We can follow them and give up everything we have knowing that we have not wasted our lives.
That makes me think about Lewis observation, I forget where and I’m sure he wasn’t the first to make it… that the choices we make and things we do have two impacts. One in the physical world, and one to our spiritual selves. A particular action might not directly hurt other people, but if it damages our spiritual health, then that damage may well translate to further damage, both to ourselves and to others… thus why sins of thought do matter and need to be addressed.
I think Gandalf is thrown off balance by this. He seems to struggle with anger and with doubt in the chapters to come. I guess that makes it all the more powerful that he remains faithful to his duty. Perhaps he knows that that is the only way forward, which shows that he has trust/faith in spite of his doubt.
“None of this matters. He knows what he must do.” This, in short. 🙂
I will read those chapters with your reflection in mind. And I agree with you that to do what we are called to do when struggling with doubt is our greatest expression of faith. Jesus in Gethsemane comes to mind here.