Frodo Teaches Us about Strength in Times of Darkness

If hope means to have some expectation that things will turn out well for the one who hopes then Frodo has little of it. He does not expect that he will survive his mission. When he awakens at dusk in the foul pit in which he, Sam and Gollum have been sheltering he prepares to go to the Black Gate of Mordor with no plan of how to get past it but only a clear sense of where his duty lies. He must do what the Council has asked of him. He must do all in his power to take the Ring to the fires of Mount Doom and there unmake it. If he has hope then it must mean that he believes that what he seeks to do has meaning even if he fails and perishes in the attempt and the Ring returns to the hand of its master and maker, the Dark Lord.

During his journey across the Dead Marshes the Ring has become a terrible burden to Frodo in his body, mind and spirit, and he has often lagged behind his companions, but when he awakens in the pit Tolkien tells us:

“Strangely enough, Frodo felt refreshed. He had been dreaming. The dark shadow had passed, and a fair vision had visited him in this land of disease. Nothing remained of it in his memory, yet because of it he felt glad and lighter of heart. His burden was less heavy on him.”

Others have spoken of such an experience; that when they have no strength left to endure a great burden they receive strength to carry on from a source they may not be aware of. In his reflection on his experience in the Nazi death camps, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes of the power that hope gave him to survive. “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’”, he says. The German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spent the last two years of his life as a prisoner of the Nazis as they sought to uncover his part in the Resistance. After time in the Tegel military prison in relatively tolerable conditions he was eventually sent to Gestapo headquarters in Prinz Albrecht Strasse where he was tortured. He was given permission to write a letter to his parents at Christmas 1944 and enclosed a poem that he wrote and which is still sung as a hymn in German churches.

“With every power for good to stay and guide me,/ comforted and inspired beyond all fear” the poem begins and it ends with the words, “While all the powers of good aid and attend us,/ boldly we’ll face the future come what may./ At even and at morn God will befriend us,/and oh most surely on each newborn day!”

Bonhoeffer describes his own experience of receiving strength to endure the unendurable here and reports from reliable witnesses tell us that he continued in that way right until his execution in Flossenburg concentration camp just a few days before the ending of the war. So we learn that if we too live in hope that our actions for good have meaning, even in the face of death, then we will receive strength to endure, perhaps most especially at the darkest times.