john hull

Back in 1988 I was ordained a minister in the Church of England in Birmingham, England. The very next day I attended a meeting of clergy from parishes in the city centre and the speaker was the Dean of Education at Birmingham University, Professor John Hull. He spoke of a meeting between the University Vice Chancellor and the Faculty Deans. He told us that the Vice Chancellor had informed the Deans that the only word in the University that had any meaning any longer was money. On the way out of the meeting a colleague took him aside. “You’re a Christian,” he said. “I want to come to church with you this Sunday. After that meeting I feel dirty.” For the rest of his life John made sure that people would know that a witness to Christ meant a denial of the Money God.
Please read this fine appreciation of this passionate disciple of Christ. Delight too in the wonderful poem by e.e cummings . Rest in peace, John, and Rise in glory.

Pilgrimpace's Blog

A couple of days ago I went to the Funeral of my friend John Hull.

Here are a scattering of memories and reflections in tribute.

HullatISREV_XV

Over the last couple of decades, John has been a real friend and someone who has pushed my thinking and my action.  I first met him when I was a new Curate.  One of the first things I had to do was help develop and run a Confirmation Course; it had to be good – two of John’s boys were on it; we were teaching the children of the Professor of Religious Education.  Since then, we have met regularly for lunches where we have drunk red wine, laughed outrageously, asked very good and penetrating questions, put work and plans under scrutiny.  John helped me a lot when I was asked to be Chaplain with Deaf People and I was new and trying not to blunder…

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Akallabêth

Jubilare writes beautifully about the Akallabêth, J.R.R Tolkien’s telling of the downfall of Númenor near the end of The Silmarillion. If you read this fine piece then you will get so much helpful background to the material I am writing at present.

jubilare

According to Pages Unbound, today marks the anniversary of Sauron’s downfall! I will take their word for it. To celebrate the occasion, the Tolkien Society is holding a Tolkien Reading Day.

The ways of participating are:

  • Grab the event button from Pages Unbound and put it on your blog.
  • Read a book by J.R.R. Tolkien this week and post a review!  If you do, Pages UnboundTolkien Society, and I all want to know so that we can read it!  (Find reading suggestions on the Tolkien Society’s Bibliography.)
  • Spread the word on social media.
  • Link to any past posts you may have made about Tolkien, his writings, or even the movies in the comments on this post.

To fulfill the second option, I am going to yammer about the Akallabêth, that short history of the Númenoreans tacked onto the end of J.R.R. and Christopher…

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Faramir Remembers “Númenor that was”

“We look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

So says Faramir to Frodo and Sam motioning to them to stand with himself and his men facing westwards into the setting sun at the refuge of Henneth Annûn before they sit to eat. And in this simple action the people of Gondor recollect both their history and their identity day by day.

They remember the peril that Eärendil “ventured for love of the Two Kindreds” at the end of the First Age of the Earth. For when the forces of Morgoth had all but overthrown the kingdoms of the Elves and Men in Beleriand Eärendil had journeyed to Valinor to plea for the mercy of the Valar in their uttermost need, and mercy was granted to them. They remember how Morgoth was overthrown and in punishment was “thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World into the Timeless Void”. They remember how Elros and Elrond, the sons of Eärendil, were granted a choice that none had ever been offered either before nor since. The Valar offered to them either to live as one of the deathless that was the destiny of the Elves upon the Earth or to choose mortality that was the destiny of Humankind. And they remember how Elrond chose the destiny of the Elvenkind and so came to live in Rivendell in Middle-earth and how Elros chose mortality and was granted as gift for himself and his people the great isle of Númenor in the Western Seas just within sight of Valinor.

They remember how at first their ancestors lived in contentment with the choice that Elros had made and the land that had been granted as gift; but how, even as their power grew, they grew envious of those that were deathless, coming to see their own mortality as a punishment laid upon them by the Valar who they now regarded as tyrants. This discontent and envy grew and festered over many years even as their might grew. Indeed, we might say, unease and power seemed to grow in equal measure. Eventually so great was that power that they were able to overthrow and make prisoner Sauron even after he had forged the One Ring and had made Barad-dûr in Mordor the heart of his dominions within Middle-earth. But their victory over Sauron was not achieved as a rejection of his darkness but in envy of his power and so, even as a prisoner, Sauron was able to make that envy grow directing it now against the Valar. Eventually with Sauron’s encouragement they assaulted Elvenhome itself believing that if they could conquer it they would achieve the immortality that they desired, that it was the land itself that somehow granted to its people their deathlessness. But a great wave arose that destroyed the fleets and even the Isle of Númenor and so it is that when Faramir and his men stand in silence they remember “Númenor that was”.

But even as the unfaithfulness of the kings of Númenor and those that followed them comes to mind every time the people of Gondor stand before they eat so too does the memory of those who were faithful at great cost to themselves. For among the people of Númenor there were those known as Elf-friends who still loved the Valar and were content with the choice of Elros. When the fleets of Númenor sailed in assault upon Valinor they refused to go with them and the great wave that destroyed Númenor carried Elendil, his sons, Isildur and Anárion and all their peoples, in nine great ships to the shores of Middle-earth where they founded the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor.

All this is called to mind as the peoples of Gondor remember “Númenor that was”, and it is a memory of gift, of choice, of growing discontent and envy that led to unfaithfulness and also to the faithfulness of Elendil and his people, the Elf-friends. And each time they do this they know that they themselves are the fruit of this story and how they too must live.

In this week’s reflection we have remembered  “Númenor that was” and perhaps it has caused us to think of our own discontents with our lives and what has been given to us and what it might mean for us to be faithful even as were the Elf-friends. Next week we shall think with Faramir and his men of “Elvenhome that is” and all that comes to mind as they gaze towards it.

Faramir shows us a Man who is his True Self

When I first began to think about writing about The Lord of the Rings a particular scene from the story came to mind before any other. Frodo and Sam are in the refuge behind the Falls of Henneth Annûn and are about to eat with Faramir and his men.

“Before they ate, Faramir and all his men turned and faced west in a moment of silence. Faramir signed to Frodo and Sam that they should do likewise.

‘So we always do,’ he said as they sat down: ‘we look towards Numenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.'”

Even now as I write these words I am deeply moved by them. In a brief moment of formal gesture we learn of all that inspires the best in the people of Gondor. It is an action that takes but a moment to learn but whose meaning requires a lifetime of faithfulness in order to understand. It is not enough simply to know the history and the faith that lies behind the action although the next time I write this blog I will write about this history and this faith a little more. What is required for true understanding is to live this history and this faith. All present at this meal are faithful in the deed. Perhaps only Faramir is faithful in all that the deed signifies.

I first read The Lord of the Rings as a young teenager. I will be forever grateful to my classmate, Jon Flint for introducing it to me. Jon was the son of a senior officer in the Royal Air Force and in many ways a Faramir like figure or one I can imagine Faramir being as a boy. At first we mistook his love of poetry and art for a kind of weakness, even effeminacy, and we began to torment him. One straight left punch into the nose of a tormentor was enough to teach us our mistake! I can imagine Faramir teaching similar lessons. In a moment I learnt that manliness and a love of beauty could exist in one person. Thank you, Jon.

Tolkien was a man of profound spiritual insight and I feel that in the creation of Faramir he displays that insight quite wonderfully. Recently I began to re-read Thomas Merton’s great spiritual classic of the late twentieth century, The New Man, and as I did so I could not help but feel that Faramir was an example of the kind of person that Merton was describing.

“In those who are most alive and therefore most themselves, the life of the body is subordinated to a higher life that is within them. It quietly surrenders to the far more abundant vitality of a spirit living on levels that defy measurement and observation. The mark of true life in man is therefore not turbulence but control, not effervescence but lucidity and direction, not passion but the sobriety that sublimates all passion and elevates it to the clear inebriation of mysticism. The control we mean here is not arbitrary and tyrannical control by an interior principle which can be called variously, a ‘super-ego’ or a pharisaical conscience: it is the harmonious coordination of man’s powers into one perfect actuality which is his true self, that is to say his spiritual self.

Man, then, can only fully be said to be alive when he becomes plainly conscious of the real meaning of his own existence, that is to say when he experiences something of the fullness of intelligence, freedom and spirituality that are actualised within himself.”

Frodo felt “strangely rustic and untutored” in the presence of Faramir at the moment of silent recollection even as I do before Merton’s words here. Perhaps the best I can do is to offer my desire to learn and so to grow into my true self which is my spiritual self.