“We too must think of the tension between our desire to live a life that we can call our own and the tales that really matter.”
So ended last week’s thoughts on Sam Gamgee’s reflection on adventure in “a dark crevice between two great piers of rock” in the Pass of Cirith Ungol. Are we then saying that we cannot live a life of our own choosing and still be part of a tale that really matters? Carl Jung most certainly would agree with such a statement. He wrote:
“To this day God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.”
In writing this, Jung challenged the sense that God exists in our psyche solely as a source of comfort for anxious souls. In doing so he was true to the great encounters with God that we find in the bible such as Moses meeting God in the Burning Bush and Mary meeting the angel who tells her that she is to bear the Messiah. A Christian would say that there is more to an understanding of the nature of God than Jung’s insight but would accept that his challenge is just. It is not through the achievement of our goals or the fulfillment of our dreams that we become our True Selves but through our response to the things that cross our willful path “violently and recklessly”. In other words it is through the unexpected, even the unwanted, events that enter our lives that we grow. In his story, Leaf by Niggle, Tolkien tells of an artist who is constantly and annoyingly interrupted by the needs and demands of others and so is never able to complete his master work. After his death he discovers that his work has been completed, not primarily by his own efforts, but as a gift and the very interruptions that he found so irksome in his lifetime are the mysterious means by which this happens.
To come to realise that the deepest meaning of our lives lies in the things that cross our path rather than in our successful journeying down the path is not to mean that we will not have our own desires. Sam shows this himself when he replies to Frodo’s statement that at some point their role in the story will come to an end with the words, “And then we can have some rest and some sleep…And I mean just that, Mr Frodo. I mean plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning’s work in the garden. I’m afraid that’s all I’m hoping for all the time. All the big important plans are not for my sort.”
Frodo may have thought only in terms of his own death but Sam longs for life and for life at work in his garden. As with all of us Sam’s Selfhood is made from the relationship between his longings and the events that enter his life. At the start of The Lord of the Rings he longed to “see elves” and to experience adventure. That longing has been satisfied beyond his expectation but with it has come an experience of darkness from which he longs to be free. All who experience wonder will also know darkness. They belong together. Perhaps that is why for most people it feels safer to have limited ambition, to agree with Sam’s Gaffer in saying that “Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you.” But although Sam now longs for cabbages and potatoes himself they will never be the same cabbages and potatoes as they are for the Gaffer. They will be transformed by all that he has been through.
Sam is being “Selved” (to use Gerard Manley Hopkins’ wonderful word) by his desire and by his experience and so are we. Key to this is that we stay on the journey and not turn back. Sam thinks of his own story in this way and it is to this not turning back that we will come in our reflection next week.