Sam Shows Us that We are Part of a Very Great Story

Sam does not know it yet but he is beginning to see what the world truly is once you draw back the veil that hides reality from our eyes. In these last few weeks we have been thinking about Sam’s reflection on the story in which he and Frodo have been a part. Sometimes as we strive to put our thoughts into words it is as if an idea or, even better, an image, takes hold of us and suddenly we can see and speak of what we have seen.

Sam begins to see glimpses of the kind of story that they are in but being Sam, being most wonderfully, Sam, it is of Frodo that he now speaks:

“And people will say: ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!’ And they’ll say: ‘Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.”

This is all too much for Frodo who shares with Sam the plain good hobbit virtue of not taking oneself too seriously. It is too much to begin to think of hobbits as famous and it is certainly too much to think of himself as the “famousest” of them all! Frodo begins to laugh at the sheer absurdity of the thought but Sam is not to be put off. His imagination has been captured by the image of the storyteller at work who makes the world strange for a moment in order, at the end of the tale, to return the hearer to his own reality just a little changed. No matter that Sam’s story teller is a father reading to his own children. In this simplest of domestic settings he is no less than a bard with harp in hand chanting verses to the household of a great lord in a meadhall on a long winter’s night. And what Sam sees as Frodo tries to deflect him with his laughter is the stones of the mountains of the Ephel Dúath listening to a sound that “had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth”. He sees the “the tall rocks leaning over them” as if (and this is my image to add to Sam’s!) they are warming themselves upon a fire. Sam has become a mythmaker and not even Frodo’s deflecting mockery can stop him now.

Frodo will be carried to the very end of his quest by the mythmaking vision that has awoken within Sam. His laughter is at least in part a response to what he considers to be Sam’s efforts to cheer him up but what Sam has done is much, much more. In the days that lie ahead Sam will go into battle with a creature of the foulest kind and he will storm an orc tower in order to rescue his master. Such are the deeds of the greatest of heroes and even Beren himself would be honoured to numbered among a hero such as Sam will become and yet all Sam can do is to think of Frodo.

Maybe, like Frodo, we may not be able to see the story of which we too are a part for what it truly is. We should not blame Frodo and we should not blame ourselves either. Frodo bears a burden that even Gandalf and Galadriel feared to take and step by step on his weary pilgrimage to the very heart of Sauron’s power it robs him of all strength and joy. Soon he will have no more capacity to laugh or even to remember that there is a reality beyond the darkness of the dungeon of Mordor. No we should not blame him. But if we can do so then we should strive to do as Sam does and to strip away the veil from before our eyes. Tolkien spoke of the “True Myth” of the Incarnation that we will celebrate soon on December 25th that the Catechism to which he assented described thus:

“The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

Sam is beginning to glimpse glimmers of the True Myth and they will carry him to glory. They can do the same for us too. Our destiny, if we could but see it, is to become gods.

Stories and Music for a Christ-haunted People

Last year I heard an interview with the fine British actor, Micheal Sheen, about the Passion Play, “The Gospel of Us” in which he played the Christ figure, “The Teacher” in venues around Port Talbot, a steel town in south Wales and Sheen’s hometown, at Easter 2012. “We are a Christ-haunted people,” he said before explaining that he did not regard himself as a practicing Christian. The play was filmed by Dave McKean and is available on all the usual media if you wish to watch it. I intend to do so myself this year.

It was that phrase “A Christ-haunted people” that came to mind as I began to think about this week’s posting about The Music of the Ainur that I promised last week. I first began to think about this on Christmas Night. The days up to and including Christmas Day are a particularly intense time of the year for me as a Christian minister. Unlike Sheen I am a “practicing” Christian and I am especially visible as such as I attend school nativity plays, carol services of many kinds and with many communities and then the great services of Holy Communion at midnight on Christmas Eve and then again on Christmas morning. In one school carol service I joined the queue trying to get into the church declaring to those around me that I wanted the novel experience of having to queue to get into church. I promise you that I said it with a happy smile on my face and folk smiled back at me too.

In recent years I have become increasingly drawn to the Christ-haunted who are not regular worshippers. I feel greatly privileged to be with people who choose to get married in church, or to baptise their child, or to seek a Christian funeral for the person they have lost. In Britain the month of November has become a new holy month as the remembering of our war dead has grown in significance in recent years. The poppy installation in which a ceramic poppy was placed in the moat to represent each of those who died in the First World War at The Tower of London was visited by over a million people, a similar number to those from Britain who perished in that war. Two of my great uncles were among that number and I intend to visit their graves in military cemeteries on The Western Front. This need to remember affects me too.

And then there is Christmas…

When Charles Dickens wrote a life of Christ he produced one of the dullest things he ever wrote and I have no doubt it pleased church leaders and pious parents who surely dutifully read it to their children and so infected them with the safe and unthreatening belief that piety and dullness belong together!  “A Christmas Carol”, on the other hand, is a thrilling tale and has entered the mythology of the English speaking world. That is why I have re-blogged Sarah Waters’ excellent piece that I hope you will read alongside this.

Increasingly I am sure that the Music of the Ainur can be heard anywhere if we have but ears to hear it. When I first tried to write this I thought I would be talking about the music of great composers but realise now that I cannot do this. I cannot reduce music to a narrative, even the narrative of the great Christ-story. I must trust music to lead me on although I could produce a playlist of music that has pointed me towards the great music recently. Perhaps you would like to do the same. Victoria Barlow writes movingly about this in a comment on last week’s blog if you would like to read more on this. I do encourage you to do so.

I offer Charles Dickens to you as an example of a great story-teller whose work points us towards the great story at many points and most surely in his tale of the redemption of the miser, Scrooge. I would love to hear about your examples. And I would like to add at the end of this that I would include Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as one of the great examples of the modern age.