Frodo and Sam Cast Away What They Do Not Need in Mordor

As I began to think about this part of the story a beautiful line from a French poem came to mind.

Partir, c’est mourir un peu 

To leave, or to say farewell, is to die a little.

As Frodo and Sam draw nearer to the mountain so the Ring, Frodo’s burden, becomes more and more unbearable.

“I can’t manage it, Sam,” he said. “It is such a weight to carry, such a weight.”

Sam offers to help Frodo to carry the Ring and this rouses what energy remains within him but the fact remains that the task of bearing the Ring is increasingly beyond his strength. And so Sam suggests that they lighten their load.

Some of the items are easy to dispose of. Frodo gladly casts away his disguise of orc shield, helmet and sword. “I’ll be an orc no more… and I’ll bear no weapon, fair or foul.” But he casts aside his elven cloak too. He describes himself to Sam as “naked in the dark”. Not a nakedness as a kind of liberation, that sees clothing as a kind of imprisonment but a nakedness that means that there is no protection, even the illusory protection of clothes, that lies between Frodo and destruction and there is no protection that lies between Frodo and shame.

In the fourth century, after the Emperor Constantine had declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire, the newly built churches were filled with people who were there in order to further their careers. It was Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem, one of great spiritual geniuses of his age, who addressed this by creating the idea of Lent, a 40 day period of fasting, prayer, instruction and discipline for the many who were preparing for baptism. Baptism had once been a courageous thing to do in a world hostile to the Christian faith but it was now required behaviour for all. At the end of Lent those who were to be baptised presented themselves in a darkened church and they removed all their clothing, becoming naked in the dark, before descending into the water. All this signified a dying to them, a symbol of the ending of one life, and it was a ritual cleansing to. It was followed by an arising from the water after which they were clothed in a white robe, were given a lighted candle and received the bread and wine of the Eucharist that symbolised the new life that had just begun.

Cyril was doing what the great spiritual guides of every culture have done before the culture of the modern west and that is to teach that it is necessary to die before we die. He recognised the spiritual catastrophe of a baptism that simply affirmed the ascent to success that the young people of his day naturally desired. He knew that this could not prepare them for the inevitability of the descent that every life must know before the final and complete descent into death.

The church always recognised that those who were martyred required no baptism for martyrdom, the act of bearing true witness to the cross, is true baptism. Frodo and Sam in their journey through Mordor know the reality of death. Frodo knows what Coleridge named as a death in life. He is almost in the power of the Ring and if the Ring goes to the Fire he expects to be destroyed with it.

And for Sam, the moment when his pots and pans are cast into one of the deep fissures of the Plain of Mordor is “like a death-knell to his heart”. It is as if he is saying that there is no way back from the Mountain.

Partir, c’est mourir un peu. 

To leave, to say farewell, is to die a little.

Frodo and Sam know the truth of this.

But not quite. In a pocket of his tunic, next to his heart, Sam still keeps two things, “the phial of Galadriel and the little box that she gave him for his own”.

 

 

 

 

I Do Not Think I Shall Ever Get There

The fear may have passed and Faramir proved faithful even though he has discovered that he has the Ring of Power within his grasp, but it has been too much for Frodo. “A great weariness came down on him like a cloud. He could dissemble and resist no longer.”

As we said some weeks ago Frodo has never lied to Faramir but he has done all that he can to hide the truth knowing what the truth can do. He has tried with all the strength he has to prevent Faramir from learning what it is that he carries. But now Faramir does know and Frodo has no strength left.

“I was going to find a way to Mordor,” he said faintly. “I was going to Gorgoroth. I must find the Mountain of Fire and cast the thing into the gulf of Doom. Gandalf said so. I do not think I shall ever get there.”

It is as if Frodo no longer has any will left in the matter. It is not even his choice as to whether he goes to Mordor. “Gandalf said so.” This is a thing that children say when they try to excuse themselves upon being caught doing something naughty. They try to pass the responsibility onto someone else, someone with sufficient authority to explain their actions. To do such a thing is not the action of a hero but Frodo is passed caring about being a hero, passed caring about being the centre of the story. He just has a task to fulfil; a job to do.

There are times in our lives when we seek for a sense of vocation, a word which means being called. We need such a sense to give us strength to do the hard things when they come. Perhaps Frodo briefly had such a sense when he first learnt what it was that he possessed in his front room before his fireplace with Gandalf. At that moment he a great desire “to follow Bilbo, and even perhaps to find him again.” It was a desire “so strong that it overcame his fear”. It was not a calling to do a great deed but it was enough to get him out of his front door and onto the journey. When the debate in the Council of Elrond concluded with the decision to take the Ring to Mordor Frodo had no such desire but a “great dread”. His longing was to remain at peace with Bilbo in Rivendell and so great was that longing that when eventually he did speak it was if  “some other will was using his small voice”.

I said just now that we need a sense of vocation, a sense of being called to do something, to give us strength when times get hard. Perhaps I should have said that with the really important things there will come a time when we no longer have any sense of vocation at all. The really important things are too big for us. Indeed if the thing that engages our best and our truest is not too big for us then maybe it is not that important. It is one of the key elements of the imagery in the most ancient forms of the Christian rite of baptism that the one who is baptised is plunged into the waters of death and of chaos. As they do so they find that Christ has already made this journey, the journey into the deep waters of death, but that he has overcome our ancient enemy and death no longer has any power over him. Baptism is thus not just a cleansing from all that is passed but a prophecy of what lies ahead. As Jesus says to the disciples who want greatness, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with.” How can we face such things without the same sense of dread that Frodo felt that day in Rivendell? And if we do continue the journey then there will be times when we have no strength left just as Frodo has none at this moment.

And what happens next when there is no strength?