Sam Reflects on the Things that Cross His Willful Path Violently and Recklessly

“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.

A Hobbit’s Guide to Synchronicity

Free at last from their orc captors Merry and Pippin run deeper into Fangorn Forest along the line of the Entwash as quickly as the tangled forest will allow until they reach a steep hill with what appears to be a kind of natural stair cut into its side. They can see the sun shining upon the hill top and keen to get some kind of idea of where they are and to enjoy the sun they decide to climb the stair.

“Up we go!” said Merry joyfully. “Now for a breath of air and a sight of the land!”

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And so they arrive in time to encounter Treebeard, the oldest of the Ents who are the shepherds of the trees of the forest, an encounter that will change the direction of the whole story. And we might be forgiven for thinking that Tolkien has given way here to one of those rather lazy “just in time” moments, an unlikely coincidence, except for the fact that he believed that such moments do happen. Tolkien believed in Providence and you may remember that Gandalf once said to Frodo that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring and therefore that Frodo was meant to have it too.

For some, like me, who believe in Providence as did Tolkien, it might be enough to have a sense that there is an unseen hand for good at work in the world. Gandalf calls this “an encouraging thought” and it is for those of us who believe in it. I am struck that some normally sceptical people are prepared to believe in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the Market, forgetting perhaps that as well as being an economist Smith was also a moral theologian. I know too that in the 20th century, Carl Gustav Jung developed the idea of Synchronicity, arguing that as well as events being linked by cause and effect they could also be linked by meaning and that in the search for meaning a skilled therapist might help someone look for events that appeared to be coincidences. More recently, Joseph Jaworski, founder of the American Leadership Forum, wrote a book of the same name as a reflection on his own experience as he sought to move from a self-centred and inauthentic life to one that was consciously meaningful and of service to others. The book argues that once we begin the search for meaning in our lives events will, in a sense, conspire to aid us in that search. In his excellent foreword to the book Peter Senge speaks of the essential importance of commitment if we are to live a life that will be shaped, as it were, by synchronous events.

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As we saw last week we might find Pippin scratching his head and smiling ruefully if we were to try and explain this to him. He is unlikely to engage in the kind of search for meaning that we have talked about. But Pippin and Merry know about commitment and have practiced it ever since they decided that they would go with Frodo and Sam when they left The Shire carrying the Ring with them. Gandalf knew about their commitment  too and persuaded Elrond that he should trust their friendship as being of more importance to the success of the Quest of the Ring than the presence in the Fellowship of two trusted members of his household. Merry and Pippin may have thought of themselves as being a nuisance, mere luggage on the journey, but it is their friendship, their total commitment to Frodo, that brings them, carried as it were by the orcs, to the story changing encounter with Treebeard that we will think about in the next few weeks. I wonder where the events of your life might be carrying you?