Gandalf Speaks of His Stewardship

Poor Pippin!  For a long and exhausting hour he has to stand between Denethor and Gandalf and to tell his story the best he can. As he does so he is aware of Gandalf “holding in check a rising wrath and impatience”.

At the last Denethor speaks: “The Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.”

Those last words should be read with a fierce irony for Denethor knows of Aragorn. Indeed he has known him for a long time because Aragorn served his father, Ecthelion, hiding his true identity and going by the name of Thorongil. Denethor resented Thorongil’s  masterful nature, “the most hardy of living Men” and “elven-wise”, “worthy of honour as a king who is in exile.” This is why when Denethor speaks of the good of Gondor he speaks, as it were in the same breath, of his own dignity. For him the two have become one and the same.

So it is that when Gandalf speaks it is with a courteous ferocity:

“The rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”

This is a wonderful speech and is the nearest that we find to a confession of faith throughout the whole of Tolkien’s great story. Gandalf was sent to Middle-earth, not to preserve a kingdom, praiseworthy though that would be, but to preserve something deeper, something for which all earthly kingdoms exist, and that is all “that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again.” To fulfil this task given him by the Valar it would be a distraction, an unnecessary burden to rule a kingdom and yet Denethor does not believe him. Neither for that matter does Saruman and if Sauron were ever to question Gandalf he would not believe him either. Why is it that people are sure that someone of the stature of Gandalf must want to rule over others? Is it that they fear their own powerlessness, believing that only those who rule over others have any value? Eventually Denethor will abandon even his care for his people finally reaching a place where only his own grIief has any meaning. In the same way Saruman will reach this place regarding his bitterness. Nothing else will have meaning for him either.

We live in a world that suffers from those like Denethor or Saruman. Even in our democracies we seem all too ready to elect them to power. What the world really needs is more people like Gandalf; those who give their lives to be stewards of that which is good, beautiful and true. It may be that we live in a time in which the kingdoms that we love may decline and even fall but if we understand aright our calling as stewards then we will not be discouraged because we will be working and praying for the coming of a kingdom. And we do not need the power that Gandalf has in order to be stewards even as he is. All we need is to have the same love for “all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands” and to offer ourselves as we are with all our weakness. Gandalf has called many people to share his stewardship from the great like Aragorn to the weak like Pippin and each will play his part. Sadly Denethor will reject the call. Pippin will give more to Gondor than its lord. We can give more to the world as stewards than its rulers do seeking their own glory.

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?