Journeys through dark places

I just discovered Stephen Winter’s blog, Adventures in Living, where he writes about The Lord of the Rings.  Just starting to delve, but here is a treasure:

Journeying in the Dark Places

Anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings will know that journeys through dark places play an important part in the story. In order to become king Aragorn must journey the Paths of the Dead and lead a fell army in order to overcome the Corsairs of Umbar at Pelargir. Frodo and Sam must journey through the utter dark of Shelob’s Lair in order to enter Mordor and carry the Ring to the fires of Orodruin. And the Fellowship journey through the mines of Moria in order to find a way from the west to the east of The Misty Mountains, the greatest mountain range of Middle earth.

I did not use the word, “must” when speaking of this last journey because it is debated vigorously by the company. Boromir is entirely set against taking this way through the ancient kingdom of the Dwarves, now long abandoned, and argues his case with vigour. “I will not go…not unless the vote of the whole company is against me.” Legolas does not wish to go either and the hobbits are simply afraid of this journey in the dark. Gandalf is sure that it is the only way but Aragorn warns him, “It is not of the Ring, nor of us others that I am thinking now, but of you, Gandalf. And I say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware!”

But in the end there is another, “must” that determines their course of action. Their camp is attacked by wargs, the wolves, the “hounds of Sauron”, and in order to escape them they make for the doors of Moria. And when they get to the doors there is one more “must”. The company is attacked by a foul creature in the waters that guard the gate and are only able to escape it by entering the mine with the doors shattered behind them. They now have only one way out. They must journey some days through the darkness and all the perils that might be concealed there.

None of us willingly choose such dark journeys but the great spiritual traditions teach their necessity if we are to find our true selves. In the Christian tradition is the dark journey of Holy Week that must be taken if we are to come, fully alive, to Easter Sunday. The intention of this week is to remind us of this reality at one point in each year; the reality being that it is a journey that none of us can ultimately avoid, there is a “must” about it. Our fear when we begin such a journey is that there is no certainty that we will come safely to the other side. The words inscribed over the gates of hell in Dante’s Infernocome to mind here, “Abandon all hope all you that enter here.” The temptation that assails us in all dark journeys is the temptation to despair. Dante shows that there is a way through and that is to go boldly if fearfully into its very heart. And as he journeys through hell he sees signs everywhere that it has been harrowed by Christ who entered the dark in order to defeat it and set its prisoners free if they wished to come with him.

The Fellowship “must” take this journey if they are to some safely to the other side of the mountains and for one member it will be a very dark journey indeed. For him above all this journey will be both terrible and yet also a wonderfultransformation. If when we “must” make our journeys we can take them with the same bold faith it will lead to our transformation too. We too will become “fully alive” and our true selves.

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