Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New Year's Resolution #4 - Letting Go

Letting go of things is never easy.
Letting go of our addictions is never, ever, easy...

Even when they are burning hot Rings of Doom, made by the Enemy, emblazoned with the fiery script of the Black Speech of Mordor, and pretty much telling us in so many words that they are in fact Evil, we are loathe to part with our precioussss "fill in the blank."

We cling so often to what we know is not good for us, to what we know in our minds and hearts is unhealthy for us. We wantsss it, precioussss.... we wantssss it... Perhaps because it gives us a sense of control or some comfort or it nurses our pride, or becomes the envy of our enemy. What makes the letting go so difficult is the fact that we have poured so much of ourselves into the Thing (whatever, or whoever, it is), just as Sauron poured his malice and his cunning and all of his art, twisted though it was, into the Ring of Power. What happens when we pour ourselves into a creature and not the Creator? Then the possession, the creature or created thing, becomes the possessor. It gets a power over us, and the possessor gets possessed! By refusing to give ourselves freely in love, we lose ourselves tragically in lust; for a power, or a plaything, or even a person that we have made into a god.

We need to break these addictions. We need someone to unfold our knotted fists and open them up to freedom.

Frodo of the Shire. Even Mr. Baggins failed in the end, didn't he? At the end of all things, it appeared that even Frodo could not resist the power of the Ring, and succumbed to its weight, there at the very Crack of Doom. "Just let it go!" cried the ever faithful Sam. But Frodo could not loosen his grip and let such a small thing fall away from him.

I've often pondered Tolkien's decision in writing this ending. After all, they had come so far, proven themselves over and over again, starved and staggered, fasted and fumbled through countless miles to come to this point. Why did Frodo fail in the end?

This is the melancholic tone that sounds throughout Tolkien's writing, the sadness and sense of what Tolkien himself called the "long defeat." It's a reflection of our human story. We are all of us prodigal sons and daughters. Original Sin should be the one dogma of the Catholic Faith that needs no defense or apologetic. Its echo resounds in every one of our endeavors, every task, every ambition, encounter, effort and ache in the heart. We are wounded, and we need help. We can only come so far, give so much and then, when the leap is wider than our eyes can fathom, or the task to heavy for us to bear, we choke. We hold back. We don't want to let go, jump, trust, abandon. And the discordant music that ripped a black hole in the fabric of the cosmos swells up again in the human heart. "I will not serve." - "I won't let go!"

Thank God another hand was there that day, when Frodo refused to let the Ring fall. But it was an unexpected hand, a gnarled and withered hand that saved the day. Gollum clutched and grasped at his master and bit the hand of Frodo, causing the Ring to plummet into fire and out of memory.

How often does it seem that Providence puts these unwelcome hands in our way, gnarled and withered hands that take things away from us, tear at us and tease us. It should be stressed that this is not the Hand of God... directly. He wills only our good and we must believe this, we must trust this. But we must know too that God is a jealous Lover. And He may from time to time unbind and allow the hands of the Devil to act. This is the mysterium iniquitatis, the mystery of evil, and the mystery of Good as well. The puzzling Plan of Providence.

Does this frighten us? Is this an unsettling thought for us? To consider that God would ever allow us, His children to be burned, to be hurt, to suffer like Job? It takes tremendous faith, and a laser focus on that one thing needful, that pearl of great price. It is, we find in the end, not the pearl that matters, but the Person holding it. All else must fall away. Everything must fall away and we must be stripped, just as Frodo and Samwise on their journey through Mordor, and Abraham through the countless miles to Canaan, and Moses in the wilderness, and Hannah in her tears, and David in his battles, and Anthony in his barren cave, Clare in the cutting of her hair and all the ties that bound her to comfort. Everyone must pass through Mordor, through Calvary. And there, if we are to be free, we must lay down the Precious. Cast it into the fire, let it burn upon the altar of the Cross.

And then will be free. Then we will cry with Samwise when the Ring was destroyed and he passed from death to unexpected Life "I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!"

For when our hands are truly empty, God can finally fill them.

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