'I ought to... leave everything'


LotR as a "Fundamentally Catholic and Religious Work"    

'I ought to... leave everything'
The active night of the senses

Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.
- Thomas Merton
When we were both much younger, a friend of mine who's now a priest loved quoting lines from Father John Bertolucci's talks - imitating Father Bertolucci's somewhat bombastic speaking style. My friend's favorite was " 'Course it's true, praise God!" But mine was the comment about people who are reluctant to give their lives to God "...because they're afraid God's going to send them to Uganda." It's entirely possible that God might ask that of them, said Father Bertolucci. But, if so, "Guess what? God's gonna give them a powerful love for Uganda!" In "The Shadow of the Past," Frodo tells Gandalf that he used to think an invasion of dragons would be a good thing for Shire residents. He's grown beyond that, but Bingo (the "Frodo equivalent" in the earliest drafts of LotR) doesn't seem to have reached that point when he goes looking for adventure. The fact that Frodo answers his initial call to the Road because he's been given "a powerful love for the Shire" - rather than because he finds life there boring - casts an entirely different, more mature, spiritual light on the rest of the book than what would have been there if Tolkien hadn't allowed the story - and the character - to deepen.

That doesn't mean Frodo finds it easy to follow the call. Hearing it and verbally responding to it is one thing; taking the necessary action is something else. Some readers see Frodo's reluctance to leave Bag End as an effect of the Ring. That might have been part of it. But I think the greater part is an entirely normal human reaction to being asked to give up everything, and everyone, you love for an unknown future. Selling Bag End underlines the permanence* of the decision.

Even Bilbo, who wants to leave, says that he's very fond of his garden, '...and of all the dear old Shire,' and it's so difficult for him to part from Frodo that he couldn't bear to say good-bye a second time. For Frodo, leaving home is even more wrenching, and we get some hints of that throughout the next couple of chapters. A small sampling:  

'...even if my feet cannot stand there again.'

'But I feel very small, and very uprooted...'

The thought that he would so soon have to part with his young friends weighed on his heart.

'Good-bye!' said Frodo, looking at the dark blank windows.

'I wonder if I shall ever look down into that valley again.'

But, reluctant or not, he does go, leaving behind everything he knows and understands, which is the essence of the active night of the senses. In "real life," this is often the point when someone leaves the non-Christian life they've been living to begin a new one as a follower of Jesus, or when someone who's already a Christian follows a call that radically changes his or her life (each type of dark night can occur in someone's life more than once). Most people can look back and see that grace was preparing them for that change, but there comes a time when they have to actually let go of their comfort zone and step into the dark. "Well, we all like walking in the dark," says Frodo to his companions at the beginning of their journey, but when you leave your home territory that becomes more difficult - and it takes faith to guide your steps.


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*The LotR:FotR movie shows this link by eliminating both of these elements rather than just one of them; in the movie, Frodo expects to return home after getting the Ring to Bree, and he doesn't sell Bag End to anyone.