Things of the Spirit


LotR as a "Fundamentally Catholic and Religious Work"    

Things of the Spirit

This group of essays is difficult to define. It's subtitle is "Spirituality," but we've already talked about incarnational spirituality, sacramental spirituality, some aspects of liturgy, and other things that could be included under that heading. Most discussions of spirituality would be primarily about prayer, but when talking about the Third Age of Middle-earth, that's a pretty limited topic. Communication between Ilúvatar and His children is almost entirely one way. Those who are open have learned to
Of all human activities, man's listening to God is the supreme act of his reasoning and will.
- Pope Paul VI
listen - although they don't know Who they're listening to - but would be at a total loss if they were told to talk to Ilúvatar or to be aware of His presence. This doesn't mean they don't respond to what they hear, but their response is a lived one rather than a verbal one. They're at the level of babies who have learned to understand the meaning of some words and can respond to them (for example, smiling when told, "Daddy's home"), but aren't yet able to speak themselves. Our holy people of the Third Age don't know how to pray (or, in the case of the Númenoreans, believe that because their place of worship has been destroyed, they no longer can pray), but they take on a task when they've received a call to do so. The call might come through circumstances, the discernment of the larger group, and/or pure love; occasionally, Ilúvatar even communicates more directly through dreams, visions, or little-understood inner senses.

The essay just prior to this one points out some differences between Men and Elves that are, in essence, spiritual ones. The (relatively) immortal Elves are bound to the created world until its end. Those who are killed or die of a broken heart are received into the Halls of Mandos. Mandos is one of the Valar, and his halls are within the created world, so not even Elves who die pass beyond its boundaries. Because of this bond, Elven spirituality is tied to the Valar rather than to Ilúvatar. The spirituality Bilbo was exposed to on his travels was that of the Elves, and that's what he passes on to Frodo, so Frodo calls on Elbereth's name when he's in danger instead of Ilúvatar's; because Elbereth is completely in harmony with Ilúvatar, and her power comes from Him, the result is the same.

It would really be more "logical" for a mortal to have a spirituality that's linked to Ilúvatar, because after death mortals do leave even the Valar behind and pass beyond the created world. In fact, before the fall of Númenor, the Men living there worshipped Ilúvatar as Eru - the One. But even the faithful few, who survived the island's destruction and arrived on the shores of Middle-earth, believed that the loss of their place of worship in Númenor ended their ability to reach Eru through prayer. So, many spiritually-minded mortals adopted what they could of the Elven spirituality connected to the Valar; the Valar, they knew, would always be faithful to Eru, so wouldn't lead them astray as Sauron had done to most of the Númenoreans. The one time we hear the word "Valar" in LotR, it's spoken by one of Faramir's men, which would indicate that Elvish spirituality was adopted quite broadly by the descendants of the Númenoreans. Even so, the tie of mortals to Eru wasn't completely severed, as shown by the standing silence during which they not only look toward Elvenhome but to 'that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.'

That's the overall situation in which we find the Children of Ilúvatar at the end of the Third Age, at least when it comes to prayer, and to what we would usually tend to think of as spirituality. But the truth of God's presence in creation, as Tolkien perceived it, underlies every word of LotR. So, in this group of essays, we'll look at some of the ways that Presence is experienced by the holy pre-Christians we meet there. As I said in an earlier essay, Ilúvatar isn't remote and uninvolved in Middle-earth; that's only the perception of the people who live there.