can hold evil in check, but that is not what
I have found. It is the small everyday deeds
of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.
Small acts of kindness and love.
Why Bilbo Baggins?
Perhaps because I am afraid,
and he gives me courage.
~JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit
Over Christmas this year, we had our 5th annual marathon viewing of all three Lord of the Rings, extended versions naturally. Add in three extended versions of The Hobbit, and it made for 24 hours of PJ-wearing, popcorn-munching, viewing pleasure. We did stop to sleep, shower, eat turkey and go to London, but we spent a lot of our holiday traversing Middle Earth.
At the end of the final movie in the Lord of the Rings series, The Return of the King, the elves set sail on the last ship out of Middle Earth, toward the west, where all 'turns to silver glass'. After all of the events in 2016, I wanted to run after them and shout, take me with you!!, but I live on this earth, not middle earth, and there's no escaping with the elves.
compassion to all living things,
man will not himself find peace.
Everywhere we look in our world it seems there's discord, disunity, disharmony. The prefix 'dis' is Latin for apart, or asunder, a reversing force; and it's a force that is feeding wars, hunger, and whole movements of populations. As 2016 dissolves into 2017 and even more discord, there are people who think the coming months will make a superpower great again, and then there are those who think we're being ushered into a dystopian age the likes of which we've not seen before. The truth of those two belief systems might lie somewhere in the middle, but wherever the truth lies, these beliefs are crashing into one another, creating the rockiest ride our planet has seen in a long while.
human qualities because
it guarantees all others.
The bed where Winston Churchill
was born, at Blenheim Palace,
attributed to Winston Churchill but
it isn't something he actually ever
said or wrote. He did write something
though, which echoes this ideal.....
national life. The State owes it to
itself to sustain and encourage them….
Ill fares the race which fails to
salute the arts with the reverence
and delight which are their due.
Oxford is a city reaching back to the
and then a Norman town until 1167,
when students first arrived and it
became a centre of learning.
from 410AD to 1066AD, when the
Normans conquered Saxon England.
Instead of keeping a focus on just the present, widening the lens to 200, 500, or 1,000 years ago, gives depth and meaning to events taking place right now, in 2017. It also gives hope, because it shows that people made it through the discord of their age, they survived institutions and systems being pulled asunder. They survived tyrants and plagues, wars and unrest. And more than that, people thrived! All of us alive today are a testament to that.
of chaos and hope.
(Nathan, Hanson, Reichs, Hawley)
waged and disease decimated
outside of the University walls,
reason, science, philosophy
and rhetoric here.
When I widen the lens of how I perceive the world to include a broader history, I don't have to go very far. All I have to do is something as simple as looking down at our bedroom floor. Sometimes I curse it because it not only slopes, it also waves up and down. Every piece of furniture is propped up on one or two of the legs, just to keep it from toppling over. But it's made from an ancient oak tree and is 500 years old--the same age as the floor in Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford. If our bedroom floor can survive 500 years of this crazy planet, and it's even crazier people, surely we can.
Our house has survived the 16th and 17th centuries, when civil war plagued England, religion became a weapon, and both Catholics and Protestants were martyred for their faith. Five bishops were burned at the stake at the east end of our street. We also have something called a "priest hole" in our house, where a Catholic priest would hide from soldiers during the Reformation and the upheaval of Catholicism in England. When it became illegal to practice the Catholic faith, household priests were regularly rounded up and jailed, or worse. When you look back into history and see religion being used as a weapon, just like it is today, you see that it's nothing new.
at the end of our street, it was also on my
birthday. Even my birthday helps put
the present into focus.
When our kitchen was built in the mid-1800's, the story on the street is that they found a skeleton hidden behind a wall. It was thought to be a member of the Royalist army during England's Civil War (17th C.), when Oxford University was a Royalist stronghold. The townspeople were mostly Parliamentarians supporting Oliver Cromwell and it appears one of them stuck a sword in our cavalier and then walled him up for good measure. That's history for you--and it helps make things today seem not quite so bad (not always, but sometimes).
Supposedly our cavalier is now ensconced in a box in the Natural History museum a few blocks from us. I'd be lying if I said I've never seen shadows and heard strange things where he was walled up, but not for awhile, so hopefully he's at peace. That's the kind of upheaval and discord that has gone on where we live, on the streets where we walk, in the house we call home. But people from that time carried on. They went on to love, marry, have children, celebrate birthdays, enjoy a warm fire and a meal together, create music, create art, create life. War has never stopped those things. As much as they've tried, tyrants cannot touch the eternal things that make us human.
If I'm not trying to keep a wider vision of the world, I'm focusing on the immediate world around me--but always toggling back and forth. I find meaning and wisdom in the wider lens, but in the narrow/micro view, I find peace, grace, sustenance, happiness and laughter. It's where the little acts of kindness live, where Gandalf's "small, everyday deeds" are, where the tender mercies are found, and where our hearts connect to other hearts and souls. It's where hope, faith and love live.
sustenance like nothing else.
"Hope" is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all....
~Emily Dickinson, c.1861
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?