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The Last Stage

June 18, 2010

On the very last page of The Hobbit, Gandalf, Bilbo and Balin are having a conversation at Bag-End about the goings on in Dale, Lake-town and Lonely Mountain. Referencing a prophecy that the dwarves had shared at the beginning of the story, Bilbo says, “Then prophesies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion.” To which Gandalf replies, “Of Course! And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr Bilbo Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all.”

“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

I love this scene from the book. I never really understood the significance of the final statement by Gandalf, until I began this journey towards Orthodoxy. Okay, I probably still don’t, but I think I have a slightly clearer idea than before. I was meditating on a blog/podcast by Fr Stephen Freeman (Glory to God For All Things) called, “Chief Of Sinners” just the other day. This phrase of Gandalf’s came to mind. You can read Fr Stephen’s words yourself, as he communicates far more articulately than I. However, I will try to put his reflection in a nutshell, so I can share the connection. Some of what I share is for the benefit of the Non-Orthodox, but will be common knowledge for Orthodox.

In the Divine Liturgy, before taking the Eucharist, the whole congregation says a prayer, which includes the following words: “I believe that Thou art truly the Christ, who art come into the World to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” As Fr Stephen points out, these are not simply poetic words trying to communicate a sentiment of piety. These words communicate a deep truth of the fact that those who are “In Christ”, not only participate in His life, but since He was “made sin”, we participate, so to speak, in the sin of the world that He took on Himself. Because of this mystical union that we have with Christ, we have a union with one another, just as Jesus prayed in His John 17 prayer. We are united to one another’s successes, as well as one another’s sin. Even further than that, as a quote from Dostoyevsky points out: we are guilty of the sin of all and for all.

As a Protestant, I had the understanding that I was “accounted” righteous, and that my life in Christ that is by faith, is “reckoned”. I had an understanding that my life is in Christ, but I never really understood what it meant. The faith I was to live by, was more of a mental ascent than anything else. Because of the lack of the physical in my faith, anything that was connected to Theology was all in my head. Not only that, but as a Calvinist, the outcome of my life was completely left to God’s sovereignty. It was almost as if life “down here” is being remotely (emphasis on remote) controlled from “up there”. I am oversimplifying, of course, so forgive me.

Since coming in to Orthodoxy and the sacramental world view, I have come to see the “here and now” nature of our fait; the way that physical and spiritual are inextricably linked, and that we are linked to one another much more deeply than I ever understood before. When another sins, I am guilty with them. I can’t, therefore, judge them, but I pray for them. When another experiences joy, I should not be jealous, because their joy should be mine. Everything I physically do participates in the unseen spiritual reality that is all around me, and not somewhere far above (or below) me. This is why sacraments (the Holy Mysteries) are what they are. We get to physically participate in heavenly realities. Not only that, but we “absorb” them into our bodies, as in the case of ingesting the Eucharist. I have not yet fully participated in the Holy Mysteries yet, but having been present during a few of them, I get a better idea of their significance in our life in Christ.

How does this have anything to do with the conversation between Bilbo and Gandalf? I was reflecting on the idea that our life in Christ is a participation, a synergy, a co-laboring (Paul uses the term in one of his epistles) with His uncreated grace. I think we (I should just say I), like the character Bilbo, can discount the work of God in and around us, by virtue of our participation in it. I tend to think of “God’s Plan” as big-picture kinda stuff, while trudge along in my little corner of the world, trying to live a godly life, in obedience. I also tend to see my personal piety as isolated from the rest of Christendom. But that’s the great thing about a sacramental world view; we truly co-labor with Christ, we truly are a part of one another in Him. Nothing I am or do is “in a bubble” that does not have an effect on the rest of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I, we, are the body of Christ.

As I inch ever closer to that day when I will begin to full participate in the Holy Mysteries of the Church, I find this reflection and great challenge, and a wonderful joy. It challenges me when remember that I really do mete out to myself judgement when I dare to judge another in their sin. It brings the joy of knowing that I am connected to one other, to Christ. I am beginning to see that not judging my brothers and sisters is more than just a mental exercise. While it does happen in our minds to a great extent, it is not just left there. It makes every “Lord have mercy” have a new meaning to me. I can pray those three words with conviction, not just for myself, but the whole body. I am slowly becoming aware that the life I am being prepared to live in the Church is not lived out on my own. I really am, “… quite a little fellow, in a wide world after all.” That world being the Church. To that I can truly say, “Thank goodness,” with all the joy and comfort of a hobbit sharing pipeweed with friends.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2010 12:42 am

    Well, after reading your blog, I think I will at the very least finally read The Hobbit.

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