Following Jesus is an unexpected journey

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“Welcome to Middle Earth.” I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that sign flash in my imagination and joined Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, elves and dwarfs once more on an unexpected journey.

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Bilbo Baggins' journey in "The Hobbit" can be compared to our own walk of faith.  WARNER BROS. & MGM/McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS
WARNER BROS. & MGM/McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS
Bilbo Baggins' journey in "The Hobbit" can be compared to our own walk of faith.

I still have my first copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit; it is a battered paperback, printed back in the day when the book cost just 95 cents. My latest copy features a picture from Peter Jackson’s movie version of The Hobbit, released Friday, and I paid $14 for it. Times have changed – or have they?

To borrow from the movie dedication in The Wizard of Oz, “For 75 years this story has given faithful service; and Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion.”

What is this “kindly philosophy” that continues to have such power over us? Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic but, unlike his great friend C.S. Lewis, Tolkien didn’t want to create an allegory of the Christian faith in Middle Earth, as Lewis did with The Chronicles of Narnia. Instead he allowed us to glean the Christian faith indirectly, making such discoveries for ourselves.

Both Tolkien and Lewis regarded the use of fairy tales and myths as foreshadows of the gospel. As writer Ralph Wood notes, “The essence of fairy-stories is that they satisfy our heart’s deepest desire: to know a world other than our own, a world that has not been flattened and shrunk and emptied of mystery.”

We enter into this Otherworld to learn more about ourselves and return home, hopefully wiser, stronger and braver for the journey. T. S. Eliot put it this way: “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Tolkien just called it There and Back Again – a Hobbit’s Tale. It is in this Hobbit’s tale, and the hobbit himself, that I see myself most clearly.

Although it would be nicer to compare myself to the fair elves or Riders of Rohan, I am in fact a hobbit. Most of us are. We may dream of great adventures, but the reality is that when adventure comes knocking we are more likely to respond as did Bilbo: “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today!”

We would rather stay in our cozy hobbit hole than risk what lies outside our door and discover who we are truly meant to become. As Gandalf says of Bilbo, “There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.” And that sounds like gospel to me.

When Jesus called his first disciples to follow him, they did so immediately. I have to wonder: If they had fully understood the call of Jesus, they might have responded, “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you.”

Adventures change you, challenge you, but they also allow you to become your best self, the person you were meant to be all along.

The greatest and most challenging adventure I know is following Jesus. Rather than losing myself, I discover myself. Jesus sees in me so much more than I can see for myself, and in him I become more than I ever thought possible. I yearn to grow into the image of God.

The journey isn’t easy (no worthwhile journey ever is), but there is magic to be had in answering the call to follow Jesus. As Bilbo sang, “The Road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone and I must follow, if I can.”

THE REV. CYNTHIA TAYLOR IS THE PASTOR OF CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER IN MARTINEZ.

THE FAITH OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN

According to The Christian World of The Hobbit, by Devin Brown:

“The Hobbit or There and Back Again tells the tale of Mr. Bilbo Baggins’ unlikely meeting with 13 dwarfs and the even more unlikely adventure that follows as, under the occasional guidance of Gandalf the wizard, the company sets out on a perilous journey to reclaim a treasure from a dragon named Smaug. From the subtitle, readers know in advance that Bilbo will eventually make it back home. What they do not know is that the treasure our Mr. Baggins will return with will be quite different from the one he initially sets out to obtain.

“In this brief description, The Hobbit does not sound like a very religious book. Tolkien’s Christian beliefs are a fundamental part of the story from start to finish and are certainly, in part, what was behind C.S. Lewis’ observation that the story is ‘so true.’

“Unlike Lewis, Tolkien did not go through a dark and stormy phase of atheism followed by a return to belief. Nor did Tolkien became a great spokesperson for the faith, as Lewis did, although Tolkien did serve as one of the translators for the Jerusalem Bible. Tolkien’s faith journey can be said to more resemble “days that are good to spend” than a journey to the Lonely Mountain and so is soon told about.”

What religious themes do you see in J.R.R. Tolkien’s works? Tell us at augustachronicle.com/religion.

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Jane18
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Jane18 12/15/12 - 12:20 pm
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Every Day Something New

If I could change the ending of Mr. Elliots quote about exploring, I would say--".....when we arrive where we started, and we will know it for the second time". We have already been with the LORD once, we have never ceased to exist, and one day we will be with him again. Oh yeah, it is an adventure with The LORD.....and one day it's going to be even more exciting!

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