Tag Archives: Lord Of The Rings

It’s Not Really That Complicated

This morning I did what’s called an “examination of conscience.” It’s basically a self-assessment based on the ten commandments, and it’s ideally done relatively often. My family and I came back from vacation this past Sunday. I hadn’t done much of anything other than sleep, eat, and read Lord of the Rings over the course of two weeks. It was honestly a little boring, and that is my kind of vacation. Because I did nearly nothing, I began to question where I was at, spiritually.

As best I can remember, I have done an examination of conscience twice before. I’m afraid of doing it, not because I’m afraid of God’s justice, but because I don’t like looking at my sins. Before I did it this morning, I took a pen and a piece of paper, and I prayed. At the top of the paper, I wrote “I am good. I am beautiful. I belong to Jesus.” I wrote that because I thought I’d be writing a laundry list of ugly things. Then I asked Saint Faustina, who was the catalyst for the Divine Mercy devotion, to pray for me, I asked my guardian angel to be with me, and I asked the Blessed Mother to walk me through it. I also asked the Lord to be gentle with me, because He is gentle.

If you’re not Catholic, those first prayers might seem a bit weird. As Catholics we believe that we are connected to the entire Church, even after death. That means we can talk to, and even be friends with the saints in Heaven, and the righteous souls still working toward perfection in Purgatory. I won’t get into Purgatory here, partly because there’s plenty about it on the internet, and partly because it’s not the point of the post. The point is, I can ask Saint Faustina, who knows so much about God’s Mercy to pray for me, as a friend on earth might pray for me. I can ask my guardian angel to do whatever he needs to in this situation, because I don’t know exactly what that is. I can ask Mary, Jesus’ mom, and by extension, my spiritual mom (again, there’s a ton about this online) to just walk with me through it, before I even start.

A self-assessment is difficult, especially when it comes to the spiritual life. It means I have to look at what I don’t really want to see. I remember realizing for the first time that what I wanted most was to become a saint. To be a saint means attaining perfection. Part of that means looking at what I don’t want to, asking for God’s forgiveness, and letting Him help me. It means figuring out what I can do to change where I can, and mostly it means letting Him work on me, whatever that might look like. It’s hard for me to deal with the fact that He does most of the work. It’s hard to let go of control.

Recently, I realized that God’s Mercy doesn’t always look like what one might expect. I realized that often, His Mercy looks like making sure there’s a time and place for me to go to confession when I need to. I didn’t find a four-page laundry list of sins. I found four things. It’s one thing to be able to make the self-assessment and be honest with myself; it’s another to actually go to confession and state how I’ve gone wrong out loud. I know that I’m really going to Jesus, and I know that I will receive His Mercy. I just don’t like having to verbally admit that I’m not perfect.

The Lord knows that I’m as jumpy as a rabbit, but He also knows that I will go because if I’ve sinned, it means I’ve hurt my most intimate friend.  He’s been kind enough to make sure the priest I go to is gentle. Nonetheless, going to confession makes me anxious. I’m not alone in this. The last thing the priest says is “Go in peace.” The feeling after confession is amazing because sin is heavy, and it quite literally feels like that load has been taken away.

This is why not forgiving someone is such a huge problem. When we pray the “Our Father,” we ask the Lord to “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our forgiveness and mercy is meant to be exactly like His–infinite. It doesn’t mean it has to be immediate because forgiveness is sometimes hard (when you’re not God), but it has to come around eventually. God wants to forgive, but we do have to ask for it because that’s part of a genuine relationship.

I should acknowledge that there are two different kinds of sins. Small (venial) sins can be forgiven simply if we pray for forgiveness, and if we really are sorry. More serious (mortal/deadly) sins are what we have to go to confession for, but sometimes it’s helpful to go to confession even for smaller stuff. An inevitable question is, “Why do Catholics have to go to confession at all?” The Church is the Body of Christ and we’re all spiritually connected. That means that stuff I do, even if it doesn’t obviously affect anyone, does have a spiritual effect on the whole Church, myself included, and because we are connected, it hurts the Lord, too.

As a member himself, the priest is, in this context, a representative of the Church, as well as a representative of Christ, through whom Jesus administers the sacraments. That means when I go to confession, I can acknowledge that I’ve hurt the Church, I’ve hurt myself spiritually, and I’ve hurt Jesus, and because God is Mercy, He can take the load from me. I still have to do some sort of penance, though, because I did make a mess in the first place. An analogy might be a brother and sister playing together get into an argument, so the sister breaks the brother’s toy. The sister then feels bad and says she’s sorry. The brother forgives her, but the toy is still broken, so the parents decide that the money to pay for a new one has to come from her allowance.

None of that is to say that I’m still guilty after confession. Penance should be natural if I really am sorry because out of love, I should make amends for causing hurt. Because we are God’s adopted children, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re a massive, crazy, dysfunctional family, which is seriously awesome. I have written a post before about “agape” love. It’s love that simply wills the good of the other. It’s the kind of love that, by nature, looks outward. We should be attentive to our inner spiritual lives in order to most effectively maintain this agape love.

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The Battle Of Helm’s Deep

Church is sometimes awkward. This past weekend was the celebration of Christ the King. Our priest is really good at making things plain and simple. He said we all had to just stop and ask ourselves who or what is, or is going to be our king in the end. He said there are ultimately two questions one needs to ask in deciding who or what our king is going to be: 1) can this person or thing love me unconditionally, and 2), can this person or thing protect me? The choice is ours. That’s a complicated choice, and it’s one we often have to make more than once. I’ve made my choice, and I’ll continue to make the same choice. Jesus is my king. The reason our priest’s homily was awkward for me was that it brought something else to mind. I have to trust my king.

I have made my choice, and I will continue to make the same choice, as I said. Jesus is my king, and I trust Him. The problem is that I’m having trouble trusting the church hierarchy. He’s pointed out to me that He has allowed those in charge to have the power they have. That kind of means I have trouble trusting His patience and wisdom. I’m reminded of a scene from Lord of the Rings. It’s before the battle at Helm’s Deep. The people of Rohan are drastically outnumbered, and the king asks one of his servants, “Who am I gambling?” The servant, who is arming him for battle says, “You are our king, Sire,” To which the king responds, “And do you trust your king?” The servant says, “Your men, my Lord, will follow you to whatever end.”

Right now, I kind of feel like one of the soldiers of Rohan. I kind of feel like we’re outnumbered. In the end, Rohan won that battle, and I know we’ll win this one. I do trust my King, but I want to trust Him more. That was my awkward prayer at church yesterday. There is no other person or thing–not my parents, not my brother, and not my bird–who can love me absolutely unconditionally. Everyone has a breaking point. That’s a fact. My family can protect me from most things, but not everything; not death, and certainly not the consequences of sin. Only Jesus can do that, and I will worship only Him.

I wrote a while ago about the wedding at Cana when Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to. I hadn’t thought about it then, partly because it wasn’t related to the point I was making, but they do exactly what He tells them, despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. “They’re out of wine? Okay, you guys, fill those empty jars with water.” There’s no indication that the servants know what He intends to do, or even what He’s capable of. They just do it. Maybe it’s simply because they are servants and are used to just doing what they’re told, whether it makes sense or not. I think those servants are actually an excellent model for how we are supposed to relate to the Lord. Things get messed up. That’s okay. He can fix it, and He wants us to help. That’s actually pretty simple.

Despite the often strange and extreme lengths Jesus goes to to show us His love, we’re pretty slow to recognize it. When I became Christian, I didn’t have any really serious Christian friends. Luckily, when God made me, he made a stubborn woman, so I prayed. I prayed for years about this. It did take years, but now I do have faithful Catholic friends, and though it took me a little while to recognize it, I really am grateful. If we are facing the Battle of Helm’s Deep, then this is my declaration, “I will follow my King to whatever end.”

Say It Anyway

Sometimes I find myself about to write about something, whether it be about God, faith, my family, creativity, writing, or what have you, and a little voice in my head says, “I’m sure people have heard that a million times from a million different people.” Then another little voice in my head says, “Say it anyway. Maybe you can say it a little bit different so that it will click for someone in a way it hasn’t clicked before. Maybe hearing it this time is the last time they need to hear it for it to make sense. Maybe hearing it this time will help them to understand it in a different way. Even if no one listens, say it anyway because it may not matter to anyone else, but it matters to you.”

This happens to me a lot. Have you noticed that good stories never get old? I have watched Lord of the Rings, and the Star Wars movies a thousand times by now, and I could easily watch them a thousand times more. Every time you read a good story or watch a good movie, you pick up on different ideas or different symbolism. Different things take on different meaning and more significance. I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging when I say I can quote quite a lot from the Gospels because there’s just so much there and I’ve read them so many times.

The other night I was at Adoration at my church, and sometimes while I’m sitting there I just “talk,” and I don’t remember exactly how we got to this, but eventually I just stopped and thought, “You know, you’re a story-teller. You told and tell a lot of stories. Could you tell me a story? It doesn’t have to be anything new. It could be something I’ve heard before.”

Immediately I started thinking about all these different ideas about light. I remembered things like: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” and “A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Then I remembered that while working on my novel the other day, I had a segment where Aven, one of my main characters is in prison, and he has a weird experience where he sees darkness, and realizes that this is what he’s seeing. This is significant because he’s blind. He realizes that there’s a difference between being blind and seeing darkness. Finally, I remembered a story I’ve been working on recently just for fun where the main characters have to find the Soul of the Light to break a curse that has been on their kingdom for hundreds of years.

There’s a part in Lord of the Rings where Frodo remembers he has the light that Galadriel gave him. He has sent Sam away because he’s been tricked by Golem, who has left him to die in the spider cave. Galadriel gave this to him saying, “May it be a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out.” When Frodo lights it up, he’s in panic mode. He’s desperate. For him, all other lights; all hope, has gone out. I really don’t think Galadriel’s gift is meant to be taken only literally. Hope is often symbolized by light, and light is even sometimes symbolized by other things. At the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy the shire appears bright, beautiful and peaceful. At Bilbo’s birthday, there are fireworks, there is light. When they leave the shire, they are cast into a dark forest, and are followed by the black rider. There are many juxtapositions of light and dark in Lord of the Rings, particularly in reference to specific places. Where there is death, in particular, there is darkness.

Eventually, though, even Galadriel’s light can’t keep Frodo out of danger. Even that light goes out, but Sam comes back. Forgive the sentimentality, but Galadriel’s light could not keep Frodo out of danger. It failed, but Sam’s loyalty didn’t. Sam’s loyalty was a light that really couldn’t go out. For those who might argue, Sam did not leave by his own free will. Frodo told him to leave, and in fact, he held to his loyalty to such a high degree that he obliged. He knew that many of Frodo’s decisions and judgments were wrong, but he allowed his friend to make those choices, determined to protect him while he could. Truthfully, the more I watch Lord of the Rings, the more I think Frodo isn’t a very good friend. He has his reasons. His task is not an easy one. Regardless, Sam is seriously devoted to him, and in the end, it becomes clear that Frodo is appreciative.

The point is, Loyalty has to be mutual, and it takes perseverance. Frodo and Sam do not have an easily relatable or translatable relationship because yes, they are friends, but they have slightly different social status. Sam is Frodo’s servant. By the end, it seems like this slight status difference is gone between them. This is only possible because of what they went through together. At the end of his life, Jesus says to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from my Father, I have made known to you.” Being a friend of Jesus changes our position in the Universe, whatever that may be.

I took a long time thinking about two things in particular. What does it mean to be full of light? What is the difference between being blind and seeing darkness? I think both have to do with one’s outlook on the world. We spend a lot of time, when thinking about external spirituality, trying to figure out our position on X, Y, or Z, or wondering whether a particular practice is appropriate in worship. Internal spirituality is often much more abstract and simple. We spend our time praying or listening to music or simply musing. I don’t think we spend enough time thinking about how God actually views the world, and how, as his friends and followers, we’re meant to view the world. This is important because our outlook on the world affects our actions in the world, and our internal spirituality. If we have a generally negative outlook on things, we will lose hope. The hope we have; the light we have is, therefore, at risk of going out.

This also relates to loyalty in that our outlook on the world is connected to our outlook on people in general. A positive outlook allows us to be more trusting, more open, and more loving. It allows us to live more freely as God would want us to live. Often, we don’t openly talk about God or faith or spirituality in general for fear of judgment. If we have a more positive outlook, we will be much more likely to trust, and much more able to forgive when our trust is taken advantage of. This obviously does not mean that we should throw caution to the wind in every situation, but being more trusting and forgiving also allows people to trust and forgive us.

To see darkness is different from being blind. To be blind is often a metaphor for being unaware. Seeing darkness is to know that there is light or hope, and not know how to find it, or to see it and refuse it or give it up. I think a tangible example of this might be in one of the final scenes of Return of the King. Sam is trying to help Frodo get to where he can get rid of the ring. He tries to give him hope by reminding him of home, but Frodo says, “I’m naked in the dark with nothing, no veil between me and the wheel of fire…” In response, Sam says, “Then let us be rid of it. I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”

Sometimes we do have to carry people until they can see the light again, or maybe even for the first time. That can mean a whole lot of different things, and sometimes it just means making sure we pray for them. Jesus says, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Sometimes people can only rely on God to carry them, but there’s no one more trustworthy, no one more loyal, and no one more capable. Jesus says these things with certainty and authority. They’re true and unchanging.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Why I Like Star Wars More Than Lord Of The Rings

Yes, I realize how nerdy this is. As I’ve mentioned before, I live in fantasy land. I watch fantasy movies, read fantasy stories, and play fantasy games. Yes, that includes Dungeons and Dragons. I’m also a nerd when it comes to art, and I love to over analyze everything, so when these two aspects of my nerd craziness coincide, I get excited. Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are probably my two favorite fantasy (movie) series because, let’s face it, they’re probably the best. Unless you’re incredibly boring or totally clueless, you know that Star Wars episode seven: The Force Awakens is coming out in December, and I am beyond stoked. Furthermore, I got tickets for opening night! Even my brother, who is also a major Star Wars fan thinks I’m insane, but let’s face it; I belong with the crazies.

I woke up way too early this morning after having a dream that I forgot to do my math homework, which was horrifying, and couldn’t fall back asleep because for some reason I started thinking about why I like Star Wars more than Lord of the Rings. Why I started thinking about this, I have no idea, but I thought it would be fun to write a blog post about it, and here we are. So why do I like Star Wars more? I’ve come up with a few reasons.

Something I realized this morning, which I thought was interesting is that, although the scope of Lord of the Rings is smaller than Star Wars (i.e. it takes place over a much smaller area), I think the stakes are much higher. It’s not just a question of Jedi vs Sith; Republic vs Empire; good vs evil. If the Fellowship fails, it could literally mean the end of the world. In my playwriting class we learned that higher stakes tend to make for a better or more interesting story. However, what I realized is that LOTR feels finished to me while Star Wars feels like it still has life in it. LOTR feels like an epic story of times long gone that gets passed down through tradition from generation to generation. I think this is what it should be, and I think it makes it a very successful story. It’s suspenseful, has enjoyable characters, and has a satisfying ending.

On the other hand, the Star Wars story feels like it could be going on as we speak. For one thing, there hasn’t been much extra material written outside of the core LOTR trilogy, while the original Star Wars trilogy has been followed by books, TV series, video games and prequels. It feels more like a universe that one can live in, partly because, especially when you play the games, you can. The story may have supposedly happened a long time ago, but it feels like it could still be going on, especially since the sequel is coming out. That universe is still expanding.

Cinematically, LOTR is a superior trilogy, hands down. The acting is arguably better, the script is better, and the effects are considerably better, which is an obvious benefit of those movies being made later. Here’s the thing, though, I don’t care. The Star Wars characters are more likable and more relatable, and this, among other things, is what has me hooked. Furthermore, the Star Wars characters have more understandable and more relatable motivations and problems. I think Luke’s relationship with his father is particularly interesting. You would think that he would hate him for abandoning him, turning to the Dark Side, and trying to destroy everything Luke comes to believe in, but he forgives him, and ultimately, that forgiveness leads to Vader/Anakin’s redemption. It sounds rather Christian, doesn’t it? I won’t talk about that because this isn’t meant to be a spiritual post, but I just think that it makes it an appealing story to me personally.

Here’s the thing, there are things about LOTR that are better than Star Wars, but the villains definitely are not. The villains in Star Wars are human. This makes them more scary, but it also allows the audience to empathize with them in a way. I definitely think Vader deserves some empathy, especially if we consider his story as a whole. I won’t argue with you. The prequels are bad, at least from an artistic standpoint, but I think they do add to the story. Anakin Skywalker begins his journey as a poor kid with an ordinary life. Nonetheless, he’s ambitious and optimistic and full of love. This leads him to do some not-so-nice things after joining the Jedi, and ultimately leads to his downfall, but the point is, he starts his journey as a good person, and ends it that way. There’s a scene in Return of the Jedi where he’s talking to Luke, and Luke tries to convince him to come with him. Vader says it’s too late for him to turn back, but you can tell in his voice that that isn’t true. You can see it when Luke says, “My father is truly dead.” Though you can’t see it in Vader’s face, you can see that this hurts him when he leans over the railing of the walkway they were standing on. You know, even as an outsider, that he’s not 100% evil. A part of that loving kid is still in him, and he misses his family. You don’t get that in LOTR. Both Sauron and Saruman are as impersonal as they come, and we don’t care about them.

I think it’s more fun to think about the Star Wars universe. To insert yourself into the LOTR universe is to go back in time. To insert yourself into the Star Wars universe is to entertain so many possibilities about technology, space travel, and maybe even politics. I think also that Star Wars, in some ways, is more unique. LOTR takes place in a similar universe as games like World of Warcraft or the Elder Scrolls games, or stories like the Inheritance Cycle. Medieval worlds with dragons and magic are fun. There’s no denying it, but that’s why there’s a lot of them, while I don’t know of any stories that take place in a similar universe as Star Wars… except for Star Trek, but Star Trek is dumb and stupid.

Lastly, I had an interesting realization. This has almost nothing to do with the movies themselves, and yet, I think it may have a lot to do with why I like Star Wars more. I’ve seen both series a million times, but I’ve seen LOTR a million times more. I think this has actually led me to be somewhat less interested in it, and more critical of small details that make the story more fun if you overlook them. Star Wars is still new every time I come back to it.

Because Guinea Pigs Can Fly

P.S. Apparently this is my 300th post, so that’s pretty cool!