Saturday, December 29, 2012

See the sacred that surrounds us

A snow-covered beach, the Sakonnet surf gently lapping the shore
In my work as a religion writer, I recently had the good fortune to interview author Devin Brown and write a review about his new book “The Christian World of The Hobbit” – all in anticipation of the December release of the “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Speaking from his Lexington, Ky., home, the J.R.R. Tolkien expert and Asbury University English professor introduced me to what he calls the “sacramental ordinary.”

He writes that Bilbo has found something of greater value than gold in “The Hobbit,” something that might be labeled the "sacramental ordinary."

“The elves sing that the stars are brighter than gems, that the moon is whiter than silver, and that the fire on the hearth shines more than gold,” said Brown. “They declare that after swords, thrones, crowns, strength in arms, and wealth are all rusted, withered, or gone, the growing grass, the fluttering leaves, the flowing water, and even the elves’ singing itself will still remain.”

Brown added that growing grass, fluttering leaves, flowing water, singing, green meadows, favorite trees, familiar hills – these ordinary things Tolkien suggests, have something extraordinary about them.

As spring returns to the Shire in the final chapter of “The Return of the King,” Brown points out one of Tolkien’s most definitive portraits of the sacramental ordinary and one of his most moving.

Tolkien wrote: “Not only was there wonderful sunshine and delicious rain, in due times and perfect measure, but there seemed something more: an air of richness and growth, and a gleam of a beauty beyond that of mortal summers that flicker and pass upon this Middle-earth.”

“The reading helps us look at our world with a new perspective, new wonder, and new appreciation – and see the sacramental ordinary that surrounds us,” Brown said.

In a letter written in 1958, Tolkien wrote his now famous statement: “I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size).”

(He) “then goes on to list the many simple enjoyments that both he and hobbits love, among them gardens, trees, unmechanized farmlands, good plain food, ornamental waistcoats, mushrooms, and a simple sense of humor,” said Brown. “Through his fiction, Tolkien helps us learn to love these things as well, and in these ordinary things to see something we may not be seeing, something ordinary.”

As we begin a New Year, may we be aware that the ordinary is in fact the extraordinary. The sacred is all around us.

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