I tried to read “Lord of the Rings” and got to about the third chapter before I gave up. We went to see the film when it cameout but left after one hour and twelve minutes.
It just doesn’t work for me…although Tolkein’s saga has literally millions of fans.
And I can see why: it’s a story, which stripped of all its pretensions, is a tale about life’s journey, life’s quest.
And on their journey, they are tested. And in the testing they discover something about themselves, this Fellowship of the Ring.
In the danger and adversity that they experience, they find among themselves wisdom, loyalty, courage and strength.
And in facing fear, betrayal, jealousy, suffering and sorrow, they discover new qualities within them that they perhaps did not previously know they had.
As in true life, they discover themselves on this journey.
The story follows at least some of the pattern that we see in many spiritual journeys. There is always a testing period. The saga of the Exodus and the children of Israel’s journey through the desert to the Promise Land is an obvious example.
You could follow the stories of many heroes throughout history and how they went through a testing period before they could fulfil a significant mission in their lives.
Some cultures even have a testing time as part of the coming of age, when young people of the tribe move from childhood to adulthood. Often they find their true self as they face adversity in dangerous places such as a forest, a desert or a wilderness.
Today, we have a passage about Jesus, led by the spirit into the desert for 40 days to discover his true self, to face the test and to discover the message that humankind really need to be free from the forces that enslave us.
There is a sense in which we all face these kind of tests, not just at one time but throughout our lives, as we search for out task in life and seek answers to life’s most perplexing questions.
Sometimes, some people talk about life as being a bit of a maze or a labyrinth – in other words, something that’s complex, confusing, meandering and not easily negotiable.
But labyrinths are found in many ancient cultures and almost always have spiritual significance.
Labyrinths carried over into mediaeval times, where they were often laid on the floors of cathedrals. They were used as a sort of miniature pilgrimage. Often these “pilgrims” travelled the path on their knees while praying continuously.
Labyrinths today have seen a kind of revival – they are common today in both churches & neopagan sanctuaries.
Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has a labyrinth that is designed as a meditation place.
A person stands quietly in the beginning of the circle and proceeds to the first point where he or she is asked to present his concerns. Then they advance to the next turning point, and are asked to shed their resentments.
This labyrinth continues with a gradual shedding of fears, asking for courage; shedding of anger and asking for reconciliation…until at the end of the walk, the person is said to emerge more clear about his direction.
Because the labyrinth is devoted solely to meditation and reflection it is an “answering place”
We have to have these kinds of “answering places” throughout our lives where we struggle to find our true selves….where we connect with the Spirit of God.
Metaphorically speaking, we can create our own labyrinth – quiet times at various points in the day – to stop and be still and catch our breath and recover from weariness – and ask God how to proceed in our life.
In doing so, we may be rather surprised with what we can learn about ourselves.