3 Ways to Embrace Our Tookish Side

“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”

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This quote comes from the opening pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Readers unfamiliar with the background of this novel may need some context to see the relevance of this passage to today’s topic. Basically, the protagonist of The Hobbit is Bilbo Baggins—a hobbit who at the beginning of the story lives a quiet life free from any big adventure or risk-taking. His tranquil existence is seemingly upset upon the arrival of the wizard Gandalf and a troupe of adventuring dwarves. The wizard succeeds in convincing Bilbo to join the dwarven expedition to reclaim treasure stolen by a dragon. Bilbo’s role is to serve as the burglar—someone quick and nimble—to steal the gold from Smaug the Dragon. I always found Bilbo’s inner struggle whether to embrace his Baggins [low-risk, simple] side or his Tookish [adventurous] family lineage.

Human Hodgepodge?

Frequently, I find myself a chimera—a hybrid—composed of my rational and scientific mentality juxtaposed against my life of faith. According to John Paul II, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (Fides Et Ratio).

Pitting faith against reason or vice versa only frustrates man’s pursuit toward a joyous existence. I know this to be true because I experienced life when I shut out faith and when I land on the other extreme as well and jettison my rational side. Similarly, Bilbo Baggins did not fully embrace reality nor fully attain a fulfilling life until he incorporated the Tookish [faith, adventurous] side. I look to Tolkien’s literary work with a character who resembles myself at my current stage in life. Recently, I have become too logical, too rigid, and too rational in my approach to living. I need to embrace my Tookish side. Below are three concrete ways whereby I may accomplish this goal.

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Laughter

Maya Angelou once said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” Bold claim. Lacking in laughter, I tend to struggle with being too serious. I think part of my seriousness stems from my desire to control daily events. Amidst the constant curve-balls life throws at you sometimes the only thing to do is to laugh. Mark Twain wittingly declared, “The human race has only one effective weapon and that is laughter!” While I dispute the notion that humor is our sole weapon, Twain has a point—laughter serves a remedy to an ailing situation.

Watching television comedies like The Office and Home Improvement with my wife help me re-charge from a toilsome day. The levity of sitcoms provides me perspective on my day. Through the antics of the employees at Dunder Mifflin and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, I learn to deal with stress in a healthy manner. I developed an ability to have faith that things will work out in the end. I need continue to embrace the roller coaster adventure of life!

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Out of the Mouths of Babes

According to Matthew 21:16, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees, “have you never read the text, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise’?” Now this passage is actually a direct quote from Psalms 8:3. This psalm mentions the amazing power of God and His praiseworthy nature. Throughout history, the phrase “out of the mouths of babes” has developed into an idiom to refer to the keen insight the young/inexperienced may be able to provide someone “wiser” or “older”. My children abound with wisdom [even though they are oblivious to that fact!]. While the old and wise wizard Gandalf, solicited Bilbo out of his reserved and cautious hobbit hole, my situation is almost the inverse. My young [wise] children allow me to engage with my Tookish [faith-filled, funny-loving, witty, adventurous] side.

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Listening to the Holy Spirit

Heeding the call of the Holy Spirit is a third way I embrace my “Tookish” side. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1030, there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today, I am only going to focus on two: courage and right judgement. Both gifts I believe to be invaluable for me to pursue adventure in my life. It takes courage to go on a journey—whether it is physical or spiritual in nature. Gandalf provided courage and right judgment to Bilbo in aiding him on his unexpected journey. The author of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic whose faith permeated his fiction. As his son Michael once said about the impact of Catholicism on his father’s work, “[it] pervaded all his thinking, beliefs and everything else.”  The Holy Spirit enters my life unexpectedly at times in my life granting me courage and right judgment.

St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 there are different forms of service but the same Lord; 6 there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Embracing my inherent gifts given to me by the Holy Spirit will allow me to find a healthy balance in my spiritual life. I will learn to embrace my adventurous and jovial side with jettisoning my rational, reserved nature.

Embrace Your Inner Took!

As I wrap up, I need to make the following disclaimer: embracing your Tookish side will change you. Be prepared! When Biblo Baggins returns from his long journey with Gandalf and the dwarves, his fellow hobbits viewed him differently. Tolkien writes,

Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons – he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be “queer” – except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders.

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Do not be discouraged by this news. Whenever I despair about any changes from embracing the life of faith I remember Christ’s words, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25)!

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3 Things “The Hobbit of the New Testament” Taught Me

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Memory is a profound thing. Certain images, events, and facts stick with us over time and become housed in our long-term memory. Remembrance is the act of recalling past events through memory. Much of the Catholic Church’s sacramental life is founded on memorializing events from the Gospels. During the Last Supper, Jesus stated, “Do this in memory of me.” When I taught New Testament at a Catholic high school, I unconsciously created a memory regarding the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. I united my love of literature with love of scripture by referring to Zacchaeus as “the hobbit of the New Testament”. Students chuckled at this provisional quip. The former tax collector was described as a short man who needed to climb a tree to view Jesus’ arrival in his town. J.R.R. Tolkien once described his creations as,

I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.

Linking the minor character in Luke’s Gospel to hobbits helped forge a permanent memory of Luke 19:1-10 within me. In the years following this mnemonic device, I frequently recall the life of Zacchaeus and Jesus’ mercy whenever I see anything related to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Below are three things I learned from “The hobbit of the New Testament”

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  1. Persistence pays off: Zacchaeus could not initially see Jesus as he entered Jericho. Instead of letting his short stature prevent him from seeing the Messiah, St. Luke tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way (Luke 19:4). Imagine a grown man scurrying up a tree or pole to see a local celebrity, politician, or other important figure. In today’s age of social media I bet someone would certainly go to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube over such strange behavior. Climbing up a tree indicates not the strangeness of Zacchaeus, but rather his persistence and recognition that Jesus was someone important! The short man in Luke is definitely a role model for me in showing that my faith life is a constant work in progress.

 

  1. Jesus Chooses the Imperfect: Along with Zacchaeus’ persistence, the tale of the hobbit of the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus loves the imperfect and calls the sinner to follow him. Not only did Zacchaeus struggle to physically see Jesus among the crowd, he also had an occupation despised by his fellow countrymen—he was a tax collector! According to Luke, the crowd hated Jesus’ invitation to Zacchaeus by stating, “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner (Luke 19:7)” Personally, I need to be reminded that Jesus dined with sinners— the spiritually infirmed. I struggle with the sin of pride. I battle with being judgmental. Luke 19:1-10 gives me perspective that God’s love is ultimately above my total comprehension. God’s love is transformative as well. The “hobbit of the New Testament” was changed after his encounter with Jesus. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over,Zacchaeus stated (Luke 19:8).

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  1. Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing: A final point Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me is that spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Jesus welcomed sinners and culturally ostracized groups with grace and forgiveness. Oftentimes, I use my limitations—my low patience with my kids, my OCD, and struggles with pride—as an excuse to put off growing in my spiritual life. Zacchaeus’ transformation in the presence of Jesus gives me hope that I am able to change too.

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J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Certainly that is true for his Lord of the Rings trilogy where the bearer of Sauron’s ring is the simple hobbit Frodo. Zacchaeus, like, the hobbits of Middle Earth, provided change in the course of the future—for sure my future! I took to Zacchaeus, a figure who was not only physically limited, but spiritually limited who saw something transformative and attractive in Jesus. Scaling a sycamore tree, Zacchaeus did not let the possible danger of falling or others’ perceptions of him stop him from gazing at our Lord. I ask for fortitude from the Holy Spirit to allow me to boldly seek Jesus just as the hobbit of the New Testament intrepidly sought after God.

***“I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” –J.R.R. Tolkien***

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An Unexpected Journey- How September 21st, 2017 Became the New Start to my Spiritual Path

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Over the past few weeks, life has been throwing stress-filled curveballs at me. Reeling from anxiety, anger, and frustration, I recently went to the spiritual medicine box—Confession—to gain sacramental graces to help me grow in patience and perspective. I experienced a true transformation in my life this week in the days following my reconciliation with God, the Church, and my fellow man. September 21st, 2017 became a new launching point for my spiritual journey. Excited for this re-start on my path toward Christian holiness, I will provide a few reasons why this date holds a special place in my heart.

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1. Anniversary of the Publication of The Hobbit: Eighty years ago, on September 21st, 1937, The Hobbit—an essential item on any fantasy fan’s bookshelf—was published. Eight decades later the tale of J.R.R. Tolkien still instills wonder in its readers.

Regrettably, I did not explore Middle Earth until my mid-20s. Over the past five years, I have read The Hobbit twice and The Lord of the Rings trilogy once.

A true literary treasure is measured through its ability to stand the test of time. Nearly a century later, I would say that Tolkien’s work passes with flying colors. Characters within the story seem to speak directly to me. For instance, the dwarf Thorin tells Bilbo, “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” How easy is it for us to lose memory of the importance things in life? I forget fairly quickly. Tolkien reminds me to look for the hidden joys in my life. Perhaps, an unexpected journey is in store for me starting September 21st, 2017.

St. Matthew

2. Happy Holiness Day: Along with the anniversary of The Hobbit, September 21st is the feast day of my patron saint—St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Before his “coming to God moment”, Matthew worked for the Roman equivalent of the IRS. Hatred of paying government taxes is an innate principle built into humanity. Palestine 30 A.D. was no different. What courage and faith it must have taken Matthew to leave his luxurious, high paying government job? Tax collectors were considered traitors to the Jewish people. They basically did the Roman government’s dirty work of extolling individuals for money. I always imaged how Matthew would fit in with Jesus’ motley crew of Apostles. Was he accepted right away? Did trust issues exist?

While such questions are purely speculative, but I find pondering the transition of Matthew from a hated tax collector to an evangelist helpful in my relationship with my patron saint. I too struggle to fit in at times, yet I am gifted with the ability to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ just like St. Matthew! September 21st is the beginning of my re-commitment to evangelize through my writing, family life, and volunteering at my parish. I hope to exhibit the same steadfast faith as Matthew did when Jesus said, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27).

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3. September of Sacraments: Together with my patron saint and favorite fantasy jubilees occurring on the same day, the month of September started as a transitional month for my family and I. My wife began a new job, our children started to get in the school routine, and changes galore occurred at work. Through the grace of God and ability in our hectic scheduling, and mostly due to my serious need for divine assistance I went to confession twice this month. During my first confession, the priests gave me this amazing penance—pray the Prayer of Humility. Humility is the virtue that stands in opposition to the vice of pride. Pride is what made the Devil fall from his celestial pedestal as God’s favored angel. Pride leads me to be an inferior version of myself. Let us briefly ask God for the gift of true and beautiful humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me. From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved… From the desire of being extolled … From the desire of being honored … From the desire of being praised … From the desire of being preferred to others… From the desire of being consulted … From the desire of being approved … From the fear of being humiliated … From the fear of being despised… From the fear of suffering rebukes … From the fear of being calumniated … From the fear of being forgotten … From the fear of being ridiculed … From the fear of being wronged … From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I … That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease … That others may be chosen and I set aside … That others may be praised and I unnoticed … That others may be preferred to me in everything… That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

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Unexpected journeys are difficult, but the joy attained through its travel is immeasurable. Jesus tells his disciples [and us], “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). God asks us each day is: will you follow me? Starting on September 21st, 2017, I said yes! I renewed my commitment to follow His lead. Will I continue on this path? I certainly hope so, only time will truly tell. I will close with the following exchange between the hobbit and wizard before the great journey:

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.

Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back

Bilbo: You can promise that I’ll come back?”

Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same

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Why Wearing Armor of Weakness Makes Me Stronger

St. Ignatius of Loyala said, “If God sends you many sufferings; it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” As a Catholic I admire the witness of the saints. From a theological and cerebral perspective Ignatius makes sense, but to a person in the midst of trials his words just bring frustration. I believe I am in a period of consolation at this point in my spiritual journey. As a result, my reflection on the Spanish saint’s words may take on a different form now than during a low point in my life.

What I have found to be interesting during the past few months that I have been writing is that my more popular and greater trafficked posts relate to topics on my sufferings: from my anxiety over daily items to my great tribulations in life so far. Today I believe there are three specific reasons why writing about my own limitations appeal to others.

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1. Suffering is Universal: J.R.R. Tolkien refers to the objective reality of widespread sorrow in his legendary work The Lord of the Rings. Below is a brief conversation between the soon-to-be heroic hobbit Frodo and the wizard Gandalf:

Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

Before I unpack the truth of Gandalf’s words I will provide a little background on the nature of hobbits. According to both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, hobbits are creatures that traditionally kept to themselves and stayed out of the political affairs of Middle-Earth. Hobbits enjoyed farming and living a quiet, peaceful existence. Is that true of yourself? Perhaps you are an individual that prefers solitary and silent times for reflection. If you are not like a hobbit that is certainly alright as well, but there may be times in your life when you may desire the craziness of life to slow down. I know that is definitely true for me. I am naturally a hobbit at heart.

Life always seems to throw a wrench into my plan. Just like Frodo Baggins’ life was interrupted by the War of the Ring and Gandalf’s strong urging to bear the ring, so too I experience expectations thrust upon me that I am ill-equipped to face. Suffering is universal. It is inevitable. Humans do not have to travel long or far in this world before suffering rears its ugliness! This is the primary reason why I believe my writing on my personal suffering appeals to others—because people suffer daily.

Sometimes quotes from a fictional character seem to ring truer or strike a chord closer than words I can provide myself. Frodo’s best friend Samwise Gamgee sums up humanity’s worry against suffering best, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” We put ourselves into a paradox if we avoid suffering—we never step onto the road of life, but it is only stepping on the road that we are able to life. Avoidance of suffering is not fully living!

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2. Honesty is the best policy: To continue on the fact that suffering is universal, I think that by truthfully acknowledging my limitations and sinful nature I open myself up to let others into my life. My favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, Francis de Sales, and G.K. Chesterton [to name a few]. The reason for this is due largely to their candor and admittance of their limitations. I experience Lewis, de Sales, and Chesterton’s humanity through their writing.

In a similar fashion, I have noticed that my own personal favorite and best works are done when I am most honest—not when I utilize the best vocabulary or sentence structure. Half of the times, I am not even aware of what I am going to write about on a particular day or even how I am going to finish a post. Words flow from my mind more easily when I draw upon my experiences of suffering and strife. I cannot explain why that is the case. I can only say that my honesty about my past suffering acts as a cerebral embolectomy for my occasional writer’s block!

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3. Fellowship Leads to Fitness in Battle: My battle against personal vices [anger, greed, impatience, pride, etc] is daunting. What makes my encounter with these evils more bearable is community. Through the fellowship of my family, faith community in the Catholic Church, and my readership I am soothed. I am reminded again of Tolkien’s trilogy during my personal struggles. In the third book The Return of the King, weariness weighs down on Frodo as he ascends Mount Doom in his attempt to destroy Sauron’s Ring. Listen to the hero’s lament when the evil of the ring tempts him:

Frodo: I can’t recall the taste of food, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. I’m naked in the dark. There’s nothing–no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I can see him with my waking eyes.

Sam: Then let us be rid of it, once and for all. I can’t carry the ring for you, but I can carry you! Come on!

The main hero in the story experiences weakness and laments to the last individual from the original Fellowship formed at the beginning of the journey— fellow hobbit Samwise. Here a fellowship becomes incarnate in Sam. He is not the strongest, smartest, or most clever hero, but he is present in Frodo’s greatest time of need. It is only through Frodo’s donning of the ‘armor of weakness’ [making himself vulnerable and feeble to his friend] that true fellowship happens. Instead of becoming weaker when I show my limitations and failure the fellowship around me [wife, family, faith, and friends] is galvanized and I am made stronger. Together a fellowship stands the test of temptation and vice.

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