Monday, February 23, 2009

Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate

I was reading J. R. R. Tolkein's poem Mythopoeia last night and these lines jumped out at me as luminous and poignant:

All wishes are not idle, nor in vain
fulfilment we devise - for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill;
or else to strive or to subdue the will
alike were graceless; and of Evil this
alone is dreadly certain: Evil is.

Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate,
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bare, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow's sway.
(from Tree and Leaf, p. 88)

1. Tolkein knew that evil is real and personal; note that Evil and Shadow are capitalized to indicate that evil is not merely an abstract force, but subsists in actual, personal beings. Yet, in the first line of the second stanza, "evil" is not capitalized because we are to love the sinner but hate the sin.

2. Evil is mysterious. All that can be said of it is that it is. One thinks of Barth's characterization of sin as the "impossible possibility."

3. In the second of the two stanzas, the words that jumbed out to me were "seek no parley" and "hoped and believed in under Shadow's sway." The former phrase describes the attitude of the one faithful to the King; the latter one describes the serenity of faith in the midst of great evil. Serenity is the opposite of compromise; the more you have of one the less you have of the other.

4. Would it be too much of a stretch to understand the "gilded tissues" as books, or even blog posts? All I do all day these days is sit in my home study, my "guarded room" timidly writing my book about how believing in God is necessary for a true and enduring humanism. Change the world? What a joke! I'd just like to change myself. We live by hope in the far-off day even under Shadow's sway.

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