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Tolkienian Wisdom for Christmastide and the New Year

  • JOHN A. CUDDEBACK

Our life, our home can be like Rivendell in the essentials.  But it will require something very difficult.


"The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have any power over
the present.  Health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content
with each good day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal,
and in every word and song."
 - J.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

fireplaceunspalshI am not sure what to call the opposite of living-in-the-present, but I think I have become accustomed to it.  Practices and dispositions now common among us subtly draw us away from really being present in the present.

Fears that draw our imagination and thoughts to what might happen.  Regular consumption of what poses as 'news' that fosters such fears.  Obsession with the next practical achievement that keeps our focus on the future, often again with a certain anxiousness.  Success mis-conceived in terms that undervalue the simple things of our day-to-day life.  The list goes on.

Tolkien masterfully points to something different.  There is a way of living each day that is an antidote to this dominant, contagious malady.  And Christmastide and the new year are custom made to practice such living.

Tolkien describes Rivendell — the 'last homely home' — as a place of intense life, focused on the things that endure.  Perhaps most notable, and subtle, is how people relate to the future.  They foresee it and prepare for it appropriately.  But they do not allow it to co-opt and overrun the present — and this makes all the difference.  And it is harder than it sounds.

Our life, our home can be like Rivendell in the essentials.  But it will require something very difficult.

'Success' for us will look and feel different.  It will lie more within us;

We must find that golden point of balance: being alive to the dangers and demands of the future while at the same time savoring and prioritizing the present.  This means we must adjust our desires, and correspondingly moderate our fears.  This makes good sense , since our fears are always rooted in our desires.  Purifying what we want is the surest way to moderate our fears.

'Success' for us will look and feel different.  It will lie more within us; it will likewise be more within our means, and probably more, though certainly not exclusively, within our homes.  And in any case — and this is the great point — it will be more within the kinds of activities in which a vibrant home excels.

If we opt for this human wealth — and again, now especially is the time — then health and hope can grow strong in us, and we will be content, nay joyful, in each good day as it comes.  Taking pleasure in every meal, in every word, and in every song.

And if tomorrow holds a journey of great peril, we will be ready, and willing.  Since what we have cultivated within 'at home' will be who we are, and what we take with us, and share, wherever we go.  Even to the mount of doom.

dividertop

Acknowledgement

cuddebackJohn A. Cuddeback. "Tolkienian Wisdom for Christmastide and the New Year." LifeCraft (December 29, 2021).

Reprinted with permission from the author, John A. Cuddeback. Image credit: Stephane Juban. Unsplash.

The Author

cuddeback44John A. Cuddeback is chairman and professor of Philosophy at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. He is the author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness and Aristotle's Ethics: A Guide to Living the Good Life.  He and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children — and a few pigs and sundry — in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. He blogs at life-craft.org.

Copyright © 2021 John A. Cuddeback
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