Tuesday, May 1, 2012
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentation 3:19-23)
Bilbo and his companions have been traveling on the dark path through Mirkwood Forest for days on end and their supplies of food and water are starting to run low. When Bilbo climbs a tree to try to see above the forest, all he sees are the tops of trees stretching endlessly in all directions. The dwarves hear the sounds of a hunting party in the woods nearby and several white deer run across their path, but they waste their last arrows in an unsuccessful attempt to bring them down. To make matters worse, when the first deer jumps over the black stream, it causes Bombur to fall in, after which the dwarves must carry his sleeping form until the enchantment wears off.
Tolkien describes their mood thus: "They were a gloomy party that night, and the gloom gathered still deeper on them in the following days. They had crossed the enchanted stream; but beyond it the path seemed to straggle on just as before, and in the forest they could see no change." Things are not as bad as they seem, however. Bilbo didn't know that when he climbed the tree, they were in a low spot, and if he had climbed a different tree closer to the top of the bowl, he could have seen that they were nearing the edge of the forest. The dwarves don't think very hard about their run-in with the white deer, either, but we find out that "if they had known more about it and considered the meaning of the hunt and the white deer that had appeared upon their path, they would have known that they were at last drawing towards the eastern edge, and would soon have come, if they could have kept up their courage and their hope, to thinner trees and places where the sunlight came again."
The problem, as Tolkien so aptly shows us, is that we don't always know important information when we are in the midst of a difficult situation. Lacking that information, we don't pay attention to the signs we do get that things are about to improve, or else we can't fully interpret those signs as harbingers of better things to come. It's no wonder that we, like the dwarves in Mirkwood, become gloomy and discouraged and hopeless when the way becomes dark and seemingly endless. We must remember that we don't have all the information right now, and that things may not be as hopeless as they seem. We must pay attention to the little things that can give us clues to better times ahead. Above all, we must trust God and remain hopeful as we remember the above words of Jeremiah that continue to remain true to this day.