Book Wisdom, Inklings, Love and Faith

“But no living man am I! You look upon a woman.”

A tale of adventure, friendship, love, and courage, The Lord of the Rings is a timeless gift. One of my favorite characters is Éowyn. As a shieldmaiden of Rohan (one of the lands in Tolkien’s Middle Earth), she defies her uncle, King Théoden, when he commands she stay in Rohan, and follows the troops into battle against Sauron’s army. As all the others headed into battle, she simply wants to do all she can to help defend her land.

“No man am I!” is one of her most iconic lines from the movies. There’s no doubt it is one of the most cheer-worthy scenes. For those not familiar, this takes place during a battle in front of Minas Tirith (in the land of Gondor) in the last film, Return of the King, when Éowyn takes down not only a Nazgûl (a dark beast with wings), but also the leader of the wraiths, the Witch-King of Angmar.

After giving the King Théoden a death blow, the Witch-King leads his Nazgûl towards the body with the permission to “feast on his flesh.” It is then that Éowyn jumps in front of her beloved kin, threatening to kill them if they touch King Théoden. 

After warning her not to come between the Nazgûl and his prey, the creature goes for Éowyn’s arm and sword, but instead she beheads the foul beast. Picking up a small wooden shield, she holds her place defending her uncle while the Witch-King rises up. With his enormous mace, he swings it toward her. Screeching with each miss, he finally succeeds in destroying her shield. All looks lost, as he grabs Éowyn by the neck hissing “You fool….no man can kill me…die now.” But there is hope yet! Merry, her hobbit friend, comes through and stabs the monster’s leg.

As he falls to his knees, Éowyn stands up, takes off her helmet and says the ever famous line “I am no man!” while stabbing him in the face, thus destroying the Dark Servant of Sauron. 

While I love the movies dearly, this is one scene that is especially more profound in the book. In the book, no one knows she is in the fight (not even Merry) and we also see more of the darkness she was up against. From the book we read: 

‘Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!’

A cold voice answered: ‘Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.’ (Emphasis mine)

A sword rang as it was drawn. ‘Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.’

Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. ‘But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.’

Éowyn’s character continues to be worthy of admiration and one to look up to in literature. It makes me wonder if the women in Tolkien’s life influenced Éowyn’s role, much like his wife inspired the story of Beren and Lúthien in The Silmarillion. I have a feeling they may have. 

After watching/reading scenes like this, I often think of the brave and strong women throughout history and legacies of women who have gone before us. The women who used their lives, gifts, talents, and skills to make the world better. What does it mean to be brave like Éowyn, even when it won’t look like facing and taking down a Witch-King and his Nazgûl? 

For women, our legacy can and should be as diverse as those who came before us. When I think of the women I want my nieces and nephew to look up to, admire, and respect, it’s women who served others and were brave in all circumstances (whether they were well known or not).

The Bible never fails at providing examples of women like this. Women like Ruth standing up for herself to go with Naomi – though poor, she was brave and not helpless. Like Deborah who bravely led the men of Israel’s military and served as a judge to Israel. Or Esther, who willingingly walked to what she must have thought her death to do all she could to save her people. Or Rahab, who hid spies of Israel, knowing if all failed, it too meant her death. Like Anna, who suffered greatly at a young age, losing her husband, but didn’t let society dictate how she would spend her days. She chose to worship the Lord through it all, being named a prophetess (and the only one in the New Testament) and was able to witness Simeon bless baby Jesus. Or Lydia, whose work ethic and business skills helped support the early church in Acts. 

In 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV), we are reminded that one of our callings in following Christ is that we use our God-given talents. Peter wrote, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

“Whatever gift”…such freedom and encouragement in those words.

Throughout history, there have been endless women who have shown us what being a brave and bold woman of God looks like. To name just a few:

  • Mahalia Jackson, who became known as the Queen of Gospel music and a Civil Rights activist
  • Fannie Lou Hamer, who fought for Black women and women’s right to vote
  • Corrie ten Boom, who courageously defied the Nazis to save Jews and was sent to a concentration camp after being betrayed
  • Pandita Ramabai, who dedicated her life to fighting on behalf of millions of childhood widows in India
  • Sabina Wurmbrand, who along with her husband founded Voice of the Martyrs to support Christians around the world after experiencing Nazi occupation (and losing several family members to a concentration camp) and communism in her home country
  • Phillis Wheatley, who became the first African American published, even while unjustly enslaved in 1773
  • Jane Austen, who wasn’t afraid to write when society dictated otherwise, leaving books millions have enjoyed since her death
  • Catherine Booth, who started the Salvation Army with her husband
  • Dora Yu, who was a medical missionary in China and preacher in the early 20th century
  • Fanny Crosby, who was blind and in the 1800s penned thousands of poems and hymns including Blessed Assurance and was also committed to Christian rescue missions
  • Josephine Butler, who fought for reform, women’s suffrage, better education for women and fought for the abolition of child prostitution in Victorian England
  • Rosa Parks, who sparked a movement by refusing to give up her seat
  • Mary McLeod Bethune, who fought for education, starting what would become Bethune-Cookman College, and eventually became the Vice President of the NAACP
  • Helen Keller, who became blind and deaf at only 19 months old and went on to graduate from Radcliffe college, wrote an autobiography, and spent her life advocating for those who were differently abled as she was, changing laws and breaking down barriers.

I also think of so many other women who are unknown to history, yet their legacies continue to have ripple effects even today. One of the most important things I have learned from so many women, is that they didn’t let their status define them. They used their gifts and boldly followed what God called them to.

They fought for what was good. They stood up for the vulnerable. They used their talents to bring beauty to the world. They loved deeply. They were a light to the world. As Micah 6:8 guides us:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

    And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

    and to walk humbly with your God.” (NIV)

As you think upon your legacy, I encourage you to pray and seek His wisdom and guidance. And above all, be guided by love:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:8-10 (NIV)

Be bold, be brave, and live the life God has called you to. When you, when we all do, the world will be brighter. 

Changing the World, Travel Adventures

One Year Later

A year has passed since my trip to Alabama. Thinking back on my mini Civil Rights Tour, I keep thinking about The National Memorial of Peace and Justice and being a little closer to such personal history.

It was humid. The type of humidity only experienced in the Deep South, where the sun shines boldly and unrelenting, as if sensing the rains and clouds would soon take over. But even with the promise of heat, I was looking forward to walking through the memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. Filled with over 800 hanging corten steel monuments, each one represents a different county in the United States where racial terror took place in the form of lynching, listing the victims and the date they were killed between 1877-1950.

It’s a sobering memorial. Walking through was a mix of emotions – deep sadness for the atrocities committed against thousands (and untold numbers of the unknown victims), rage and anger for those who gleefully committed these crimes against men, women, and children…and pain, knowing the terror went on for so long and the repercussions we’re still dealing with as a people and country today.

My Dad hails from small town Louisiana and when I was there, I knew I had to search to see if the Parish he and my family was from had its own monument. 

It did. 

Listed were four names of men who were lynched, dating from 1898-1917.

I couldn’t help but wonder how it was for my family from those generations. Did one or more of my great grandparents know them or did they hear of the lynching? Did they mourn with the family members? Did they live in fear the weeks after each one, thinking how easily it could have been one of them instead of Charles, Edward, Thomas, or Marcel?

“To overcome racial inequality, we must confront our history.”

This slogan comes from the organization behind the Memorial, Equal Justice Initiative. Started by Bryan Stevenson, EJI does incredible and life altering work, including working with people who are unjustly and unfairly treated by our justice system and challenges the death penalty. 

At the Memorial you will find a plaque that reads: “At this memorial, we remember the thousands killed, the generations of black people terrorized, and the legacy of suffering and injustice that haunts us still. We also remember the countless victims whose deaths were not recorded in the news archives and cannot be documented, who are recognized solely in the mournful memories of those who loved them. We believe that telling the truth about the age of racial terror and reflecting together on this period and its legacy can lead to a more thoughtful and informed commitment to justice today. We hope this memorial will inspire individuals, communities, and this nation to claim our difficult history and commit to a just and peaceful future.”

I love that statement because it is a great reminder of why we need them.

To lament.

To grieve.

To remember.

To honor. 

Sometimes it feels like I (and I know many others) spend so much time doing the work of justice and peace that we don’t take the time to lament. Visiting the Memorial helped me do just that. Lament the evil that reigned in this country and terrorized my people. 

The Memorial also gave space to grieve. Grief for the loss of life from the day the first enslaved Black person was brought to this country to the men and women lost in a criminal justice system that, as Stevenson wrote in Just Mercy, works for the rich and guilty, not the poor and innocent. 

With so many names to read, The Memorial also provided space to remember so many lives lost. Generations later, their names are remembered because of a space like this. 

We can honor those lost by committing to living a life pursuing justice. Dr. Maya Angelou said: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” 

May we live with courage. 

Inklings

Courage, Dear You by Rachel Marie Kang: Inklings Week 2022

Welcome to Inklings Week 2022! You can find all the posts for this week here.

The words echo from age-old ink

etched on blank pages

full of black lines.

“Courage, dear heart.”

Really, the words are for 

The Child of Light, but, 

then, isn’t that me?

And isn’t that you, too?

And aren’t we the ones ever peering

beyond all that winters and withers?

Aren’t we the ones ever grasping for whispers in the wind? The holy hand of a loving lion, as if there were such a thing.

We carry daggers in our pockets and swords swung around our necks, dressed to wage the wars of darkness.

The words were never meant for the spell and spine of books, pages bound between covers, or characters in chapters.

The words were for me

and they were for you, too.

“Courage, dear heart.” 

Courage, as you live and love and look out into the landscape of your losses. Courage in your valiant victories, courage in your kingdom.

Courage, as you fight with faith.

Courage, as you lift up light.

Courage, as you create.

Courage, dear you.

Courage.

***

Thank you so much Rachel for joining in Inklings Week, a joy to have you be a part of it! And dear readers, I hope you loved this poem as much as I did. I thought it was the perfect way to end Inklings Week after a week of courage inspired posts. Until next year!

About Rachel: Rachel Marie Kang is a mixed woman of African American, Native American (Ramapough Lenape Nation), Irish, and Dutch descent. A writer, editor, artist, and creative coach, she is the founder of Fallow Ink. Her book, Let There Be Art, releases October 2022. Follow along at https://www.rachelmariekang.com/ and on social at https://www.instagram.com/rachelmariekang/

Inklings

No One is Told Any Story but Their Own by Katherine Reay: Inklings Week 2022

Welcome to Inklings Week 2022! You can find all the posts for this week here.

This year for Inklings Week, I am taking my cue from Lewis and keeping my comments brief. He did that — he packed much in a few words. 

“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one told any story but their own.” 

This line, stated twice within The Horse and His Boy, has stayed with me over the years and its lessons in kindness, discernment, privacy, and wisdom never end. Rarely does Lewis repeat a line, but this one is of such significance that Aslan says it to both Shasta and Aravis separately within the final pages of this story. 

After numerous adventures and encounters with “many lions”, Shasta finds himself walking in a profound darkness next to something large. Upon questioning the unseen creature, Shasta learns it is a lion — the Lion. 

“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I as the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat n which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

After this extraordinary revelation of providence, Shasta — thinking about his friend rather than himself — replies, “Then it was you wounded Aravis?” 

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

Within moments, the scene shifts, and we are with the other protagonist within The Horse and His Boy, Aravis. 

Her encounters with the lion have been very different from Shasta’s and upon meeting him she discovers it was he — with paws now “velvetted” — who chased her across the night and slashed her back with a swipe of his paw. 

“It was I who wounded you,” said Aslan, “I am the only lion you met in all your journeyings.” He then proceeds to explain why he did what he did. 

“The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother’s slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like.”

Aravis immediately understands her actions have consequences and she has harmed another. She then asks if the servant will be okay now. But, rather than tell her the servant’s story or fate, Aslan replies again,“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one told any story but their own.”

Lewis rarely states things twice so when he does, I pay attention. And the simplicity and depth of this concept never fails to stun me with its all-encompassing applicability. 

I do not know another’s story — past, present, or future. I do not know of another’s anger, hurt, scars, wounds, or fears. I do not know another’s struggles, pain, joys or dreams. And to make assumptions, judgements, criticisms, or verdicts about another is not my place. 

An opportunity to truly understand this concept came my way in 2016 and resulted in the book, Awful Beautiful Life, published in 2019. 

Here is a short summary of this true story: 

In 2013 Becky Powell’s husband committed suicide and, within a day, the DOJ, FBI, and SEC opened criminal investigations against Becky because her husband had taken $21.5 million from clients, colleagues, and friends. 

So many people judged Becky — across the nation, as this made national headlines. Everyone wanted to know if she’d known what he was doing all along and how far she would go to maintain her lifestyle. They also assumed they knew the answers to both questions. 

Becky, however, up-ended all those expectations. She turned her husband’s life insurance payouts to the court, sold her house, and — with the help of a group of dedicated and extraordinary lawyers — repaid every creditor 100% of their net loss and absorbed all the legal expenses. She held nothing back. 

My point here is — we truly never know another’s story. We don’t know how they got to where they are or what their story will become in the next heartbeat. We may be invited alongside another for a moment or a lifetime, but we can never truly access the deepest part of their story or experience.

As I said, when Lewis says something twice, I pay attention. 

Thank you so much for another inspiring and encouraging post Katherine! If you’ve missed any Inklings posts, be sure to check them out here.

About Katherine Reay: Katherine Reay is a national bestselling and award-winning author of several novels. She has enjoyed a lifelong affair with books and history, and brings that love to her stories. Katherine has also written one full-length nonfiction work.

She holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and has lived across the country with a few years in England and Ireland as well. A full-time author and mother of three children, Katherine and her husband currently live outside Chicago, IL.

Find out more about her books (which are all fabulous!) at https://katherinereay.com/ and follow her on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/katherinereay/

Inklings

Courage: A Companion in Grief and Pain by Wesley H: Inklings Week 2022

Welcome to Inklings Week 2022! You can find all the posts for this week here.

When Jamie told me the theme she had in mind for Inklings Week this year was “courage” my interest was immediately piqued. In the last two years words like “courage” and “hero” and the like have been thrown around a lot. There have certainly been people who have embodied those words. Unfortunately, words like “courage” and “hero” are often bedfellows with words like “grief,” “confusion,” and “pain.” With this lens we are going to be looking at C.S. Lewis’ works A Grief Observed and The Problem of Pain.

If you’re not familiar with either of these, I’ll give you a quick overview of each:

A Grief Observed is Lewis’ thoughts about life, death and faith following the death of his wife, Joy. It’s honest, sad, vulnerable, and hopeful. It’s one of my favorites of his works. The Problem of Pain is a book about *wait for it* the fact that pain exists, and it sucks. “Why must we suffer?” is a big, complicated question that Lewis does his best to answer even though we know that with some things we will be without satisfactory answers on this side of heaven.

Also, these covers? Swoon.

Grief and pain were not foreign concepts to Lewis. His mother died when he was 9. His wife Joy died after five short years of marriage. He lost several of his college friends during WWI. As if WWI wasn’t enough, he also lived through WWII, and even though he didn’t serve in the armed forces in the second war he ministered to RAF pilots and knew people who fought and died. His brother Warren was an alcoholic and watching his only sibling struggle in this way must have grieved and pained Lewis as well.

I always think “How could this man who had these heartbreaking experiences still love God so fiercely? How did he still find comfort in Him and His promises when there was so much to endure?” Which then leads to the inevitable thoughts of “I am no C.S. Lewis. I’m no great figure of faith. If I was presented with the sufferings that C.S. Lewis was presented with, how do I know that I would react like Lewis, craving His holy comfort? And not just become bitter, hard and distrustful?”

If in our lives we have to hold grief and pain in one hand, then in the other must be courage and faith. What other tools would we have to combat such sorrow?

Here are some of my favorite quotes to share you up when you are in need of your own courage:

The Problem of Pain:

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

“…nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

A Grief Observed:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” (I think about this quote a lot – when I am reaching out to a friend who is grieving this is often a sentiment I include in a note. Sometimes grief surprises us.)

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”

“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I’ve already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn’t a circular trench. But it isn’t. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn’t repeat.”

***

Pain, grief, and suffering are going to be a part of all of our lives – and we might not always get the answers we seek or the comfort that we crave. Hopefully, though, we can draw some courage from the people who have gone before us.

Thank you so much Wesley for joining in! Wesley is a reader and blogger extraordinaire! Be sure to follow her for plenty of book recs and bookish chatter. You can find her at http://libraryeducated.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/whoffs.

Inklings

It’s International Inklings Day! A Short History and What Their Friendship Teaches Us: Inklings Week 2022

Welcome to Inklings Week 2022! You can find all the posts for this week here.

International Inklings Day was born out of a deep love of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. On May 11, 1926, they met for the first time during a faculty tea in Oxford, England. Based off their decades long friendship, you would think that they immediately hit it off. But this was far from the case. Quite opposite really.

After that first meeting, Lewis commented in a letter (I believe jokingly!) about Tolkien: “No harm in him: only needs a smack or so.” He thought him rather opinionated and at the time Lewis was an atheist and Tolkien was a strong Roman Catholic. As Diana Pavlac Glyer explains in Bandersnatch:

“It got worse. As Lewis and Tolkien got to know each other, it became clear that they had a number of serious disagreements. They had different interests and personalities. They came from different religious traditions. And they had different academic specialties. Lewis was an expert in literature and philosophy; Tolkien was a philologist, an expert in languages. He loved Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon.”

This all might have been too much, if both Lewis and Tolkien hadn’t been willing to work through their very different belief systems, both in faith and education. As Lewis wrote in his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy: “When I began teaching for the English Faculty, I made two other friends, both Christians (these queer people seemed now to pop up on every side) who were later to give me much help in getting over the last stile. They were H. V. V. Dyson (then of Reading) and J. R. R. Tolkien. Friendship with the latter marked the breakdown of two old prejudices. At my first coming into the world I had been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist, and at my first coming into the English Faculty (explicitly) never to trust a philologist. Tolkien was both.”

After that first fateful tea, Lewis and Tolkien disagreed again, this time about the required coursework for English students. Tolkien decided that in order to win people over to his curriculum, he would gather the faculty together to bring about love for mythology and ancient languages. This turned out to be a genius move. In The Gift of Friendship, Colin Duriez writes: “Lewis has been intrigued by Tolkien’s alluding to his linguistic and writing hobbies. Soon he was attracted by Tolkien’s invitation to come along to The Coalbiters, an informal reading club Tolkien had initiated at Oxford in the spring of 1926. Its purpose was to explore Icelandic literature such as the Poetic Edda….As a result of the Colabiter gatherings Tolkien and Lewis were soon meeting regularly and talking far into the night.”

Soon a common ground was found. In Bandersnatch, Glyer writes: “Lewis and Tolkien discovered they had significant common ground. They gravitated towards each other because they shared an interest in what they called “northernness,” the vast skies, icy landscapes, and heroic tempers of the ancient Vikings. As they talked together, Lewis was slowly won over to Tolkien’s view of the English curriculum. And as they worked side by side, they forged a solid friendship. E. L. Edmonds, a student at Oxford, remembers, “It was very obvious that [Lewis and Tolkien] were great friends—indeed, they were like two young bear cubs sometimes, just happily quipping with one another.”

Through the years of consistent and constant fellowship, a deep friendship was formed and their influence started showing up throughout different areas in their lives. In 1929, Lewis famously became a theist, writing in Surprised by Joy: “That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

The evening of September 19, 1931 (through the early morning hours of the 20th) was another life changing faith moment for Lewis. That night, Tolkien, Lewis, and another friend, Hugo Dyson (who was also a devout Christian), the three men spent hours discussing life and faith and it was then that Lewis 1931 fully embraced the truth of Christianity. Duriez explains more in The Gift of Friendship: “Tolkien recorded the long night conversation on Addison’s Walk, and many previous exchanges with Lewis, in his poem, Mythopoeia (the “making of myth”). He also noted in his diary: “Friendship with Lewis compensates for much, and besides giving constant pleasure and comfort has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual – a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher – and a love, at least after a long pilgrimage, of Our Lord.”

Their influence went far beyond faith matters – Lewis was the first person Tolkien shared any writing of Middle Earth adventures and Lewis shared his writings as well, like The Chronicles of Narnia

While this is a wonderful story of friendship and influence, I can’t help but wonder what if Tolkien would have put off friendship with Lewis because he didn’t share his faith? What if Lewis decided Tolkien wasn’t worth his time because Tolkien was too “religious” in his eyes? Or that their educational philosophies could never be worked through? The world would have missed out on the influential and incredible works of Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and so many others. 

*** 

What can their story of friendship teach us today? One of the first things I think of is the beauty there is in finding common ground. I love that Tolkien played a key role in Lewis’ faith journey, but that wasn’t Tolkien’s sole focus. Instead, they found common ground, shared life, encouraged and challenged each other. 

We can have deep and meaningful impacts on others we invite into our lives; when we open ourselves up and welcome vulnerability. The past several years have shown and taught me many things and I want to be sure I lead with Jesus’ example of love. I have learned so much from the friends who have crossed my path (whether for a short period of time or they continue to be in my life today). I may not agree with all their viewpoints, but that doesn’t take away the positive impact they have had on my life. I pray that they feel the same about me.

During his time on earth, Jesus spent his days befriending those who lived differently than him, believed differently, had different experiences. He taught with stories of this too, like that of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. While the story was definitely a convicting reminder to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, we also see that a man didn’t ask questions and helped out someone in need. I can’t help but think that if Jesus continued with his story, he would have shared how they became lifelong friends. 

We may never know the impact we have on a person, but don’t let that stop you from reaching out and finding common ground with people in your life. It will push you out of your comfort zone, but God has shown me often that it is always worth it in the end.

I’ll end with these wise words from Lewis’ The Four Loves: “Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”

Inklings

It’s Worth Fighting For: Inklings Week 2022

One of my favorite scenes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy is Sam’s speech in Osgiliath at the end of The Two Towers. This is no surprise as Samwise is one of, if not the, favorite characters in the books and movies. In case you haven’t seen this clip, here’s two minutes that will no doubt inspire you:

Why does Samwise Gamgee’s speech inspire us viewers so deeply? I think because his words are so true to what humanity experiences at any given time in history. Some times are absolutely harder and darker than others, but as I experience more life with each passing year, I feel these words so much more with every re-watch. 

“By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy…

How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”

I’m thankful for the eternal hope I have, to know a new day will come, when the sun will shine out the clearer. That makes it all worth it. To keep going, to keep fighting the good fight, to keep pursing love and justice. It’s something worth holding on to.  

Today, I hope you are reminded of what you’re holding on to. And may the Lord bless you and keep you and give you peace* as you remember that there’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for. 

What inspires you about this scene?

If you’ve missed any Inklings posts this week, be sure to check them out here.

*Numbers 6:24-26

Inklings

What Shasta’s Story Can Teach Us: Inklings Week 2022

Welcome to Inklings Week 2022! Kicking off the week with some wisdom and inspiration from The Horse and His Boy of The Chronicles of Narnia. Hope you enjoy!

After several trials and adventures, Shasta, the young protagonist of C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, finally encounters Aslan. One he’s heard so much about, although what he heard was not at all pleasant or true. At this point in the story, he’s feeling rather sad about his lot and all that he had experienced up until then, and I can’t say I completely blame him for feeling like he does. But as he is finding his way alone (after having to leave his companions behind), he encounters Aslan. 

He isn’t quite sure what to make of him at first, but then he finds out the beautiful reality. After Shasta makes a comment about the bad luck of meeting so many lions, Aslan says:

“I was the lion.” 

And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

Shasta’s encounter with Aslan is one of my favorite scenes from all of Lewis’ Narnia books. It continues with Aslan finally revealing himself to Shasta. Lewis describes it so beautifully:

“A golden light fell on them from the left. He thought it was the sun. He turned and saw, pacing beside him, taller than the horse, a Lion. The horse did not seem to be afraid of it or else could not see it. It was from the Lion that the light came. No one ever saw anything more terrible or beautiful.

But after one glance at the Lion’s face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn’t say anything but then he didn’t want to say anything, and he knew he needn’t say anything.”

I never tire of reading this scene!

There are so many truths about God I see every time I read The Horse and His Boy. I’m reminded that God is there for us, even when we don’t see it. He shows up in unexpected ways. And He doesn’t shut us down when we lose our focus or our way. He is there waiting for us. This not only fills my heart up with hope, but courage as well. 

This truth, this wonderful life-changing truth, is a reminder for those times I don’t feel God’s presence or heavy things threaten to cause never ending dismay. He’s the Lion who will sometimes push us, will often comfort us like the cat in a graveyard, will defend us from darkness we can’t see, and is always the Light that guides us. We can trust in His promises.

“So do not fear, for I am with you;

    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

We don’t have to be courageous all on our own. We don’t have to do things all on our own. We can find comfort in the words the Psalmist wrote centuries ago: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26 (NIV)

Inklings, Love and Faith

Joy and Sorrow Weaved Together: What Tolkien & Lewis Teach Us

While J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are well known for their brilliant fantasy worlds, many of their personal letters and other works have profound teachings on both joy and grief. These two British writers, who left literary legacies like few others, remind us that both grief and joy will weave deep in our souls throughout our lives. That is both hard and beautiful, but each making us all the more human.

In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”

It was after his wife died from cancer that Lewis wrote this short, yet profound work. His collection of thoughts and observances so close to her death reveal a depth of honesty and raw emotion. It isn’t full of theological arguments on grief or five steps to overcoming your pain. It is, just as he named it, observations while grieving.

In the introduction Lewis’ stepson Douglas H. Gresham wrote: “A Grief Observed is not an ordinary book. In a sense it is not a book at all; it is, rather, the passionate result of a brave man turning to face his agony and examine it in order that he might further understand what is required of us in living this life in which we have to expect the pain and sorrow of the loss of those whom we love.” He goes on to say it is “the power of unabashed truth.”

I believe one of the reasons this work continues to touch the hearts of millions is that Lewis gives the reader permission to grieve fully. His experience, so vulnerable and honest on the page, gives any who come across his words the freedom to not hide or shy away from pain or grief. We don’t need superficial platitudes or answers as we grieve. There’s no “perfect Christian” response to grief. Trite words, Lewis proves, will not bring us peace or healing.

Instead, by reading Lewis’ words, I am reminded that there’s no right path to healing. As Lewis wrote, “Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history…”

Lewis’ words remind me of those penned in Psalm 77. In it the author writes:

“I cried out to God for help;

    I cried out to God to hear me.

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;

    at night I stretched out untiring hands,

    and I would not be comforted.

I remembered you, God, and I groaned;

    I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.

You kept my eyes from closing;

    I was too troubled to speak.

I thought about the former days,

    the years of long ago;

I remembered my songs in the night.

    My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

“Will the Lord reject forever?

    Will he never show his favor again?

Has his unfailing love vanished forever?

    Has his promise failed for all time?

Has God forgotten to be merciful?

    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” Psalm 77:1-7 (NIV)

As I read these words, I feel the deep distress the author is in. He cried out to the Lord, begging for his help. He too, wasn’t afraid of demanding answers and through the process of crying out, questioning, and pleading, found his peace. In this valley, he remembered:

“Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:

    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.

I will remember the deeds of the Lord;

    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

I will consider all your works

    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:10-12 (NIV)

It was similar for Lewis, who through demanding answers and not shying away from his pain, found his peace, even when it meant his life would forever be different. As he shared, he continued to live his life with a limp:

“Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”

***

In The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by his son Christopher, we learn of a term that was newly minted by Tolkien: eucatastrophe.

After listening to a sermon that shared the story of a young boy, where the parents thought they were about to lose him (due to illness), the boy suddenly made a positive turn and asked for some food. On this, Tolkein went on to say, “It is quite unlike any other sensation. And all of a sudden I realized what it was: the very thing that I have been trying to write about and explain – in that fairy-story essay that I so much wish you had read that I think I shall send it to you. For it I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back.” (Bold emphasis mine)

He later went on to write that “I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible…and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.”

“Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one.” I can’t help but pause, especially on this Good Friday, on this line; where joy and sorrow are one. How true this is in our lives. 

In my nearly 40 years on this planet, I continue to learn that both joy and sorrow shape me deeply and how much I, and all of us, need never to shy away from feeling both deeply. Asking the hard questions, railing at God… these are what draw us to deeper intimacy with the Lord. Nor should we miss glimpses of sudden truth, happiness, and joy. Limp on, crawl on when you need, rejoice when you experience deep happiness. Humanity and life are rarely black and white, but that doesn’t mean the end result still won’t be beautiful. I can say this with deep confidence because He is Risen Indeed.