These Are Dark Times, Frodo

In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo contemplates the ruinous world he faces. He tells his wise and patient teacher,

“I wish it need not have happened in my time.”

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and 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 us.”

JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I often find myself wishing, as Frodo did, that “it need not have happened in my time.” That I could raise my children in a more stable age.

Sometimes we may exaggerate the difficulty and divisiveness of our modern life – especially when compared with the horrific conditions of most of human history. Perspective is often helpful in calming our fears. Yet, as a mother, it is evident that in many ways the world is becoming increasingly divisive, immoral, and selfish. We seem to be headed down well-trodden paths of conflict – roads laid down generations ago and marked with blood and destruction. We are willfully repeating lessons we should have learned long ago. Concerned parents look on in dread as our society descends into tribalism and self interest. We see greed and envy driving public policy; leaders usurping power; distrust and suspicion increasing; cultural unity and patriotism dissipating; faith and humility abandoned…Darkness looms…but Tolkien reminds us, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”

As mothers, we must not be naïve – we must face the darkness. We must strengthen ourselves for the journey. Wishing things were different will not accomplish anything. We must act. But how? Our world is starving for virtue. We must accept our role as the Teacher-of-Virtue.

Absent moral and virtuous individuals, societies inevitably degrade.  Who can shape the morality of a populace if not its mothers?  The world may deny our influence, but the power of a strong mother endures.

“What a mother sings to the cradle goes all the way down to the coffin.”

Henry Ward Beecher

The solution to our anxieties and to the world’s division, lies in strengthening our families. 

“The family is the basis of society. As the family is, so is the society.”

Ashley Montagu

Today, I felt discouraged about the future, about the world my children are inheriting. To cope, I distracted myself from the news and social media, and instead reflected on the love of my husband and children. As I hugged my daughter and read with my son, the day seemed brighter – we made it brighter. Fear will return when my thoughts inevitably rest on harsh realities, but I know what I can do to calm my fears – be a mother that puts her will and energy into raising resilient, educated, and virtuous children.

“Men are what their mothers made them.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Gandalf & Frodo, Andrea Piparo

As Frodo expresses his fears to Gandalf – as a child would to a parent – he gazes into the flames and wishes them away. Gandalf acknowledges and empathizes with those fears, but he knows the solution will not be found in staring into the fire. Instead, he pushes Frodo towards the only firm hope he has – his own action. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The world may burn, but we will not do the burning, we will do the building.

“Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

As mothers, we must have faith in our influence. We can wisely use the time given us. The future is unsure – there will always be anxiety when facing the unknown. But our world will improve when we mothers decide – decide to replace that fear with faith and action, and intentionally teach our children to do the same.

“Pick up the cross of your tragedy and betrayal. Accept its terrible weight….We are all fallen creatures—and we all know it. We are all separated from what should be and thrown into the world of death and despair. We are all brutally crucified on the cross that is the reality of life itself….And the Christian command? To act out the proposition that courage and truth and love are more powerful than death and despair.”

Jordan Peterson

I believe that a society built around Honor and Virtue are crucial if we want to shift our current trajectory. We must be willing to applaud goodness and condemn wickedness. We simply cannot say that all beliefs, actions, and choices are of equal worth and virtue, and still have a society where good can triumph.

I enjoyed the podcast episode below from Young Heretics. It brings a good perspective on the utility of Honor and Virtue, using Roman society as a case-study.

-Ally

Related quotes and resources:

Raising Rebels: https://philosophyofmotherhood.wordpress.com/2019/10/08/raising-rebels/

Myth of the Mother-type: https://philosophyofmotherhood.wordpress.com/2019/09/17/the-myth-of-the-mother-type/

“It’s like 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 has 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’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” C.S. Lewis

How I Wonder.

By: Brittany M. White

I can’t find it. Why can’t I find it?

I’m searching over the roofs of my neighbors as my kids are yelling inside the house for me to help them to more dinner. Why is my heart racing? I could have planned this better. Why can’t I find this star?

I quickly jump off the railing of the deck a bit disappointed and head back inside as the children have begun fighting with one another. I place more potatoes on the plate for my five-year-old and I start wondering if I would have missed that thrill of hope long ago too.

Probably.

I think many of us would have. In my current state of busy, at my current pace, I’m not confident I would have looked up long enough to become curious and follow. Veteran mothers tell me when the children are grown that I’ll have time to look up, to see the stars and learn their names. However, the older I get the more I know, like them, we don’t only use our time to look up, we often use it to look back.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them.” I begin thinking about why people were amazed by the tale of the shepherds, hearing and seeing angels and coming face to face with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Maybe the star of Bethlehem wasn’t this astronomical anomaly that stopped everyone in their tracks but was enough of a difference to make three wise men curious. Or Jesus, lying in a manger of a dark and cold cave in Bethlehem. Maybe that’s why everyone was thrown by the telling of His arrival. It wasn’t a beautiful place that required appreciation. It was a place full of constant hurry and conflict, much like myself.

I begin loading the dishwasher and as I run the plates through the warm water of the sink, right outside my small kitchen window, is the Christmas Star, in my line of sight. The Great Conjunction. For a few brief moments, all was calm and bright. There was no rushing or anxiety––I was astonished. In all its distant glory, it was enough to stir the gratitude in my heart for that Gift given to us over two thousand years ago. He had found me, right where I was at in my rushing and running, as faithfully He does. And my weary world rejoiced.

Lieve Verschuier, The Great Comet of 1680 Over Rotterdam

The Price of Light

By: Brittany M. White

I unravel another bundle of lights from the Christmas tote and ask my husband to line the roof in white. This year, I’ve noticed, more neighbors and communities have put out extravagant Christmas displays. Possibly for the children, most certainly for me. How dark the shadows have been this year.

My husband begins climbing a ladder, and I think back to how I’ve been reading “A Christmas Carol” a few pages at a time, out loud as often as possible the past few weeks. My newborn niece was recently victim to my retelling of Jacob Marley’s haunting visit to Scrooge. As the old man stumbled away from the glow of the town to his cold quarters, Charles Dickens wrote, “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”

How honest a statement about the darkness! To sit in apathy and bitterness, hardened and invulnerable. Can we truly “like” such a thing? Surely not forever! Scrooge, having seen the truth, would tell you so today.

I think about what price bringing illuminance anywhere has cost. Relationally, geographically and economically, intellectually and emotionally — light is not cheap. It takes time, a loyal and intentional investment.

I toss up another strand of lights to my hardworking and semi-uncomfortable husband and remember in the spirit of the season how after four hundred years of silence, God pierced the sky to lead humanity through the shadows. They hadn’t heard or seen from God in centuries, and in following the star He gave them, they find the Light of the World; a humble baby. A price paid to reveal and close the dark path of misery.

My darling husband makes his way back down the ladder, thankful to live another day on the ground, and I take a look at the beautifully lit corners of our roof. In corresponding with a woman about resuming the practice of her faith, C.S. Lewis wrote, “One can’t go on thinking it over for ever, and one can begin to try to be a disciple before one is a professed theologian. In fact they tell us, don’t they, that in these matters to act on the light one has is almost the only way to more light.” (4 January 1941, Mary Neylan)

We must kindle what’s in front of us. Stir the heaviest embers, and pray for enduring flames. Keep lamps burning, our front porch lights on, and continue pushing back the shadows not just for our paths, but the paths of others. Light is not cheap, still God finds each of us worth His radiant mercy and encourages us to dwell abundantly in His glow. No matter the season, on rooftops or six-feet-apart, strive to be light.

Rubens Adoration of the Magi (1609-1610)

Treasures In Our Heart

From Guest-Blogger Brittany White

“You’re going to go see Christmas lights. I need you to put on your shoes and coat and wait quietly. Your brother is too little to go. Please do not tell him where you are going.”

As a five-year-old, I can imagine how powerful it must have felt for her at that moment, for she immediately went downstairs and told him she was going to see lights and that he would not be attending.

My son, Jack, went into a tantrum, and later that night my “very sorry” daughter and I sat and looked out the window as her sister went to see Christmas lights without her.

As her tears began to dry and the weight of her actions lifted, I started telling her of the importance it was for a woman long ago to treasure in her heart a secret God had given her.

“An angel came to Mary, a young, unmarried, and dependent girl, and told her that God was going to give her Jesus, the Savior of the world. Do you know how she must have felt? Excited, nervous, maybe like you, she wanted to burst from the seams and tell the world. But she didn’t make that choice. The Bible says that Mary kept all the things the Angel had told her in her heart and thought about them often.”

For a brief moment, we sat in the warmth of one another. Then as youth so conveniently allows, my daughter leaped from my lap to face me, the cold air creeping from the window met my chest.

“Why didn’t she tell everyone?” She asked.

“Do you remember what happened when young Joseph told his brothers about his coat and his dreams?” I responded.

She thought back and remembered a project she had completed in preschool where she made a coat of many colors with different pieces of fabric. She told me that the brothers had gotten angry and jealous and hurt Joseph.

I nodded as she returned to my lap and looked back out the window at the lights in our front yard ready to listen. “Mary didn’t want to hurt or confuse others who wouldn’t understand and she didn’t want to be hurt herself. She had a long way to go because babies stay in a mommy’s tummy for a while and she and her soon-to-be husband, Joseph, had some things they needed to figure out. So she kept it in her heart. Do you know what happens when we keep good things in our hearts?”

“What?” She asked in wonder, having now completely forgotten the Christmas-light adventure she was missing.

“God grows those dreams and promises and we can talk to Him about them in our heart any time we want! We ask God to bring the right friends in our lives to help us and we trust Him to guide our feet and can focus on what He’s saying. The busy world around us sometimes doesn’t offer helpful opinions, and when we keep good things in our heart while we journey with God we don’t have to worry about letting others down and can change more easily when we discover God’s will is different from ours. Do you think Mary wanted to have a baby in a stable with all the animals?”

She laughs as I continue. “Right! Mommies don’t want to have babies in the hay! But Mary trusted God and brought close friends and family into her secret. Now, how do you think the night would have been had you gotten your shoes and sat and waited?”

I felt her take a deep breath as her little voice began. “I would have gone with Cora to see lights and Jack would eat ice cream and be happy with you. I would not have cried.”

“No, you wouldn’t have. But you also wouldn’t have been sitting here with me getting extra snuggles either,” I tell her as I squeeze her closer to my heart. “Sometimes we don’t keep things in our heart as Mary did, but that doesn’t mean God loves us any less or that He won’t trust us with other good dreams as we grow up. Because of Jesus, sorries, and forgiveness, we get another chance.”

She returns my squeeze with a hug as we watch her sister pull up with her uncle and cousins from their neighborhood adventure.

“Cora’s back! I’m going to tell her that Mary kept a secret in her heart — but I won’t tell her what it was.”

“Oh no, baby, the whole world knows now. Jesus was born! You can tell her the whole secret.”

Remi runs out of the room as my husband opens the front door and I hear her yell out to her sister that she had something important to tell her. How beautiful it is, when a good secret comes to fruition, in God’s perfect timing.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937), The Annunciation (1898)

My Truth Does Not Exist

There is no such thing as “my truth” or “your truth”. There is “my perspective” or “my interpretation” but “The Truth” is fact, and much more. It is reality. It is what we are all seeking to find. Unique individuals see and experience the truth differently – like a feather and stone experience gravity differently – but they are being pulled by the same force. We have subjective experience with objective truth*. It is useful to try and see things from others perspective because the more sides you see of the truth, the more you grasp it. But perspective is not independent truth.

I think the “my truth” trend is the most dangerous idea being perpetrated on our society today, particularly for our youth and children. Telling our children to find “your truth” gives them absolutely no grounding in life, no ideal to work toward, and no standard to measure their or others behavior. It’s sending our children into the dark woods without a light, map, or destination, and crossing our fingers that they won’t get devoured by wolves. As they venture out into those woods of unbounded “truths”, “their truth” will quickly and inevitably collide with others “truths’”. No one can thrive in such chaos and uncertainly. They cannot know if they have succeeded, if they should feel pride or shame, or if they are right or wrong. In their confusion, they are likely to latch on to a more stable truth – a confident wolf in sheep’s clothing- an ideology they can join minds with, to navigate the chaos. It may be Marxism, Ethno-nationalism, Gender or Sexual Identitarinism….something to make their path more certain.

The Forest in Winter at Sunset, Théodore Rousseau

When we spread the lie of relative truth we are not being inclusive and liberal – we are manipulating reality in order to allow all people to act however they want, perhaps in an effort to free ourselves of guilt for acting out our own basest instincts. This will not lead to love and happiness, but narcissism and broken relationships. We all have a moral code buried deep in our psyche, a sense of right and wrong – we can dull it with neglect and indoctrination- but we will never truly feel peace of conscience, never feel we have progressed, never feel we are “good” – while untethered to The Truth.

C.S. Lewis said, “I want God, not my idea of God.” I want the Truth, not my idea of truth. So next time you hear the phrase “my truth” or “your truth”, let it bother you – because it should.

Ally

*Objective truth = truth does not originate from our own mind, there is an external source of truth. My truth = truth is what I decide. “My truth” is most often communicated to mean, “I set my own rules.” This is incorrect. However, this does not mean God’s will is the same for all of us, or always looks the same. He is The Truth, and He dishes it out according to his plan and purpose. Yet He leaves us with many tools to discover it. I plan on doing another post, pulling from great thinkers, clarifying what “The Truth” really means.

Resources:

C.S. Lewis. The Poison of Subjectivism

Post on countering relativism as mothers. https://philosophyofmotherhood.wordpress.com/2018/12/06/jordan-peterson-2-mothers-as-composers-of-potential/

Light in Political Darkness

The US election is today. Many of us fear for the future of our nation. I find the news, with its dire predictions and “worst-case scenarios”, disquieting. America’s chaotic situation is beyond my control. My thoughts and actions ARE within my control.

“Misery is almost always the result of thinking.”

Joseph Joubert

As I look at my children, I want to be a strength to them. I hope to guide them through these storms as an example of fortitude. I want to be a light in darkness.

“Light unshared is darkness. To be light indeed, it must shine out. It is of the very essence of light, that it is for others.”

George MacDonald

I hope in the coming days, instead of ruminating on my own worries – I will share the light I do possess with those that may need it. We all have untapped strength. The political system may be failing – but we have a spouse we love, or children we cherish. Maybe our candidate loses, but we still have our faith in God. We can find confidence in our gratitude. We can use that as a point of strength to help others. The more we stop thinking of our own concerns, and focus on others – the brighter our light. We will be active in relieving suffering, rather than dwelling on our own. So this week, let’s distract ourselves with well-doing. As we sacrifice our own fear, we will bring peace and light to this chaotic world.

Girl with Candle, Godfried Schalcken

Come: An invitation to learn, to rest, to continue

A guest post from Brittany M. White


“How’d you sleep last night?” he asked.

The sun had not yet risen but the small lamp in the room revealed a slight curve of hope in the corner of his mouth.

“Okay,” I responded, swinging my feet to the side of the mattress. I knew the moment I stood I’d have to make the bed. It was my way of ‘burning the ships’ and going forward with the day. What I wanted to tell him was that I was tired and sad, maybe a little nervous by all that surrounded me in the year 2020. I resolved with, “I’m not sure what’s next.”

I placed the final two pillows, straightened the corners of the covers, and my husband walked back into the bedroom with two cups of coffee in his hands.

“Come,” he said softly and motioned to the chair beside him.

As I made my way to him, I felt the word resonate on every level of my being and I found myself staggering through the voices of those who came before me. In Dickens where the Ghost of Christmas Present bursts with, “Come in, — come in! and know me better, man!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol).* Or when Odysseus seeks hospitality from strangers in the Odyssey, “Come, take some food and drink some wine, rest here the livelong day and then, tomorrow at daybreak, you must sail. But I will set you a course and chart each seamark, so neither on sea nor land will some new trap ensure you in trouble, make you suffer more (Homer, The Odyssey).** And Jesus to those weary saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).***

At least once in our lives those closest, our neighbors, and the strangest of strangers, will find themselves curious, tired, or in need. As a social media-driven society we are taught to connect and tag; to highlight possible solutions and disconnect from anything further than our custom feeds. But there is a practice, a unique patience, that used to be implemented in bearing the weight of a present situation or problem.

Odysseus Overcome by Demodocus’ Song, by Francesco Hayez, 1813–15

Xenia is the Greek term for generous courtesy and hospitality. We know its opposite very well as xenophobia, the fear of someone who is perceived to be foreign or strange. As we awake within our nations day to day, how many of us are receiving those with different thoughts and lifestyles in love?

C.S. Lewis writes, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life––the life God is sending one day by day.” (Yours, Jack)

What if, through what we consider interruptions and unpleasant, we focused on the possible friendship of those within our present, instead of the fear? What if our first words each morning, despite how we felt or what’s surrounding us, began with, “Come”?

– Brittany M. White

Ideas Have Consequences Video

The other day my 11 year old son walked in as I was watching the news. He is a smart kid and despite our best efforts to shield him from unnecessary anxiety – he knows of the protesting, rioting, racial tension, and political turmoil common in America. He asked a simple question as he saw the report of a riot, “Why are people burning things down?”.

My point in posting this video is not political. I attempt to keep the discourse on this site philosophical; I believe that is where political and societal answers are found. As parents we want to be able to answer our children’s questions intelligently. I am unable to explain the intentions of every maker-of-chaos in this world (that includes myself), but I found this video helpful in unpacking some of the philosophies undergirding modern perceptions and movements.

“Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” C.S. Lewis

Happy Families

Anna Karenina, Ivan Kramskoi

In the epic novel Anna Karenina, we are told the story of a woman in a very unhappy family. Tolstoy explains, “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As his novel shows, there are limitless ways to produce misery – and misery is an never-ending pit. The Karenina family was torn apart by selfishness, naïveté, and betrayal – but the causes of human suffering are numberless. Dr. Jordan Peterson has said, “No matter how bad things get, they can always get worse.” However, all diverse forms of destruction tend to derive from one foundational vice – pride.

“The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began…For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Conversely, the path to familial happiness is always pretty much the same, and the destination is peace. Getting there requires humility and self-sacrifice. In many ways it is more difficult to build a happy family, we all tilt toward pride and self-centeredness – but efforts in the short-term reaps eternal benefits.

When we get married and begin our life together, our initial perspective is crucial. Are we in this for ourselves? I am embarrassed to admit watching the show “The Bachelor” a few times. It is actually a fascinating study in human nature. I have noticed that when the women are asked what they want in a spouse the responses are usually quite self-centered. “I want someone that will adore me and give me freedom” “I deserve someone that accepts me as I am.” While these are understandable desires, the best perspective to take, if we want to create a lasting and happy home, is one of self-sacrifice. “I want to give my love to someone.” It may difficult to make such statements before we find the right person – but once we do, our attention needs to move from ourselves to the one we love.

To achieve a happy home we must let go of our natural proclivities and vices. I remember as newlyweds, my husband and I were advised to always speak respectfully to each other. I wanted a good relationship so I determined to do just that. My husband had no problem, I was not prepared for how difficult it would be for me. I am one of seven siblings. Sarcasm and debate are our primary methods of communication. It was very difficult for me in those early days of marriage to bite my tongue and speak respectfully. I had to hold back the perfect snarky statement or let go of a witty comeback- I felt fake and mourned the loss of my old style. However, as time passed, I noticed that I felt safe with my husband in a way I hadn’t in the environment of one-upmanship I had with my siblings. I no longer felt a burden to compete, but instead felt love and companionship. Now when I descend into my old sarcastic or argumentative self, I feel chaos and angst replacing peace.

Creating a happy family requires much more sacrifice in the beginning (or during course correction), but the farther we travel the road of sacrifice – the more straight and simple our course becomes. We see the reason for our efforts and we become practiced in prioritizing others. I got used to speaking differently with my husband and now it is mostly habit. As we let our “deadwood” burn off and put the family first, we get to experience the joy found in a loving home. As Tolstoy points out, a happy family can seem quite ordinary – no chaos or contention – nothing worthy of an epic novel. However, when we find that peace and joy, we know the sacrifice was worth it.

“For strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:14

-Ally

Eyes to See

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Epicurus

How much brighter today will be if rather than thinking of our lack we think of our abundance. How much more peaceful our relationships when we are grateful for the joy they bring, rather than their imperfections. It is not naivety or weak submission to take some time off from “striving for more”. There is always time for discontentment, but we rarely make space for fulfillment. Ingratitude numbs our senses – it prohibits us from seeing or hearing anything but the negative.

My family recently moved into an older home. While we remodel the downstairs, my husband and I and our five small children are all sleeping in two rooms upstairs – five beds on the floor, one bathroom, and a sink and microwave for a kitchen. Despite my attempts to make this into a fun adventure, a few days ago the stress of our remodel and the discomfort of a hot day in Texas, caught up with me. As I laid in my bed that evening and allowed my jaw to unclench, I looked back on the day. I saw that I had been completely blind to any goodness. I couldn’t see my beautiful children playing so well together, only the mess they made. I didn’t hear the birds chirping in our trees, only the annoying hum of our fans in our AC-less house. I didn’t remember the blessing of finding the home I had prayed for, with land for our children to play. I only saw patches of dead grass and weed overgrowth.

Unfortunately, we are hard-wired to notice the negative. We must use our free-will and seek the positive. It is all around us. Blessings are found even in the darkest day. 

“Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.”

Jeremiah 5:21
Head of a Veiled Woman, Anders Zorn

I was certainly a fool that day. I was blind to an entire day of happiness. I lost it and traded it for misery. For stressed-out mothers, it is easy to do. Often our families lose that day along with us. We must close our eyes of ingratitude and open our eyes of thankfulness. The more we open grateful eyes, the easier life becomes and the more joy we find in living.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson