There and Back Again
I was just sitting down to Second Breakfast and began reflecting on a journey I have been making. Well, maybe not a true second breakfast, but I was reflecting all the same. It might be obvious by now that I reconnected with The Hobbit, which I read originally as a teenager and which has been popularized again due to a film depicting the first part of the book. The book is the beginning of the tale of how hobbits got involved with the One Ring of Power and sets up the story line of The Lord of the Rings. The book is not necessarily the subject I would like to reflect upon, nor is J.R.R Tolkien, but rather a thought that it evoked about the journey of life. We celebrated the feast of the Epiphany this past weekend, and this, too, is about people on a journey. I think there is a connection that can be made between the two.
In The Hobbit, the protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, makes a sudden and altogether unexpected journey. He does not seek adventure, but when the adventure literally comes to his doorstep, (or rather into his hobbit-hole) he finds himself entering into it, all the while protesting to himself that he would rather be home. For most of us, home is a place of safety and security. It is a place where much of life is lived, but if we stay there and do not venture out into the uncertainty of the journey set before us, we would do more than miss out on a wonderful adventure: we would miss out on the lessons, and the gifts contained in them, that are so important to us. In short, we would miss opportunities to meet God in the people and situations we would come across. We would miss life itself.
There are dangers in any journey. Just as Bilbo and the magi had to venture out of their safe, secure environments to their destinations so, too, we need to venture out to where God leads. While we often do not find hordes of gold at the end of our adventures, we do find treasure. One might notice that in The Hobbit Bilbo still has to get home after the adventure, hence the subtitle, "There and Back Again." No story ends with the one treasure found, or the one goal met, no matter how big the goal or the treasure, unless it is the final ending. That is, the goal is only met when we get to the end of our lives and are welcomed into the true destination, Heaven. The real treasure, Bilbo discovers, is not the horde of gold he has journeyed to “liberate.” It is the journey itself, in which he discovers qualities in himself that he did not know he possessed. It is in discovering friendships with people with whom he would never have chosen to associate. It is in discovering the beauty of the world through which the adventure takes him. It is in discovering the value of the things that really matter. These are inner things, such as the true heroism of selflessness, wisdom, compassion, mercy, love, and sharing all of these with family and friends. That is the horde with which he returns.
The message of the journey of Bilbo Baggins is not at all a stretch from that of the journey of the magi. The magi also had to learn the value of the journey while on it. When they got to the destination, revealed to them by the star, they presented gifts in awe and in gratitude. But they received far more than they gave the Holy Family. They left having seen with their own eyes the King of Heaven come to earth. They were in the presence of Jesus, even if for a short time, an encounter which changed them forever. They left with belief and understanding which they did not have before they arrived. They witnessed the glory of God; they encountered God’s revelation in His Son. We can only imagine what happened in their minds and hearts. As for Bilbo, the writer tells us he was never the same either. As in the lives of the magi, there was a danger that loomed in the distance on his journey home. But he returned with much gratitude for the people he met and the lessons learned in the situations he experienced. Most of all, he returned with a heightened sense of love for family and friends.
On the home journey Bilbo and the magi were not the same people as they were on the way to the supposed goal. They had more depth and more inner wealth. They learned much on the inbound journey through experience, which included both mistakes and successes. And they met the goal, which often is greater than anticipated, given all they had learned on the journey. Therefore, on the return (or outbound) journey they were more fully alive and came to a greater appreciation not only of the world around them, but of their call within it. There was a deeper sense of purpose, of gratitude, for all they had and all they had learned, and of the values that really mattered to them. Journey reveals to us what matters most to us in this life, especially when we come perilously close to losing it all. In the end we let go of everything and we embrace a new reality which is our relationship with God and the gift of love shared with Him and with the people He places in our lives.
This year the celebration of the Epiphany helped me reflect on what the Christmas Season revealed. What mattered most was the time spent with friends and family. The most beautiful moment was the gift of being with someone who was leaving this earthly journey for the ultimate destination of Heaven. As a result my reflection has been in knowing that life is a precious gift and it is a journey. Each moment is fleeting, but able to be savored. Each moment is full of possibility, a wealth of opportunity. Some moments may even contain a little danger since life can be unpredictable with variables that are out of our hands. But if we trust that the Lord of All Creation is with us on the journey throughout this life, then we know that the "there and back again" adventures of our lives are full of gift and insight, even if we get a few bruises and endure much suffering along the way. When we return home again, we can enjoy the second breakfast, the pipe and blowing of smoke rings, the warm hearth, and especially our dearest friends and family, that much more. We even might enjoy a "fish-tale" or two, but always in the perspective that it is all Gift.
The journey does not end at our earthly dwelling however, no matter how cozy our personal "hobbit-hole" may be. Like Bilbo, the journey goes ever on. We are not fully at home until we are home with our Father in Heaven. But while here, we should never lose our "wanderlust" because our ultimate journey is still in progress. In truth the journey is an inner one, not necessarily one in which we pack our ponies (or camels, whatever the case may be) and go through the woods and over hill and dale. It is a journey with and to God. That is the beauty of it. He comes with us on our journey! He may be in disguise sometimes, but He is there guiding, protecting, comforting, and teaching. But unless we leave the comfort zone of our dwellings, so to speak, we will not find the true richness we find in Him on this journey. The epiphany is what happens on the way home. And it is oh, so beautiful!
May we have the courage to make the journey of life, knowing that it reveals many truths and bears many gifts! May we have the courage to make the inner journey which is the truest journey, home to where the Lord dwells in the depths of our heart! May we have a growing sense of gratitude for all those loved ones who are our true treasures and who bear the greatest gifts offered to us from God! And may we know we are never alone because we are accompanied from start to finish by the One Whom We Seek! May we continue to meet at the foot of the Manger, with the Holy Family during the remainder of this season of Christmas! Joyous Journeying! Peace!
Photos: I took the top one in Ireland on a typical Irish morning in which the mists were just starting to dissipate. This is a tip of my hat to the Misty Mountains of The Lord of the Rings.
The second photo is a reminder to stop and smell the roses! :)
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