Spiritual Lessons from The Lord of the Rings: Be Like Sam!

In “The Lord of the Rings”, Sam is a Hobbit of many virtues. His example can teach us to have hope, even in the darkest of times.

This is the third (and, I think, last) in a series post on Spiritual Lessons from The Lord of the Rings. For a bit more background, see the previous posts, “Don’t Be Like Denethor!” andListen to Gandalf!”

Of all the characters so artfully drawn in The Lord of the Rings, Sam could seem the most unlikely source of inspiration. He is not a lordly ruler like Denethor or a powerful and mysterious wizard like Gandalf. Sam is a simple Hobbit. Even among Hobbits, he is seemingly of little account. Frodo was the brave ring bearer. Pippin and Merry become warriors. Sam begins as a gardener and works his way up to be Frodo’s servant. He is drawn into the epic adventure only because he is conscripted after he is caught eavesdropping on a private conversation.

Yet we are well-advised to attend to Sam’s virtues. He is brave and loyal. He is a steadfast and true friend. Sam does what needs to be done even when it is not what he wants to do, and even when it places him in grave danger. Though seemingly simple, he is drawn to beauty and the numinous. Sam never gives up. He always presses forward. He knows there is good in the world and that it is worth fighting to preserve it.

Sam has one more virtue, which may be the fruit of all the others: Hope. That is what caught my attention as I was re-reading The Lord of the Rings.  A particular passage caught my attention and stuck with me. Sam and Frodo are in the heart of Mordor, Evil’s realm. The landscape is befouled. Enemies surrounded them. They know that there is no path back for them, even if they should succeed in destroying the Ring of Power. While Sam stands watch so that Frodo might sleep, he has this insight:

Far above the Ephel Dúath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Given where we find ourselves today, with government shut-downs, sheltering in place, economic uncertainty, and ever-mounting numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths, it is easy to lose hope. We can forget that our “Shadow” is only a small and passing thing and that there is light and beauty forever beyond the shadow’s reach.

Hope, as we use it here, does not mean “wish,” as in “I hope to see Paris one day” or “I hope you feel better soon.” In Christian thought, hope has a deeper, more solid meaning. It is one of the three Christian virtues, along with Faith and Love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13). Our hope looks forward with expectancy, knowing that our Father loves us and that he is in control. Hope combines our desire to be cherished and cared for by God, with faith that it is so. We know that things may not go the way we would like them to, but our Hope is the God who loves us. It is our expectation of Good winning out in the end.

As much as we are able, try to be like Sam. It is easy to see the darkness; any newscast will show us how grim and fraught with danger our time is. But we can allow beauty and love to smite our hearts. Spend time with God not only asking for our safety and security but also asking to see his beauty and to know, deep in our hearts, his love for us. As Sam, looking up from the darkness around him, perceived beauty and hope and thereby found peace, we too, by shifting our gaze away from our darkness and looking instead at God’s goodness, love, and beauty, can find peace for our souls.

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