Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

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The prospects for those of us who care about the Permanent Things in America these days seem rather dark. Electorally, Tuesday’s victories for Terry McAuliffe and Bill de Blasio don’t bode well for the longterm vitality of Virginia or New York. Ms. Clinton seems to be lurking in the wings for a presidential bid in 2016. Culturally, much of the nation still seems to wish to comment on Miley Cyrus’s antics. And the dream of genuinely free and open societies that respect religious freedom is threatened, both in the United States and around the world.

This week I’ve taken heart from the lovely eight lines of poetry that J.R.R. Tolkien inserts into Gandalf’s letter to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring:

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

It’s a tremendously defiant and brave statement of light shining in the darkness. It expresses the same resilient part of the human spirit that led Alexandr Solzhenitsyn to plan for his masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago, while in a  Soviet labor camp, Nelson Mandela to memorize “Invictus” during his 27-year imprisonment by a racist regime, and Olivier Messiaen to compose “Quartet for the End of Time” from a Nazi concentration camp.

Tolkien’s poem—along with Mark 9:24—helped me cling to the hope of re-finding faith during a period of deep doubt three years ago. It’s a wonderful reminder that there is grace, enough for every person and every people—even Luke Foster and even twenty-first century Americans.