Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary
by Andrew Meyer
One of the greatest scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is when a wizened old man turns to face a shadowy demon on a narrow tongue of stone called the Bridge of Khazad-dum. The Fellowship has just raced across the bridge, trying to escape the menacing figure, hell bent on destroying them. All except Gandalf, who instead turns to face the demon alone. He tells it, “You cannot pass.”
“The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell… the balrog made no answer. The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped forward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm” (Tolkien, Lord of the Rings).
Gandalf turns around and challenges the creature because he knows the truth: he must face the balrog, and he must stop the balrog, or his friends bearing the fate of the world on their shoulders will die, and with them will all of Middle-earth. He also knows that he is the only one among the company who can stop it. And he knows that whether he loses his life or not is irrelevant – the creature cannot go on. Period.
I think about how easy it could have been for Gandalf to give up the fight. Wouldn’t it have been easier to give up? When I look around at the culture of death that surrounds me, sometimes the temptation can get very strong. What can one small person do in a world so bent on doing everything in its power to destroy itself?
For me, Gandalf provides the answer: “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.”
Sometimes, the daily grind of seminary life can feel very small, very insignificant, and very ordinary. It doesn’t match the heroic aspirations that one might think of when one thinks of priesthood, the liturgy, and sacrifice. But, in one sense, the daily grind of seminary life, or any form that your life has taken, can truly be great deeds when they are done for Christ.
“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love” (2 Tim. 1:7). Gandalf provides me with two inspiring things in the episode with the balrog. The first is that he stands in the breach, fulfills his duties, and saves the company. But the second is what allows him to do this heroic deed, and that is his love for the company and the loyalty with which he carries out his task. He did not reach the point of willing to stand in the breach for his friends in an instant. He reached it through the countless acts of selfless giving, and through this, his ultimate death to self was not so difficult for him. He had already died to himself by continuously placing the will of others before him in his ordinary life.
So, in the daily ins and outs of life, I realize that it is not a matter of heroic duties nor gigantic clashes against the power of darkness in a tangible way. It’s a matter, rather, of finding the extraordinary love of God in a very ordinary heart, and understanding that his will is greater than mine. He is preparing me so that when the time comes to challenge the culture of death head on, I am prepared through the extraordinary gift of his love to me.
Meyer is a Pre-Theology I seminarian at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md.
Editor’s Note: Seminarian Life is a monthly column written by current Diocese of Fargo seminarians. It gives New Earth readers a glimpse of what these discerning young men are experiencing. Please continue to pray for them.