Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fool of a Took!

There's a scene in The Fellowship of the Ring, after the Fellowship has entered the Mines of Moria and found Balin's tomb. As they read from the book and learn how the dwarves released an ancient evil that had been locked in the earth, the hobbit Peregrine Took pokes at a corpse near a vertical air shaft or well. The corpse's helmeted head rolls off into the shaft, followed by the body of the corpse, a chain, and a bucket at the end of the chain. The whole thing bounces noisily off the walls of the shaft, deeper and deeper into the mine. With each loud clang, the members of the Fellowship wince, until Gandalf, looking directly at the hobbit, snarls, "Fool of a Took!"

The scene leaps to mind whenever somebody does something stupid, and it leaps to my mind today because of the non-Gospel readings. Proverbs 9:6 tells us, "Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding." And St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:15, "Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity because the days are evil."

We are, it seems, surrounded by foolishness, and all to often we find ourselves infected by it to a greater or lesser degree. As we advance in scientific understanding, we become tempted to wield the power, much as those in the Lord of the Rings were tempted to wield the power of the one ring. There are some who would compromise, intending to wield the power only so long as it is needed to defeat evil. They have good and noble intentions, but they underestimate the corrupting influence of the power. There are others who have given themselves over entirely to the desire to wield the power. For them, "the science" is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. If we have the technology to do something, then we should do it. To them, sacrificing a generation of human embryos is a small price to pay for bio-engineering a superior race. Such fools seek to understand how the world works, but neglect to consider why.

There are other fools who claim to be trying to understand the why of human behavior, but in practice do little more than try to justify aberrant behavior. People act the way they act, they will say, because they can't help it. Those who follow their advice end up embracing destructive behaviors, and then wonder why their lives are so messed up. Uninhibited pleasure does not lead to happiness. Pleasure can, in fact, lead us away from happiness. A married man might find pleasure in the affections of a woman other than his wife. That pleasure leads to unhappiness as his marriage falls apart.

We, however, are called to seek wisdom. Wisdom, we are told, begins with fear of the Lord. That doesn't mean that the wise are cowering in fear before a vengeful deity. It means that we are to have a healthy perspective regarding who we are and what God is. "Were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth?" (Job38:4) We are creatures, he is our creator. Paradoxically, the world often sees the wisdom of God as foolishness. Suffering and sacrifice, in the eyes of the world, are evils to be avoided. Yet, God the Father sacrificed his own Son through suffering for our sake, that we might become sons and daughters of God.

We are to live our lives, not as foolish persons with only the standards of the world in mind, but as fools for God, prepared to be mocked by the worldly. The world will tell us to eat, drink, and be merry. We have to be prepared to remain sober. When the world laughs, we must be prepared to mourn. And yet we are still struck with the paradox that through it all, the love of Christ must fill us to that we radiate a certain joy. Joy in mourning will seem perverse, indeed even foolish, to the world.

It's not easy finding the right balance, and I readily admit that I'm not there. But I'm working on it. Repentance, conversion, and confession are regular events for me, and I suspect that they will be until the day that I die. I don't know why God made us this way - it is beyond my understanding. But I refuse to allow my oft-demonstrated personal weakness become an excuse for foolish behavior. Rather, I will seek Wisdom's house and "try to understand what is the will of the Lord." May God grant me the grace and the gifts (wisdom, knowledge, understanding, right judgment, courage, piety, and wonder) necessary for me to live as I ought, as is fitting for a believer. Let me not appear before Him at the end of my life and hear the words "Fool of a Took!"

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