One of the elements of Tolkien’s books that made a deep impact on me were the pages of the story that described, home. I dug into Middle Earth as an escape after my parent’s divorce and the subsequent troubles that descended on our small world. C.S. Lewis used a german word called: “Sehnsucht” to describe what we often feel reading such narratives. It’s a difficult word to translate into English, it’s close to our word “nostalgia, melancholy, wonder or yearning. It’s basically a word that captures that inner sense of displacement, longing or ache.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, there is a chapter in the Fellowship of the Ring that introduces the enigmatic characters of Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry. I’d like to focus on Goldberry and her homemaking, singing, cooking and care. Here’s some of the rich narrative, packed full of nurturing and numinous imagery:
“I am Goldberry, daughter of the River.”
“Then another clear voice, as young and as ancient as Spring, like the song of a glad water flowing down into the night from a bright morning in the hills, came falling like silver to meet them:
“Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather,
Light on the budding leaf, dew on the feather,
Wind on the open hill, bells on the heather,
Reeds by the shady pool, lilies on the water:
Old Tom Bombadil and the River-daughter!”
And with that song the hobbits stood upon the threshold, and a golden light was all about them.
‘Enter, good guests!’ she said, and as she spoke they knew that it was her clear voice they had heard singing. They came a few timid steps further into the room, and began to bow low, feeling strangely surprised and awkward, like folk that, knocking at a cottage door to beg for a drink of water, have been answered by a fair young elf-queen clad in living flowers. But before they could say anything, she sprang lightly up and over the lily-bowls, and ran laughing towards them; and as she ran her gown rustled softly like the wind in the flowering borders of a river.
‘Come dear folk!’ she said, taking Frodo by the hand. ‘Laugh and be merry! I am Goldberry, daughter of the River.’ Then lightly she passed them and closing the door she turned her back to it, with her white arms spread out across it. ‘Let us shut out the night!’ she said. ‘For you are still afraid, perhaps, of mist and tree-shadows and deep water, and untame things. Fear nothing! For tonight you are under the roof of Tom Bombadil.’
Before long, washed and refreshed, the hobbits were seated at the table, two on each side, while at either end sat Goldberry and the Master. It was a long and merry meal. Though the hobbits ate, as only famished hobbits can eat, there was no lack. The drink in their drinking-bowls seemed to be clear cold water, yet it went to their hearts like wine and set free their voices. The guests became suddenly aware that they were singing merrily, as if it was easier and more natural than talking.”
-The Fellowship of the Ring, LOTR Book 1, Ch 7, In the House of Tom Bombadil
We live in a day when these ancient silver threads Tolkien wove through his story are under appreciated, ignored, maligned or trivialized with modern distractions, conceptions and contraptions. The deep, nourishing waters of place, experience and homemaking are often substituted with malnourishment replacements, meaningless substitutes or empty pursuits.
My prayer and hope is that in the latter years of my life, the songs sung by Tom and Goldberry would be heard swirling around our table. That the ministry of presence and place would be a refuge of light, love, laughter and learning to hungry, frightened and tired adventurers. That people would find their ‘voices’ among us and ‘singing merrily’ would be effortless and natural as they gather under our roof. May the word ‘home’ be a word that easily slips off the tongue of stranger, friend and family alike.
“Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, Sovereign Lord, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.” -2 Samuel 7:28-29