Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Job 28) transports me to Tolkien’s mythical land of Middle Earth, where the fellowship of humans, hobbits, elves, and dwarves find themselves in the elvish land of Lothlorien, home of an enchanting embodiment of wisdom, the Lady Galadriel. At the beginning of the fellowship’s time in Lothlorien, there was much lamentation over the loss of their great leader Gandalf, who had fallen to the evil Balrog deep under the dwarve’s mountain in the mines of Moriah. The underground-dwelling dwarves and the woodland-dwelling elves had long been enemies in Middle Earth, so it was no surprise when one of the leaders of Lothlorien harshly criticized Gimli the dwarf for his people’s foolishness in stirring up such an evil foe. But Galadriel came to his defense, speaking kind words on his behalf. She looked upon Gimli, who sat glowering and sad, and she smiled. And the dwarf looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding. Wonder came into his face. Gimli rose clumsily and bowed in dwarf fashion, saying: “The Lady Galadriel is above all the jewels that lie beneath the earth!” The fellowship remained several days in Lothlorien, and when they parted, Galadriel bestowed special gifts on each member of the company. When she came to Gimli, she asked what gift a dwarf might ask of the elves. None, Gimli replied. It is enough for me to have seen the Lady of the Galadrim, and to have heard her gentle words. She responded, Yet surely, Gimli, you desire something that I could give? Name it, I bid you! You shall not be the only guest without a gift. Gimli bowed low and stammered, There is nothing, Lady Galadrial, nothing, unless it might be–unless it is permitted to ask, nay, to name a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine.
For me, the transformation of Gimli there in Lothlorien is one of the most profound passages in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien set up archetypal peoples such as dwarves to illustrate various aspects of our own humanity. The dwarves represented those most strongly seduced by the allure of precious gems and jewels, almost worshiping silver and gold in fetish fashion. And yet here we find one of those smithing dwarves experiencing a radical conversion, forging a new motivation and perspective on what matters most in life. Metals and minerals lost their luster in the light of Galadriel’s wisdom. Gimli became a dissenting dwarf from that point on. Which brings me to back to the passage today. Job is part of the dissenting wisdom tradition of scripture, in contrast to the book of Proverbs, the classic conventional wisdom text promising a houseful of great and rare treasures if we are good and righteous. The book of Job, much like the other dissenting wisdom book of Ecclesiastes, counters this conventional prosperity theology by contrasting the desire for gems and jewels with the desire for genuine wisdom. The inference is clear – time and energy spent mining the earth’s rare rocks is utter folly compared with time and energy we might spend mining the quarry of wisdom. The ore of wisdom is valuable beyond compare, smelted in the deep foundries of the fear of God, or as Albert Schweitzer translated it, in a deep Reverence for Life that shuns every destructive evil we might encounter. Imagine what the world would be like if the faith community truly experienced a Gimli-like transformation and invested as much ingenuity and energy mining and extracting wisdom as the world spends extracting silver and gold.
When Gimli asked for that one strand of hair, Galadriel asked him what he would do with it. Treasure it, Lady, in memory of your words to me at our first meeting. And if ever I return to the smithies of my home, it shall be an heirloom of my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days. He lost his fetish for gold and became enamored with the wisdom of good will that has the rare power to transform enemies into friends.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.