Monday, December 19, 2011

Hope in the Face of Death?

Earlier, I coined the word Ennuim to describe the spiritual dimension of the Control-F Generation. Basically, it has been my observation that there is a pervasive weariness and cynicism within this generation of students that I find surprising. There seems to be a general lack of wonder and awe, accompanied by an apathy toward the future. So conditioned is this generation that they seek the security of the 'right' answer rather than risk failure with a novel or innovative approach to a question. They are, as a general rule, extraordinarily risk-averse: if they are not assured of success, then it is better not even to bother lest one fail.

Perhaps this might be illustrated cinematically. Below is a short clip from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I apologize for the commercial at the beginning, but please suffer through it to get to the clip.

Let me offer some brief commentary to set the stage for the unfamiliar. Theoden, King of Rohan, has sought refuge in the mountain fortress of the Hornburg at Helm's Deep. 10,000 of the evil wizard Saruman's forces lay siege to the fortress and quickly the defenses fail. As you will see in the clip, the human forces have retreated into the heart of the fortress and the foe is, quite literally, battering down the door.

The humans face odds stacked infinitely against them. Allow me to propose that the two main figures here - the King of Rohan and Aragorn - are separated not by skill with a weapon or even courage but, simply, by the presence of Hope. It is the hope Aragorn has in the promise made by Gandalf that inflames his courage; it is Hope that pierces the veil of darkness and serves to enkindle the hearts of those around him. It is his knowledge of Hope that enables him to take the risk you will see momentarily, the risk to face the enemy despite the near-certainty of annihilation.

It is undoubted that teaching in an all-boy environment influences my choice in film clips, but I hope you can see something of the distinction between the Ennuim and the Anawim.

The Ennuim, captured so well by the King of Rohan, proclaims that "it is over." Despite the efforts of those around him, he is without hope. Death and devastation, coupled with reckless hate, clouds his vision. Hope would seem a fool's fancy rather than the spark that could shift the tide of a battle. The King of Rohan is world-weary, overwhelmed by numbers and odds, statistics and human calculation. Why not simply accept fate rather than fighting against the "inevitable"?

The Anawim finds personification in Aragorn. "Ride out with me...ride out and meet them." With the rising of the sun, with the dark night's ceding to morning's light, Hope has not yet been vanquished in his heart. An old wizard's promise still echoes in his heart, yet the shape this promise will take is as yet unseen. Success seems impossible, defeat appears inevitable. Nevertheless, Hope penetrates and prompts action. Instead of accepting death, Aragorn is roused to rally those around him and meet the enemy head-on. He has no appreciable army, no power in numbers, no magic sword. He has only Hope and the courage to Risk.

My friends, the Ennuim are not a lost cause. Far from it! They need to be roused from the darkness, taken out from behind computer screens and drawn into action. Parents and teachers need to encourage them to take risks, to have courage, and to experience the thrill that is Hope.

Now, more than ever, is the Christian message salient. It is the belief of the Christian that our lives are meaningful, that it is not a meaning we have put onto this but, rather, a meaning that has been placed their by the Author of Creation. The Hope that is aroused by the Good News does not force us into self-constructed fortresses. Quite to the contrary, it sounds in the deep and gives us the strength to throw ourselves into the fray.

1 comment:

matthewgalway said...

"No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do [building the Kingdom of God]."

-Dorothy Day