Over the past few years, I have explored many new worlds through fiction, poetry, and my own special brand of doubt. My personal library has more than tripled in size, and I copy long, important passages from beloved books into my journals to capture the beauty of perfectly-turned phrases. But I must place credit where credit is due: this personal revolution was launched by movies.
It was October 2011, and I was in Colorado with others who were, like me, planning to spend a significant amount of time overseas as missionaries. My five weeks did not get off to a stellar start: my plane sat on the tarmac in my home city for over two hours before finally taxiing to the runway, and I subsequently missed my connecting flight AND all the introductions as the training got underway. When I entered the classroom the next morning, everybody else already knew each other – and that only served to feed my already-heightened introvert sense of intimidation. The first two weeks passed in a blur – mostly of watching my mouth in a mirror as I attempted to form sounds completely foreign to one born and raised with American English. Not everyone who attended the first two weeks would be staying on for the last three, so after goodbyes, the 15 of us remaining found ourselves looking at each other with a whole weekend of uninterrupted “bonding” ahead of us.
After lunch, a walk to the lake, and a trip to Walmart, we decided on a group activity: a movie marathon. But not just any movie marathon. We had three nights before the newbies arrived for the next phase of our training, so a series of three made sense. And so it was that The Lord of the Rings entered my life.
I always remembered my dad saying he’d had nightmares after reading The Lord of the Rings, and that was all the explanation given for why J. R. R. Tolkien was not even permitted in the house. Since the rest of my companions had already seen the movies – multiple times – they kindly agreed to tell me when it would be wise to cover my eyes. Looking back, I see just how much love and grace went into that movie marathon. I see how I must have looked to my friends: I was frightened of my own shadow, finding demons where none existed, and fearful that I might forfeit my soul to the occult by watching the wrong movie.
How little I knew of grace.
But in a show of amazing love, not only did we watch all three movies together, but my dear friends managed to watch without giving away what was going to happen! They let me experience The Lord of the Rings with brand-new eyes. They laughed with me, cried with me, and rejoiced with me as I experienced a true eucatastrophe.
I found hope. I found grace. I met the Real Jesus in The Lord of the Rings.
It would be another six months before I managed to read the complete Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but since then I have not stopped reading Tolkien’s work, each time finding anew the promises of life beyond hope, victory against all odds, and the joy of good triumphing over evil. I became a fan overnight, and the deeper I delve into Middle-earth, the more Truth I find to sustain me through dark nights and grey days. The power of story literally changed my life.