It was a sinister feeling, foreboding, eerie, like the clenched throat and stomach you had when you were awash in your first scary campfire story. The tension was mounting about some story of a severed hand which was never found. That tidbit of information was beautifully wound into the factional account that the very place where the flames of the fire leapt into the oblivion of the night just happened to be the last place the severed hand was spotted before it used it’s bloody digits to crawl off into the darkness of the night. Then…"Shazam!" a hand appears from nowhere and screams engulf the night sky!

That was the feeling that settled over me like a mist when I saw Sam, Bilbo and Smeagle at the Gates of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. The journey to Mordor was hard enough, but now a new courage was required of our reluctant heros.

The Dark Lord Sauron’s massive eye was ablaze atop the tower looking…searching…hungry. My first thought was, “man, don’t go in there, that’s nuts!” But in “there” beyond the great gate into the desolate plains of Mordor was the point of the quest, the conclusion, or at least, the next destination.

I have often felt that my soul is a very real depiction of the phantasmal Middle earth. The journey to the center of the soul, to deal with realm of Mordor, to dethrone the Dark Lord of myself who rules with an eye always wary, always watching, protective of what might be lost or exposed.

Truth be told, I think we long to dethrone the powers that rule the Mordor of our souls…we journey towards a God-centric life. We have adventures along the way that seem dangerous, risky, and life giving. There is change in the journey, and the goal of allowing Christ to destroy all the darkness within us through His light and truth propel us when we are tired, angry, lost and unsure.

But then we stand gazing at the massive gates that lead to Mordor. We cast our eyes out across the desolate and seemingly endless desert that stretches depressingly towards that burning eye in the center.

Our feet tremble a bit and then stop. “Do I really want to go there?” “Am I really ready for this last push?” “Is this really necessary, doesn’t God love me the way I am?” The civil war begins inside as the eye searches out our weakness.

All of the other roads we had traveled, though hard, were familiar. I could use the tools I had to survive, improvise, astound and move forward. Yet here, in this place, each trail was unknown, every hill seemingly insurmountable. None of the tools in my kit worked…this is a new desert, a very different desert unlike any land I had ever seen.

Darkness covered everything removing my courage the way an extinguished candle’s smoke races towards an opening. Where am I? Who am I?

St. John of the Cross calls this “The Dark Night of the Soul.” When we come into full contact with who we are, the same way Isaiah did when he was in the throne room of the Almighty. When he got a glimpse of the holy, he saw how unholy he was, he saw how powerfully the Dark Lord Sauron of Self ruled his interior.

The Dark night comes upon you when you have been on a journey, a purposeful journey, of knowing God. Not just doing the religious thing, the church thing, or the right thing, but doing the surrender thing.

When we truly engage the journey of following Jesus we will end up standing before many gates that lead to a place that Jesus longs to cleanse, free, and rule in the Middle earth of our souls. Each new gate, and each new dark night has its own level of foreboding attached to it. Each new dark night opens the gate to a new desert you have never traveled and the tools that got you through the last desert may not be effective in the new one.

Yet one thing remains the same…surrender…trust…light…not trust in some generic god that is here one day and gone the next. Not a weak hope that things will turn out okay in the end…Not a self manufactured light that is unable to shine into the darkest of places. Not a surrender that can easily be negotiated out of when the road is hard.

No, it takes the living Christ, illuminating a path that seems impossible to you in a land that is foreign to you on a journey that seems avoidable. Trusting that no matter how dark it gets on your journey, no matter how bad you look, how battered your body, in your heart you know God will never reject or abandon you. On this journey we surrender our plans and routes regardless of outcome, knowing God is with us.

Most turn around at the gate and never experience the journey to dethrone the king of self that rules over Mordor…and the same never experience the depths of love and light that come from facing those deep fears and going forward in the power, strength and person of Jesus Christ.

There is a reason your old skills and tools don’t seem to help much in this new land. If they did, you would not need Jesus, and until we fully grasp that apart from Christ I can do nothing, the Dark Lord of Self will always remain.

He is okay with some small victories here and there, but to loose the kingdom is where the battle truly kicks up. This happens when we burst through the gates intent on moving forward…dealing honestly with what we see in the recesses of our heart.

The only way we can ever get here, to face what comes out of the darkness, is to hold tightly to Christ, clinging to Him as if he were holding onto us as we dangled over an endless ravine.

If you find yourself at the gates sometime soon…go for it, you will never be the same!

Remember the brightest light comes after the darkest night. God is not done with you yet, let Him move you to the deeper life found only in Him, and when Mordor falls…you’ll be ready for the next adventure!

Dei Gratia

1 Comment

  1. Mordor… man. I’ve stood at the gates so many times, it feels like a ritual. And is it worth it? I think I always answer that question too quickly. There is pain, and the enormity of the task seems so vast and impossible. It’s reflex, mostly I answer, “of course not.” Just to get to the place where I can stand and question the value of the journey feels like an achievement. But then inexplicably there are those occasions when I move even beyond my own expectations and find that (like Frodo and Sam) I’ve somehow taken a back way. When i look at my life I see how God often took me through very challenging places in my heart, rooms with draped furniture and dust hanging in the air, where old wounds are remembered and cling like webs; “how did I get here,” I remember wondering when, as a twenty-one year old, I mourned for the first time my grandmother’s death from eight years previous. Somehow I move through these galleries that have long been shut and think, “Thank God I had a guide,” where secret passages made it possible to reach places whose doors I would have been unable to approach. Places where I harbor memories of my Dad telling me I was too sensitive, or too fat. So many stories, so many gates that lead towards the eye of sauron.
    I think Uganda made me realize, it IS worth it. There is so much good to be done in the world, and it isn’t the lessening of statistics, it’s the uplifting on wings the child whose parents have died of aids, or the education of a girl who believes for the first time that she is worth more than how the boys talk about her in gym class. So that helps get me to the gate, and through it, more often. There are still days, however, when the eye seems to find me too quickly.

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