Saturday, March 2, 2013

There Really is a Tree

Why would anyone work as hard as Tolkien did on his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings? 

“Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished; its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and yet had so often failed to catch.  He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide.  ‘It is a gift!’ he said.”

And so Niggle's grand vision, of which he had only been able to produce a fraction, completed itself in the land he arrived in after death.  Tolkien, like my father, believed gifts were from God, and so every great endeavor had an eternal quality to it.  And as Keller writes, “…every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever…"  

I'm not sure how much my father consciously understood about this matter, but I believe this is why he continued to build a boat.  He was a devout man, and understood calling, gift and vocation within a Christian context.  If he didn't completely understand the dynamic, he surely 'got' it in some part of himself.  Somehow our work, and how we do it, matters forever.         

“Niggle was assured that the tree he had ‘felt and guessed’ was ‘a true part of creation’ and that even the small bit of it he had unveiled to people on earth had been a vision of the True.”

Tolkien too believed his work mattered forever, and so he wrote.  And this little gem of a story unblocked him to complete his masterpiece.  He understood he only got a leaf, but that leaf was necessary for the tree. 

What is your leaf?!  

And you understand your leaf and your job may not be the same thing, right?!  Your leaf is what you were born to do; your job supports you maybe, so you can produce your leaf.   

“Artists and entrepreneurs can identify very readily with Niggle.  They work from visions, often very big ones, of a world they can uniquely imagine.  Few realize even a significant percentage of their vision, and even fewer claim to have come close…

“But really—everyone is Niggle.  Everyone imagines accomplishing things, and everyone finds him or herself largely incapable of producing them.”

Whatever our work, we don’t always succeed, do we?  We start out to build a boat, write a book, build a city, find the cure for cancer, or overturn a social injustice.  Then we encounter the snags, the shipwrecks, the life-altering stuff and the minutiae.  We are ground to a halt, disillusioned, and have yet to fill out our tax returns.  The water heater goes, the gas prices rise, and we have to put our aging parents in nursing homes.  In between we may hammer a nail, write a new poem, or bake some cookies.  Occasionally we may feel we produced something of value. And then we get laid off. 

But it's worth it.  Isn’t this the stuff of life?  Maybe we only get to do a leaf, but do a leaf. 
Because there really is a Tree.

There is a future healed world that [God] will bring about, and your work is showing it (in part) to others.”—Keller

(Excerpts taken from Every Good Endeavor.)

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