“For wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring” makes it very clear: companionship on the journey is important, and can be crucial. I am re-reading Tolkien’s epic masterpiece—I’ve lost track of how often I’ve delved between its covers—and Kim and I are re-watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD.
The timing was perfect as I contemplated today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew.
In the book, the wizard Gandalf has advised the hobbit, Frodo Baggins, that he must leave his beloved Shire and take the One Ring with him to prevent it from falling into the clutches of the evil Sauron. With that ring, Sauron could destroy all goodness and rule Middle Earth, enslaving all in a great, evil darkness.
The Shire is something of a paradise. No apples have been eaten off the tree of knowledge there. And Hobbits retain much of the innocence of childhood throughout their lives.
The odyssey Frodo ultimately undertakes—journeying into Sauron’s stronghold of Mordor to try and destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mt. Doom—places him in constant and grave peril.
But, Gandalf makes certain that Frodo does not travel into the wilds alone. A trusted friend, Sam Gamgee, will remain at his side through the thickest thicks and the thinnest of thins.
I believe that Jesus had the same thing in mind when he told his disciples that “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” God doesn’t want us to be wrapped in shrouds of loneliness and Jesus knows that.
It is interesting to observe that by removing the letter L in lonely it becomes “one-ly” and loneliness becomes “one-liness.” But that is what being lonely and loneliness literally are—having nobody but ourselves, being one, alone.
Too much “one-liness” and being too often “one-ly” can have the same effect as the One Ring would have in Sauron’s hands—it can ensnare us in a kind of emotional and spiritual darkness. We fall too easily prey to anxiety, fear and doubt. Obstacles along the way can seem insurmountable and there is nobody with whom we can share our moments of joy.
Jesus is encouraging us to open our hearts to fellowship and companionship as we journey through life. I most definitely believe that the Holy Spirit of Jesus and the love and grace of God come to us in moments of solitude. Prayer, for example, is most often a solitary act and Jesus, remember, would often go off to a lonely—or “one-ly”—place to pray and re-gather his strength.
But Jesus would always return to the fellowship of his disciples.
His example is worth following. Thankfully, none of us has to travel through Mordor to Mt. Doom and save the world by destroying the One Ring. But we each encounter challenges, opportunities, obstacles and joys across our lifetime. How much better it is, in all respects, to have companions by our side on the journey. And to feel our companionship ending the loneliness of others along the way.