No, this is not a review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, although I will take this opportunity to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, enough to see it twice. Look, if the ambivalent hype has made you skittish about seeing it, just remember that you’ll be in the capable hands of Peter Jackson. Has he ever let you down before (at least when it comes to Tolkien material)? And if you start getting cold feet during the lengthy prologue, just stick it out a bit longer, and you’ll spend the rest of the movie in the charming company of the absolutely delightful Martin Freeman. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Actually, the title of this post is a reference to a post called “Returning” that I wrote nearly a year ago. It was mostly about the themes of restoration and homecoming as they appear in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I didn’t know it then, of course, but those themes in general, along with the story of the prodigal son, ended up being prominent in my mental and spiritual landscape throughout 2012.
For example, there was the David Crowder Band’s epic two-disc farewell album, Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in c [the happiest of all keys]). In a year that saw the release of some great albums, this was one of my favorites, not only because I love a good requiem (Mozart’s is wonderful), but also because so many of the songs are on that theme of returning, which is one way of looking at the death of a saint. In fact, one of the songs is called “A Return,” and it mainly consists of the repeated lyric “the son has come home/we’re rejoicing.” I usually just call it “the prodigal son song.”
Then I read Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. (FYI: I’ve read all of his novels now except for Barnaby Rudge, which I plan to read soon. Perhaps a Dickens mega-review when I’m finished?) Of the many memorable characters in that novel, the one who haunted me the longest after I finished reading was Charlie Hexam, a prodigal son who never returns. Dickens characters usually get some sort of closure; they may come to a good end or a bad end, but the point is that they come to an end. Charlie doesn’t. After he formally renounces his family, he disappears into the bureaucratic machine of the Victorian educational system, and we never hear from him again. It may be a minor plot line, but I read it as a frightening cautionary tale.
After I had been thinking about these themes for a while, I got the opportunity to teach a month of lessons in the 5th-6th grade girls’ Awana club I was volunteering in at the time. One night, I decided to tell the story of the prodigal son and focus on the older son, who’s just as lost as his little pig-slopping brother. Lo and behold, the issue of Christianity Today that I received that very day included a reflection on that very topic, and I was able to incorporate the author’s thoughts into my lesson.
These things may not seem like a big deal, but they provided something like mental background music for me all year. I even wrote a little poem in October about the different types of prodigal sons. It would be nice if I could provide examples of the way that this theme affected my life in visible ways, but I’m not sure if that happened. Or maybe I won’t be able to see that it happened until I get some distance from 2012.
There’s a Bible verse that keeps popping into my mind because it has the word “returning” in it, but it also has four other major nouns. The verse is Isaiah 30:15, in which God, “the Holy One of Israel,” says to his people, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” It’s too early to say, but maybe one of those other nouns will become my theme for 2013. I know that rest and confidence, in particular, are things I want more of, and nobody’s keeping them from me but me.
This post has been more self-reflective (you might say navel-gazing) than I usually like to be on this blog. So let’s make this a conversation–do you ever choose or discover a theme for a given period of time in your life? I would love to hear some of them (and possibly borrow one from you).