Thursday, January 18, 2018

I Have a Dream 

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalms 37:4).

Forty years ago I read J.R.R. Tolkien's short story "Leaf By Niggle" for the first time and was strangely moved by it, though at first I didn't know why. I've since read it a half-dozen times or more and each time have experienced a sudden awareness of truth, especially now that I'm much closer to my own long journey.

In the story, an artist named Niggle, longs to finish an enormous canvas of a great Tree in the middle of a forest. He invests each leaf of his Tree with obsessive attention to detail, making every one uniquely beautiful. Niggle ends up discarding all his other artworks, or tacks them onto the main canvas, which becomes a single embodiment of his dream—a dream he longs to complete before he takes his long journey.

But, despite Niggle’s efforts to accomplish the task, his crippled neighbor, Parish—who calls on him for help at the most inopportune times— endlessly interrupts him. At one point Niggle has to sacrifice part of his canvas to patch Parish’s leaking roof and this, along with other distractions, frustrates his great work—until he takes his long journey and reaches his final destination. There “before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide. ‘It's a gift!’ he said. He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but he was using the word quite literally.”

In the end Niggle is rewarded with the realization (the making-real) of his great dream
,[2] a far better thing than the flawed and incomplete form of his own desires.

Perhaps you too have a wondrous dream—a holy task to be completed before you take your long journey—but interruptions and distractions continually frustrate you. Be encouraged. “The Lord will perfect that which concerns (you)” (Psalm 138:8). Delight yourself in the Lord this day and he, in good time, will “make real” your desire—in this life, perhaps, or surely in the life to come, where all our dreams come true.

David Roper

[1]The story is largely autobiographical, reflecting Tolkien's absorption with finishing The Lord of the Rings in the midst of constant interruption. In a letter to a friend he wrote: "I should say that, in addition to my tree-love—the story was originally called "The Tree"—it arose from my own pre-occupation with TLOR, the knowledge that it would be finished in great detail or not at all, and the fear (near certainty) that it would be 'not at all.'"

[2] Or, if you prefer, Niggle's Tree was ultimate reality and always existed; he simply reflected it in 

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