Every couple years I re-read The Hobbit for the course on Tolkien I teach. This year, I once again am grateful that Tolkien made Bilbo fifty when he began his great adventure. We are more accustomed to the adventures of the young—quests of self-discovery or initiation into adulthood. At age 64, my spirit is refreshed and challenged by Tolkien’s reminder that adventures can disrupt our comfortable hobbit lives at any time.
Like Bilbo, and most hobbits, I love my comforts: my books, the chair where I grade papers, the walk I take with the dog. I often share Bilbo’s attitude toward adventures:
We are plain and quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them. . . . We don’t want any adventures here, thank you.
Although I have this reflexive response to new ventures, there is always a part of me that longs for quest—the battle and danger.
When Bilbo discovers he is talking to Gandalf, the wizard, his adventurous (Tookish) side comes alive:
Good gracious me! Not the wandering wizard that gave Old Took a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened themselves and never came undone till ordered? Not the fellow who used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected luck of widows’ sons? Not the man that used to make such particularly excellent fireworks! I remember those!
Bilbo eventually catches himself and realizes Gandalf is also responsible for many going “into the Blue for mad adventures. He retreats: “Bless me, life used to be quite inter—I mean, you used to upset things badly in these parts once upon a time.”
This scene perfectly describes my response to the Holy Spirit’s invitations to do something new. No adventures needed here! I am comfortable! Adventures are nasty things. But then I realize it is the Holy Spirit speaking and I start to remember:
Good gracious! Not the Holy Spirit that transformed and empowered Peter at Pentecost and set all the world ablaze? Not the Holy Spirit that makes young men see visions and old men dream dreams? Not the Holy Spirit that baptized me with joy when I was sixteen? I remember Him.
And then I catch myself. The Holy Spirit does upset stuff. And honestly, sometimes there are dragons and goblins and miserable days. But all of Bilbo’s misgivings don’t matter; Gandalf has marked his door and adventure is going come knocking.
While reading this part of The Hobbit the other evening, I realized this summer Teckla and I had painted our door green like the round door on Bilbo Baggin’s hobbit-hole. Last Thursday we opened our home to a small group. None were dwarves that I could tell, and all seemed nice enough. But I know how adventures begin, so I am checking my door for marks. The Holy Spirit seems on the move. As Tolkien says of Gandalf, “Tales and adventures sprout up all over the place wherever He goes, in the most extraordinary fashion.”