He no longer knew the day. There was no more separation between the sweet, calm of morning light and the creeping fingers of night. All had turned to the grey ooze of nothingness. For him there was only the long, unending dark of time’s unwieldy march onward, onward, ever onward – the relentlessness of burning necessity. All that once was had thrust its long, oily arm down his parched throat and wrenched from him all remaining strength. Hope was but a word, void of substance, reality’s parody of happier men in better days.

Or so it seemed.

There was another; a soul knit to him not by mere chance, but by sheer devotion. It was the kind of centripetal friendship known only among the angels and those about to face their doom. The lostness of his friend only served to drive deeper the tent peg of determination into the heart of this one whose sole purpose was to keep a promise of shared horizons in common sojourn; to be his companion on the dark journey.


I am speaking of course of the intimate friendship of two hobbits from the Shire on their way to the dark places of the earth. To Frodo, Sam acted as a rudder to his often-drifting ship, one minute finding safe harbor only to be yet again thrust out to the merciless winds of destiny. There is a solidity in Sam, someone who faced many of the same trials and dangers but who allowed Frodo to consistently rise above his circumstances and claim his mission. He was friend and encourager, acting as scribe and bard to the stories amassing between them.

Earlier in my career I encountered an existential crisis of epic proportions. One man saw me coming a mile away. He seemed to understand this crisis along with the naïveté and emotional insecurity I had brought with me to my new ministry. While others berated me, he would buy me lunch and just listen. He would sit, often for hours at a time, saying precious little as I fell apart, shamelessly blubbering in public. He saw me not in my role. He saw me. I hadn’t even a language to properly define this friendship. All I knew was that he had become a lifeline for me. He had become without me really even knowing it, an anam cara; a spiritual companion – my Samwise Gamgee.

Says Henri Nouwen, America’s beloved priest, “We have probably wondered in our many lonesome moments if there is one corner in this competitive, demanding world where it is safe to be relaxed, to expose ourselves to someone else, and to give unconditionally. It might be very small and hidden, but if this corner exists, it calls for a search through the complexities of our human relationships in order to find it.” Thankfully, I did not have to look for it. It found me.

One cannot define spiritual friendship. One must experience it.

My friend once said something I have never forgotten: “It’s okay to be weak right now. Climb on my back and I’ll carry you.” On the slopes of my own Mt. Doom, the last thing I needed was clever theology, well-reasoned arguments, clichés or Hallmark spirituality. I needed a friend stronger than I with the perspective and truth to carry me to the place where all that bred darkness could be cast into the fire and new life could emerge.

I enjoyed a true spiritual friendship, even if at the time I had little understanding of such things. Frodo knew what it was to be carried by another. I, too, know this experience.

Now, in much more spacious surroundings, I seek to be that small corner where another can climb on my shoulders and be carried to new places of light and hope where Mordor’s blackness must ultimately succumb to God’s peaceful Shire.


Picture found here

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Robert Alan Rife

Robert Rife, M.A., minister of worship and music for Yakima Covenant Church (formerly Westminster Presbyterian) in Yakima, Washington, is a self-proclaimed book-nerd-word-herder, multi-instrumentalist (including Highland Bagpipes!), singer-songwriter, studio musician, choral director, poet, and liturgist. He maintains two personal blogs: Innerwoven and Robslitbits. He also blogs at Conversations Journal. Robert describes his vocation as exploring those places where life, liturgy, theology, and the arts intersect with and promote spiritual formation.

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