“And so at last they all came to the Last Homely House, and found its doors flung wide…
They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave. Bilbo would gladly have stopped there for ever and ever -- even supposing a wish would have taken him right back to his hobbit-hole without trouble…
His house was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Evil things did not come into that valley…
All of them, the ponies as well, grew refreshed and strong in a few days there. Their clothes were mended as well as their bruises, their tempers and their hopes. Their bags were filled with food and provisions light to carry but strong to bring them over the mountain passes. Their plans were improved with the best advice. So the time came to midsummer eve, and they were to go on again with the early sun on midsummer morning.”
- The Hobbit, A Short Rest
“There they had a supper, or a dinner, such as they had not had since they left the Last Homely House in the West and said good-bye to Elrond… All the time they ate, Beorn in his deep rolling voice told tales of the wild lands on this side of the mountain…
They sat long at the table with their wooden drinking-bowls filled with mead. The dark night came on outside. The fires in the middle of the hall were built with fresh logs and the torches were put out, and still they sat in the light of the dancing flames with the pillars of the house standing tall behind them, and dark at the top like trees of the forest…
Bilbo found that beds had already been laid at the side of the hall, on a sort of raised platform between the pillars and the outer wall… He snuggled into them very gladly, summertime though it was. The fire burned low and he fell asleep…
He would provide ponies for each of them… and he would lade them with food to last them for weeks with care, and packed so as to be as easy as possible to carry -- nuts, flour, sealed jars of dried fruits, and red earthenware pots of honey, and twice-baked cakes that would keep good for a long time, and on a little of which they could march far.."
- The Hobbit, Queer Lodgings
“Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep, or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.’ Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.”
- The Fellowship of the Ring, Many Meetings
Food and Cheer and Song
The Heroism of Life-Giving Hospitality
To the man who wrote of quaint hobbit-holes and grand kingdom halls, friendship and hospitality were valued in a heroic sense. He is often quoted, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” And oh, how true it is.
And since I am fond of taking the wisdom of Tolkien and bringing it to light in my own life (though mine is different from his in almost every way, I’ve found that his words speak of timeless truths), I would say to myself (as I am almost always writing and speaking a lesson to myself), and to you --
If more of us valued mornings spent in conversation over coffee or meals shared with good friends above perfectly cleaned homes or overly-packed schedules it would be a merrier world.
I might even add the opportunity to mentally check-out when the children are at school to the list - though this one is tricky because it is in this opportunity that I am able to write this, and perhaps you could say I am being hospitable to myself by allowing myself a bit of mental rest. But when these moments become an idol in our hearts and take away from our willingness to love our friends, I woulds say it might be a problem. Balance, however elusive, is the idea.
But we carry on, and we see that the truest form of hospitality isn’t found in the food itself, or the entertainment, or the effort expended to impress another with pinterest-worthy homes. It is found in the way that we allow ourselves to love with an openness of heart.
When friends are weary, do we welcome them in?
And perhaps this doesn’t always require a literal opening of our homes - we can also show hospitality by meeting at a park or a coffee shop, of course, but at the same time -- yes, it is also about opening the actual doors of our actual homes, at least if we are able.
Are our doors flung wide, like the Homely House of Elrond? Or are they locked tight?
The hospitality of the good and kind folk of Middle-Earth proves, time and time again, to be life-saving -- or we could say, life-giving, life-sustaining. It is a refreshment for weary souls, a comfort that gives them the strength to continue along their hard journeys. Whether from an Elven king or a skin-changing forest dweller or the simplest of hobbits, there is a sense of welcoming that surpasses any I’ve experienced in my day -- yet it is something I feel we all long to receive, though it is so hard to give.
Notice Tolkien doesn’t mention if there were dirty dishes in the sink, or floors that needed vacuumed, or children who needed to be kept on schedules, or if they really even felt like having visitors at all. Because that really doesn’t matter. If you don’t feel like being kind and loving, be kind and loving anyway (a lesson learned from St. Teresa of Calcutta).
If any of these gracious hosts had turned away our traveling companies, the course of their entire story would’ve been changed - for the worse, indeed. If it weren’t for the help of so many of Tolkien’s characters along the way, the quest to destroy the Ring would have never succeeded.
In The Hobbit, Bilbo and the Dwarves would have been weary and lost if Elrond had not offered them his advice along with a place to rest before sending them on their way. They were rescued by Eagles, guided by Beorn, and aided by many from Laketown. Comforted and sustained by friendship and a selfless sort of helpfulness.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo would have died without the healing of the elves and the safe-haven of Rivendell, and his quest would have utterly failed. And throughout the rest of their long journey, the members of the Fellowship are offered rest, guidance, nourishment, and friendship -- even from the most unlikely of characters (we’re looking at you, Gollum).
It is unlikely that we, living in such a well-to-do country and civilization, will ever find someone at our door who is literally dying and in need of our help like in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth (although it is likely there are refugees in your city or even neighborhood, and they truly do need our hospitality and friendship). But our culture is spiritually starving, freezing, homeless -- will we let them in?
Will we show them the love of Christ?
Will we feed them, clothe them, offer them a place to spend an afternoon in friendship?
This idea of hospitality -- of helping one another, offering one’s home up to another in need, offering advice, food, comfort, and even supplies for the rest of their journey -- is weaved through the pages of The Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit, of course) because Tolkien was so thoroughly steeped in his Catholic Christianity.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” - Matthew 25:35-40
So let us meet the weary travelers on our doorsteps -- let us meet them with open arms, open hearts, open doors.
Let us take lessons from the heroic friendships forged in Middle-Earth.
Let us make homes that are beacons of light, shelters from storms, and houses of healing.
May all who step foot through our doors echo:
“Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.”
Let us comfort the sorrowful, guide the lost, feed the hungry, and offer a glimpse into the eternal peace of our Lord.
For this is why the peace of a hospitable home is so beautiful to us, and the hobbits. It echos the sort of comfort and belonging that we will find when we are welcomed by God into Heaven.
To speak of a hospitality of heart and of home -- which is easier to live out?
But we must always begin with a hospitality of heart.
“Let all that you do be done in love.” - 1 Corinthians 16:14
True hospitality is always deeply rooted in love. How can we will the good of our neighbor? By being there for them. We can make ourselves available - perhaps mentally to hear about their day, spiritually to pray for them, or physically to invite them in for a meal or a drink. But without love, it means nothing.
Hospitality is a state of mind and heart, not necessarily dependent on a person’s home or resources. A weary soul can find comfort in a hobbit’s quaint garden just as easily as in a grand kingdom hall, if it is rooted in love.
One common aspect of all of these hosts is an openness, and availability of spirit and body, to come to the aid of others. All of Tolkien’s heroes understand the importance of helping their kinsmen, and they hold their lives open to do so.
When we quiet and simplify our lives, we welcome in the Holy Spirit into our hearts and show Him that we want God to work through us. When we choose to care for the upkeep of our homes (in whatever ways we are able), we are choosing to be open to anyone who might come under our roof. When we choose to cook meals, to vacuum carpets, to fold linens, to make sofa beds, to collecting firewood -- in all of these sometimes tedious tasks -- we are choosing to show love through hospitality, even if to someone who hasn’t arrived yet.
We make ourselves ready to love, we seek out opportunities to welcome those who need us, and when they do arrive at our doorstep, may they always find our doors open wide and a pot of coffee brewing.