Today, NorvilleRogers.com is proud to feature guest blogger Sarah Eleanor Frase. Enjoy!
You gaze across the downtown parking lot, her hair backlit by the afternoon sun as she tosses another beanbag. Her white oversized God is for Sinners t-shirt flutters in the wind, as she wrestles one of the kids she’s playing with, and barely lets him escape. Mid-laugh, she catches you staring and smiles, her clear-sighted eyes gazing through your face into your chest. It’s the third Saturday you’ve spent serving together, at times side by side but with little more exchanged than pop-culture small talk. Two years at the same church, and one in the same home-group, but you can’t seem to make that first move, the definitive move of asking her out.
There’s a lot of dating books out there on the market, but none of them quite like The Lord of the Ring:The Return of the King. Hardly seems likely when Tolkien only gives us one main plot romance (sorry movie fans, but Arwen is appendices fodder) and it’s a bit of a delayed love triangle at that. Yet the winning of Eowyn is just what you need for that post-modern church-girl who is rocking it. Today’s warrior woman for the kingdom has led foreign mission trips, volunteers with refugees, maybe even has a seminary degree. By God, what can you bring her? And what if you are that swordswoman of valor, how can you keep your heart from chasing after those Striders out there that just aren’t that into you and recognize the men who are ready to show their quality? Let’s take a look at Tolkien’s playbook.
We can’t name the number of times we’ve heard a pastor or relationship book draw on Paul’s words, especially the concluding verse of Ephesians 5: 22–33: “let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:33 ESV). A worthy exhortation, the problem is it’s often used exclusively to emphasize that the core value for men is respect, whereas the core value for women is love. Newsflash: women want respect too. (Somebody write a song about that). In fact, some of us experience love through respect. Love and respect are not meant to be opposing values but are synonyms in many ways, since valuing of the person is at their core.
If you presume that the woman you want to pursue doesn’t crave respect because she’s already got a stellar reputation, you’re wrong. Women of excellence still battle insecurities even when their achievements are astounding. Case in point: I’ve heard a ministry leader who boldly entered brothels in India, served meals to prostitutes in Kansas City, and who currently works with women in Dallas who were rescued from sex trafficking qualify herself as unworthy to speak at our seminary chapel. She’s done more in real-time ministry than some of the megachurch pastors we’ve seen behind the pulpit, and the warrior woman you know may be no different. We are warriors but we are not invulnerable.
When Eowyn and Faramir meet in chapter five of The Return of the King, she’s got her shield down both figuratively and literally. He sees her sorrows and her fears because having walked so close to death she is done concealing them. She is grieving, and with grief comes the array of emotions, anger, fear, self-doubt. She’s over pleasantries and the pressure put on her to meet the constructs expected of her gender. When he first expresses a desire to share time with her, she basically says, ‘I’m the wrong choice, I can’t meet your needs. Don’t expect me to be like other women or as women ought to be,’ by saying:
“Alas, not me, lord! […] Shadow lies on me still. Look not to me for healing! I am a shieldmaiden and my hand is ungentle.”
Eowyn’s exchanges with Faramir are polite but at times curt and without any additional grace. A less insightful man might read this “back-off buddy” language as self-sufficiency, but Faramir with his keen sight recognizes it for what it is, she’s been injured. Eowyn doesn’t have the energy or resources to become what she perceives he would desire in a companion, even the idea of it makes her feel more vulnerable. The church is big on projecting very gender-curtailed constructs for women, and even we who defy these constructs still live under the pressure of them. Even we who have a very holistic and inclusive view of femininity or womanhood are going to feel vulnerable when bringing that into the realm of a romantic relationship.
How do you honor vulnerability, whether obvious or subtle? And how do you do it without mandating with your words that this vulnerable woman leave that state and become instantly strong again? Consider if you’ve ever been crying or strongly angry and somebody told you to stop or to calm down. Both genders grapple with granting ourselves permission to be weak and strong; believing that by allowing one we are not blocking the other. What get’s a warrior woman’s attention is a man who makes space for me to be both.
When Aragorn saw Eowyn in the darkness of her family dysfunction and frustrations over the gender subscription of her role, he was kind to her because he pitied her. But he didn’t pursue her, because he had his own calling to run after. Faramir speaks graciously but honestly to Eowyn of his rival’s view and contrasts his own view of her:
“Do not scorn pity that is a gift of a gentle heart, Eowyn! But I do not offer you my pity. For you are a lady high and valiant and Have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of Elven-tongue to tell. And I love you. Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without any fear or lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you.”
Catch the distinction? The only pity Faramir has is an empathy for her sorrow, but he does not pity her person. He respects her too deeply for that. That respect is magnified when he says his affection for her isn’t tied to one thing. He praises her valiance, finds her beautiful, has loved her in sorrow and would love her fearless and lacking nothing. Faramir honors Eowyn by acknowledging the whole of her. His words offer grace, they create space for her and welcome the tension she is experiencing. In that space where Eowyn is respected, she feels safe and takes the time to process through her own thoughts and feelings, at last understanding her own heart.
LISTEN TO HER FRIENDS AND SHARE TIME
When Faramir has met Eowyn, he goes to the Warden of the house of healing to learn more about her. His next move is to converse for a long time with Merry, who served with Eowyn in battle. Tolkien observes that Faramir, “learned much more even than Merry put into words; and he thought that he understood now something of the grief and unrest of Eowyn of Rohan.” Each person who knows your warrior woman knows her in a different context, and they all have their own stories to tell. It takes time, silence, and patience to listen well, and you have the additional listening partner of the Holy Spirit to aide your ears. Ask and listen well.
From a traditional male perspective, it can seem like Faramir doesn’t do much to win Eowyn, at least not in the realm of action. My friends who are men and looking to fight sexism frequently ask me, “but what can I do?” because they don’t see being present as an action. Yet what we warrior women often miss out on the most is shared time where there is no agenda or mission to accomplish. We may even be bad at making time for such unstructured space in our own lives. So Faramir does the work of showing up where Eowyn will be, and inviting her to come and spend time with him. How is that shared time spent?
“They walked on the grass or sat under a green tree together, now in silence, now in speech. And each day after they did likewise.”
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan a date with your warrior woman, but you don’t have to chalk it full of activities. A common misperception men have, exacerbated by overly-elaborate love demonstrations on the internet, is that women want a pursuit of equal intensity to that we see in the movies. In reality, that often creates more pressure than it does good.
One thing we warrior women grapple with is a pressure to perform, so your best move is to make time shared with you a contrastive space. It takes Eowyn awhile to get comfortable doing so little with Faramir, but a space with no demands is exactly what she needs to heal from her wounds. Warrior women of the faith push themselves to keep giving on the front lines, because they have been made to endure battles unique to their calling and design. Many of us have been in ministry giving of ourselves for so long, we may not even be in touch with ourselves enough to know how we are wounded. Or, if we do know, sharing those wounds is a sacred space, entrusted to few outside of our spiritual mentors.
Faramir is wise enough both to recognize that space as sacred, and to not take the responsibility of healing Eowyn on himself. A woman’s wounds are the King’s to heal, and Christ has shed His own blood to heal them. But rest, relaxation, and a man who is secure enough to sit in silence with you in a beautiful setting, these are gifts that make space for healing. What Faramir does for Eowyn is to continue to seek her out and be available to her both with gentleness and strength for an extended period of time. This consistency, while seeming small in action, proves much to a warrior woman, whose values of loyalty and fidelity often rank highest of all.
SPEAK PLAINLY AND TAKE RISKS
Risks on the battlefield are not in the same category as risking your heart. As much as we love Pat Bentar, many of us warrior women lack relationship experience because we’ve been serving so hard for so long. Eowyn has only allowed herself to care for one other person before she meets Faramir. She liked Aragorn because he was the best of the best, and this a behind-the-scenes-heartbreak trend I see often with women in ministry. You are serving closely on the front lines with a brother in Christ who just doesn’t see you, but he’s so amazing that you miss the other quality men that may actually be interested in pursuing you. It’s one of our warrior women blind spots, yet it can often lead to a growing reproach and bitterness towards men that isn’t entirely fair.
My fellow swordswomen, when we consider that all of Middle Earth is at stake, and the burden that Aragorn carries, we can’t really reproach him for striding towards his calling with no other focus. Two patterns emerge again and again for singles in ministry. We meet Strider who isn’t interested in marrying a ministry partner who has no clue he’s fostering hope in a female fellow worker, and is best suited for this season to serve as a single man. Or we meet the heir to the throne who wakes up when his major battles are won, his calling is realized, and finds he does want a partner in ministry, but then looks outside of his local community to find her. These men are worthy of our friendships, but not our romantic hopes. We warrior women need to get better in recognizing if our closest male friendships in ministry fall into one of these two classifications. Maybe some cringe-worthy but necessary direct conversations need to be initiated with our brothers. And we need to accept any answer given with grace instead of reproach, so our hearts can be freed-up to recognize that steward of Gondor when he appears. It’s easy to miss Faramir for Aragorn, even when Aragorn isn’t actually meant, or looking to be your life partner.
Eowyn wasn’t romantically involved with Aragorn, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t feel that time she invested in that hope or the rejection of not seeing it realized. So it’s no surprise that she tells Faramir:
“I do not wish to play at riddles. Speak plainer!”
If your warrior woman has spent seasons of her life reading between the lines, interpreting comments and attentions instead of having direct conversations, she’s going to be both weary and defensive. A self-protecting position isn’t ideal for romantic involvement, but it may be all that we can manage, a legitimate stance after the years of hurt and disappointment we’ve endured with or without a dating history.
Faramir always takes the risk first. He doesn’t just self-disclose his love first, he acknowledges her past love of Aragorn and the fact that it may still be a present reality. He takes her hand and kisses her brow, he tells her that he loves her and asks directly if she loves him. While there is definitely a time window that is too early in a relationship for such declarations or moves, the key is that Faramir never leaves Eowyn wading through a swamp of mystery regarding where he stands. And he respects her autonomy to choose, declaring that if she became Queen (aka she married Aragorn) he would love her still. This is sincere, unconditional love, that is patient and waits for when the other person is ready to respond in kind.
When Eowyn does consent to marry Faramir, she’s still got some reservations about his choosing her, referring to herself as a “wild shieldmaiden of the North” that he’s picked over the women of his own people. Essentially, she asks him, “are you sure?” Even after engagement, even well into marriage, this woman who is strongest among women, still needs assurance of his love. Faramir’s response:
“And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many.”
It’s worth noting that this actually Tolkien’s only kiss in the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. If he’s hoarded that currency and spends it here, it’s for a reason. Faramir is not using this public display of affection to back-off a rival in a machismo showdown, or as a sad goodbye before he faces a terrible fate. He’s not interested in proving anything to onlookers or himself,. He is kissing the woman he loves publicly, out of affection, to reassure her. Warrior women live our lives in public, and while there may be varying preferences as to the level of PDA your lady desires, taking your love into the wider arena of the community causes a mutual joy.
Tolkien spends his one kiss in celebration and as the climax of the journey of two troubled and complex characters who have served good faithfully, and have at last come together. While some feminists have argued that Eowyn’s changing of commission from warrior to healer following her engagement is sexist taming, others such as myself see it as character growth. True feminism allows a woman to embrace different callings in different seasons of her life. Eowyn does not regret her previous calling to be a warrior in a time of war, but post-war as she enters a season of peace her first desire is to facilitate the healing of others that she herself has experienced.
Faramir doesn’t question this change but supports her in this new calling because he knows her and has walked with her through the turning of her heart. His respect, careful listening, shared time, plain speech, and risking taking offered Eowyn a loyal love that was a key part of her transformation.
This is what winning a woman’s heart ought to ultimately be for: her good, your good, and the good of all the kingdom.
Sarah Eleanor Frase is a former high school English teacher and current Media Arts and Worship student at Dallas Theological Seminary. She is the winner of the “best human” award at the Vacaville Lord of the Rings Festival in 2005. Yes, she has cosplayed as Eowyn several times, thank you for asking. Follow her on Twitter, and check out her blog.