In January of 1945 J.R.R. Tolkien published a short story titled “Leaf by Niggle.” It is a symbolic story about our purpose in life.
In the story, Niggle is an artist, a painter, who lives in a community that does not place a great value on art. So Niggle paints mostly for himself.
One day he is inspired to begin a painting of a vast tree. He becomes obsessed with the work and abandons all his other projects to focus on the tree, the forest in the background, and the mountains in the distance. The works is intense as Niggle is intent on getting every detail right.
But he is constantly called way from his work by his neighbor Parish, an elderly man who seems to need constant aid with this or that chore. In addition Niggle has his own errands to run and all of this takes time away from the painting that he feels is imperative for him to finish.
At one point in the story helping Parish means giving up some of the supplies that Niggle needs for his painting. He is reluctant to do so because he feels that the time he has to finish the painting is quickly running out. But an authority shows up and reminds Niggle of a simple truth,
“People before paintings.”
What follows is a wonderful reflection on love of neighbor, community, and the importance of the gifts God has given us.
Throughout His ministry Jesus reminds of the importance of preparing for the Kingdom that is to come.
In the early days of Christianity, it was thought that the second coming of Christ would be very soon, within the lifespan of those who personally heard Jesus preach. Accordingly, those first Christians were worried that their friends and family who died before Christ’s return would be left out of God’s plan of salvation.
Saint Paul assures the church in Thessalonica that this will not be the case.
In heaven we will be united with God fully and intimately. But through Christ we will also be brought into intimate communion with everyone else who is in heaven. All of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, who have fallen asleep in Christ before us, are waiting to welcome us. This is part of the Church’s teaching on the “communion of saints.”
But even more, through baptism we are already connected to the entire body of Christ, all Christians living and dead. This allows us to call upon the saints, those already enjoying intimate union with God, to pray with us and for us.
As Christians we do nothing in isolation. We are not alone. As members of the body of Christ, sharing that distinction with the communion of saints, we are reminded that our life here has a meaning and a purpose. Every decision we make, every experience we have, is unique. Only each one of us can bring that unique experience to Christ and add it to His Eternal Kingdom.
All that we do matters, will we enlarge the Kingdom?