May 18: Eucatastrophe

As you may well know, one of my enduring spiritual directors is the 20th century English Oxford Don, World War I veteran, faithful Roman Catholic, poet laureate and Godfather of Fantasy Fiction, Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.  Tolkien’s pioneering literary recovery of Beowulf, academic prowess in philology (a little known fact is Tolkien’s towering contributions to theOxford English Dictionary, the definitive authoritative source of all English vocabulary), exploration of middle Germanic languages and ancient fantasy epic tales (the Poetic Edda, the Volsungawhich birthed all that Wagnerian opera, and various Celtic tales) all compete with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings fictional saga.

Like Shakespeare and Robbie Burns before him, Tolkien simply created words when he needed them.  Amazing.  One of the Professor’s all-time best words was his descriptor for the true function of all fantasy literature.  Finding no existing English words sufficient, he coined his own: Eucatastrophe.  (You-kah-TASS-tro-fee)  The shocking, unlocked for, surprising joyous, salvific twist in the story.  Tolkien himself explained, “In such stories when the sudden ‘turn’ comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through” (‘On Fairy-Stories’, 61).  Tolkien’s princely Elf hero Legolas cites an Elvish proverb in Rings: For thus it is spoken: Oft Hope is born when all is forlorn!

Where did the literary giant receive his piercing insight?!  From the cave outside of Bethlehem and peering into the Empty Tomb of course!  In a landmark academic article Tolkien called the Incarnation of Jesus the greatest eucatastrophe in human history, and the Resurrection of Jesus the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation!  Brilliant!  If we are to be Resurrection Christians and live Resurrection lives, the first consequence of Jesus’ new life for us is eucatastrophe!  We expect, anticipate and look for God’s unexpected intervention into our lives in ways big and small.  If Jesus is raised then anything is possible in God’s world, always.  We are the optimists in any room, rebuking voices of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, desolation, and cynicism!!  I’ve said it like this for years (because eucatastrophe is a bit too big a word for the average Vail Daily article!): When things are at their worst, God is at His (sorry cannot help it) best!

  1. As Tolkien’s wizard sage Gandalf says to a dejected Frodo (in a cave, no less!), Even the Wise cannot see all ends!  Have you ever received Jesus’ Resurrection as a eucatastrophe of the heart?!  What in your life would change if you did?
  2. Have you ever been the beneficiary of your own, customized, personal eucatastrophic event?!  If not, this question cannot help you!  If so, can you immediately recall how it felt?!
  3. If so, have you ever transposed your own experience of unexpected, overwhelming joy into your Christian faith as a daily tool in the ministry toolbox?!  How might you share both your story, our Easter faith and your lived experience of eucatastrophe with others?!

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