Joy Comes in the Morning

When I was in college, my friend Eric and I came up with a worship leader comedy routine. Eric would stand with his guitar. I’d pick up my Bible and turn to the page I had bookmarked so I could read the way worship leader’s sometimes read Bible passages between songs. Eric would tilt his chin upward, eyes closed, a pious smile on his face.

I would inhale and in one breath read:

ThewordoftheLordthatcametoZephaniahsonofCushi-thesonofGedaliahthesonofAmariah-
thesonofHezekiahduringthereignofJosiah
-sonofAmonkingofJudah:

Eric would nod and smile,  and occasionally he’d interject with a yes Lord or an Amen as I continued to read, only slower now, pausing for emphasis:

“I will sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
 “I will sweep away both man and beast;
    I will sweep away the birds in the sky
    and the fish in the sea—
    and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”

“When I destroy all mankind
    on the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord,
 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah
    and against all who live in Jerusalem.
I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place,
    the very names of the idolatrous priests—
 those who bow down on the roofs
    to worship the starry host,
those who bow down and swear by the Lord
    and who also swear by Molek,
 those who turn back from following the Lord
    and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.

 

Then I would close my Bible and bow my head in silence. After about 10 or 15 seconds Eric would launch into song, ” ♪ ♫ There is joy in the Lord, there is love in His Spirit, there is hope in the knowledge of Him . . .”

 

I don’t think we ever finished the song. The juxtaposition of one of the judgiest Bible passages (Zephaniah 1) with happy-clappy, contemporary worship made us laugh. We enjoyed the joke more anyone else did.  Everyone thought we were irreverent.

The joke was better than Eric and I realized. The Joy of the Lord came as a happy surprise to those who only heard words of judgment and destruction. As goofy and impious as we were, we managed to touch on and demonstrate something of the joy that came with Jesus.

Christ’s Advent was the start of a great reversal. Though the world dwelt in darkness, full of wounded and dying people, living fragmented life, the promise of Christ opened up new possibilities: hope, shalom, wholeness, well-being, healing, deliverance, salvation.  Though “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy coined a word to describe this sort of reversal, eucatastrophe. In his essay, On Fairy Storieshe described a cataclysmic shift in a story where certain destruction is averted by a joyful sudden turn of events—the consolation of a happy ending:

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

Anyone who has read the Lord of Rings knows these eucatastrophic turnarounds (think Gandalf’s return or the eagles). But of course, eucatastrophe is not just an element in fairy stories. We see it Romantic Comedies where the despised jerks (Mr. Darcy!) turn out, in the end, to be truly quite wonderful. Good jokes, too, have this kind of joyful surprise. The eucatastrophe is written into the fabric of reality:

[I]n the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater—it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue. It is a serious and dangerous matter. It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite

So, the gospel of Jesus Christ is eucatastrophe!  Tolkien called the “Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history (and the Resurrection of Christ the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation). Jesus’ return and the New Heaven and Earth will be the eucatastrophe for which all creation groans (Romans 8:22).

So here we are, the third week of Advent. The world is still dark and days short (in the Northern hemisphere). Suffering, struggle, and sorrow is what we know. Our only experience of peace is a tenuous armistice of mutually-assured-destruction. We await eucatastrophic turnaround. Though weeping may last through the night, Joy comes in the morning.

The Hobbit Forming Life: a book review

As the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.”  Wars were fought and won, infrastructure was built and fortified, and the culture of the ancient West flourished as a result. Similarly, the Middle-Earth of Tolkien’s imagination did not spring up ex nihilo from his imagination but is the culmination of   John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s life work. Various elements of  Middle Earth had their genesis in  his life experience and academic pursuits of Tolkien.  In Tolkien: The Making of a Legendnoted expert on Tolkien and the Inklings, Colin Duriez, tells the story of Tolkien’s life and the events which shaped him as an author.

J.R.R. Tolkein: The Making of a Legend by Colin Duriez

Tolkien’s life story found its way into his fiction.  A tarantula bite in  childhood may have  provided the background fpr Ungoliant or Shelob (13) .  Places that were special to Tolkien provided the basis for important locations (i.e.  the Shire, the two towers, the Ivy Bush all have their origin in actual locations). The love Tolkien had for his wife Edith provided the  inspiration for the story of  Luthien and Beren (one of the central legends of Middle Earth).  His experience of warfare in World War I made him critical of the way technology was destroying modern life(a major theme in the LotR trilogy). But Tolkien’s literary vision was also enriched by his friendships and academic pursuits.

In his schooldays he and a group of literary friends  formed a ‘Tea Club, later known as  the TCBS (Tea Club Barrovian Society).  They dreamed of later literary achievements (though several members did not  survive the First World War). As an academic at Oxford, Tolkien formed the ‘Coal Biters’ a group which gathered weekly to translate and read Norse Mythology. Later, the Inkling(with C.S. Lewis and others) would meet Tuesday mornings at the Eagle and Child. The members of that group listened to, discussed  and critiqued early drafts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  The friendship with Lewis was mutually beneficial and while it cooled somewhat  in later years, Tolkein and Lewis continued to support one another throughout their life.  Tokien’s relationship with Lewis and other writers provided him the relational support he needed and helped him hone his craft as an author.

And of course Tolkien’s own genius  grew up with keen interest in and talent for language.  His skill at languages enabled him to create several Elvin languages.  His work on the OED (after his military service) would prove to give him the proper training to create the world of Middle Earth and in later years, his academic writings mostly served to enrich his fiction.

This is an interesting biography and paints a compelling vision of its subject.  Druiez shares the effect Tolkien’s reading of Beowulf  had for his students. This, coupled with Tolkien’s belief in the power of story, makes me appreciate Tolkien’s fiction all the more.  As one who has enjoyed Tolkien’s books (and Peter Jackson’s adaptations) I do not hesitate to recommend this book. It is a readable account of a much beloved author.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.