A Most Curious Tolkien Word—for your Monday-after-Easter motivation

Like most inhabitants of Present-earth, you are probably not uproariously excited about going back to work after the holiday weekend. You might take heart as you move into your post-Easter workweek by pondering one rather quirky word, unique to Tolkien’s lexicon.

Before we consider that word, it is important to know that our beloved Professor held a high and holy view of work. So robust was his perspective on the subject, his leading cast of characters in The Silmarillion includes a grand foreman, an orchestrator, leader, and teacher of all things commonly laborious. This master craftsman, one of the Valar, was named Aulë. Tolkien describes his role and influence:

“And in the midst of the Blessed Realm were the mansions of Aulë, and there he laboured long. For in the making of all things in that land he had the chief part, and he wrought there many beautiful and shapely works both openly and in secret. Of him comes the lore and knowledge of the Earth and of all things that it contains: whether the lore of those that make not, but seek only for the understanding of what is, or the lore of all craftsmen: the weaver, the shaper of wood, and the worker in metals; the tiller and husbandman also . . .”

In this early passage, we discover that the work of Middle-earth is not some willy-nilly, random activity. Instead, there is divine intentionality. And the description continues:

“Aulë it is who is named the Friend of the Noldor, for of him they learned much in after days, and they are the most skilled of the Elves; and in their own fashion, according to the gifts which Ilúvatar gave to them, they added much to his teaching, delighting in tongues and in scripts, and in the figures of broidery, of drawing, and of carving. The Noldor also it was who first achieved the making of gems; and the fairest of all gems were the Silmarils, and they are lost.”

Tolkien employs this deeply endearing, simple phrase: “the fairest of all gems.” Bordering on nonchalant, the coveted-by-everyone, quest-and-quarrel-causing stones are introduced. The Silmarils are dropped on the page, followed by the chilling clause: “and they are lost.” But take special note of a class of workers that Tolkien very deliberately includes in Aulë’s realm: “…those that make not, but seek only for the understanding of what is . . .” And some of the Noldor, based on their divine gifting, included those Elves “delighting in tongues and in scripts…”

We dare not miss this: Tolkien crafted his own craft into his story. He made certain that brilliant wordsmiths were included in Middle-earth.

Tolkien fans near and far, to there and back again, are indeed very fond of the good Professor’s oh-so-creative making of words. Grounded in the colorful familiarity of our own wonder-filled earth, he infused Middle-earth with hairy-footed Hobbits, merry singing Elves, fiery rings, courageous Dwarves, and all sorts of Shire-things.

One word stands tall in the greater backstory. Tolkien’s inventive term, eucatastrophe, is philosophically and spiritually foundational to his Legendarium. Originally devised with his famous essay, On Fairy-stories,[1] the term combines the familiar word catastrophe (meaning a downward turn in one’s life condition and feelings) with the ancient Greek prefix eu- (meaning “good,” like eulogy, “a good word about someone”). Hence, Tolkien’s brilliant concept assists in the creation of story scenes where his characters discover a “good turn” in their perspective, a “catch of the breath,” or “lifting of the heart” that can emerge in the midst of the tragedy, even while experiencing cataclysmic events that often haunt life’s stories. Amid catastrophe, characters might encounter hope and joy.

Tolkien viewed this wonderful concept as operative for our history, not just Middle-earth. He uniquely saw it as intrinsic to what he believed of the overarching, grand story:

“The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.’”[2]

On a morning after Easter, we smile and say, “That sounds mighty fine, Professor Tolkien, when you are eager to find Easter hope on Sunday. But I am still dreading my post-Easter, Monday through Friday.” Why? We are all-too-familiar with catastrophes at work. They can include the nasty, inconsiderate coworker, a grumbly client, that desperate stack of paperwork to slog through, whole-person exhaustion, or a sudden market downturn.

How about carrying Tolkien’s concept into your workweek, and choosing to watch for eucatastrophe? Perhaps that extra-challenging situation might prompt you to discover a creative solution. Maybe the conflict with a coworker can actually lead to more effective communication skills. What if the oh-so-complex staff meeting forces your team to work more closely and forge stronger bonds? It might be your current catastrophe leads you to look upward and rely on someone other than yourself, to form an even better fellowship. Are you due to grow some greater tenacity? Perhaps your own heart and character could encounter resurrection out of the dark tomb of your workplace catastrophe.

Tolkien deliberately set workers in “realms.” As we saw above, Aulë was over the craftsmen of the Blessed Realm of the First Age. Upon the Return of the King in the Third Age, Gandalf announced to Aragorn: ‘This is your realm, and the heart of the greater realm that shall be…it is your task to order its beginning and to preserve what may be preserved.’ Gandalf was assigning responsibility to humans, transitioning leadership to the Dominion of Men.

May we all work in such a way that we “order and preserve” in our realms today with an anticipating eye, eager to look up in the midst of downturn, ready for the wonder of eucatastrophe!

[1]Tolkien On Fairy-stories: Expanded edition, with commentary and notes. Edited by Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson (Harper Collins).

[2]Ibid., 78.

Rolling Back to Work (how to greet your dreaded fall schedule with greater joy)

Rollercoaster in clouds

I LOVE riding roller coasters, and I love the fact that my boys sincerely enjoy jumping on to join me. This was not always the case. I found a picture from several years back. We were trying to convince one son that the biggest coaster at Hershey Park would be a joy to ride. He stood in line waiting, growing more anxious, dreading every inch of the track, and longing to bail out. We managed to keep him in line, got him to ride, and he finished with a big smile. (Yes, this is before and after.)

Hershey Joel and JarodHershey Joel and Jarod after

Contemplate the concept of coasters. We can’t help but conclude it’s a bit crazy. Think about it. You willingly place your body into this large contraption of metal, plastic, wood, bolts, and thousands of moving parts. The aim of this device is to hurtle you down the tracks, throw you into loops, then send you screaming until your voice is hoarse. It’s really rather awesome and requires a crazy amount of faith.

‘Truth is, how we roll back into fall’s work-school schedule requires similar trust and adventuresome perspective.

I could read it in many friends’ eyes and hear it in their voices this week. It seems we are all plunging down the tracks too fast, headed back toward normal workweeks and ferociously full schedules once again. Some of us feel dread, disappointment, and self-induced preliminary stress over soon-to-be early wake-ups, oh-too-predictable meeting schedules, and an overall return to the ridiculously full-throttle pace. Sarcastically, we say, “I just cannot wait to get back to my marvelous, wonderful, oh-so-fulfilling daily grind.”

How do we roll in healthier ways? Is it possible to discover a different perspective when we already feel overwhelmed? How will we roll into the tedious tasks, piles of projects, and fall’s spike in work expectations?

Consider this provocative point of wisdom from Proverbs 16:3. “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.”

Proverb on Work-Commit

This lead off, ancient Hebrew word “commit” conveys a potent, picturesque concept. Among Scriptural incidents, the word was used of rolling a boulder over the door of a cave to incarcerate enemy kings (Joshua 10:18). This same word played a pivotal role in the covenant scene for the Israelites of Joshua’s day, as they intentionally and devotedly rolled back into practicing circumcision and experienced their guilty reproach being rolled away (Joshua 5:19).[1]

Proverbs 16:3 challenges us to COMMIT, to deliberately let our work concerns, plans, strategies, and worries roll toward God. We can commit to rolling our work issues, opportunities, and each endeavor in God’s direction, trusting Him to empower, infuse significance, and establish our plans. Rolling our trust His way can transform our attitudes from dread and gloom to adventure and productivity.

Consider three simple yet profound ideas for how to roll stronger as you head back to the normal full schedule for the work-school routine.

With start of fall, start a new habit. Commit your work to the Lord with start-of-the-day prayer. Too many mornings, we rush into our mad dash, forgetting to actually tap into our Lead Consultant’s great guidance. What might happen if we slow down at the start, to actually roll our concerns, challenges, and opportunities in His direction? Such transference of trust can lead to a deeply personal transformation, bringing greater peace and joy.

Commit to go God’s way—follow His directions—in all you do and say all day. As you trust Him and consult His Word, He will supply you with real-time wisdom, commands, principles and precepts that challenge the norm, set you on new paths, and call you into fresh opportunities for influence. Determine and say, “Lord, each step of my workday, I’ll roll your way!”

Roll into your fall work and full schedule with a fresh sense of adventure. Commit to greater productivity, creativity, and pursuing God’s mission. It’s wonderful to realize that God planned long ago for us to engage in purposeful, creative, difference-making work (Genesis 2:15, Ephesians 2:10, and Colossians 3:23-24).[2] When we truly sense how our daily work can bring God glory and reach others with his redemptive plans, even the seemingly mundane, thankless tasks and pressurized schedules can take on serious joy and significance.

With such deliberate prayer and a greater sense of adventure with God, we can be “on a roll” with fall’s work, bringing God glory with greater productivity—experiencing almost as much joy as riding roller coasters. Instead of dreading it, let’s revel in it. There is phenomenal opportunity for our fall endeavors to bring him greater glory!

 

 

 

 

[1]Harris, Archer, and Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, (Chicago: Moody Press), vol. 1, 162.

[2]Wayne Grudem, “How Business In Itself Can Glorify God,” On Kingdom Business: Transforming Missions Through Entrepreneurial Strategies (Wheaton: Crossway), 132-133.