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.

Hard-Working Moms—There’s Hope!

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Fall of second grade, I proudly submitted a carefully crafted biography of my mom, composed on classic, dotted-line paper. This was a special writing project, to be displayed in our hallway for parent-teacher night. I waxed eloquent, reporting with the utmost, seven-year-old precision: “My mother does not work. She is a housewife.” Little did I know how clueless my statement was or how ridiculously male chauvinistic. Mom had to have felt like it was hopeless—all that time, her amazing nurture, and energetic hard work—what a waste. I must have seemed like a hopeless case.

Mom-hood reveals ever-deepening layers of hopelessness. After all, moms’ work is never done. School projects. Taxiing kids. Financial pressure. It all builds up and pushes down on a mother’s soul. Mom is expected to be the Chief Operating Officer of the family corporation. Along with endless tasks, moms are deeply concerned about their kids’ feelings and also each unique developmental stage. God wired moms with emotional and developmental radar, in great contrast to dads. Most guys are only slightly aware that there might be some small humans, under four feet tall, living in the house. Mix in all of a mom’s concern over her kids’ choices, friends, and future plans. Any cocktail of these ingredients yields high anxiety. Mom’s work can feel hopeless.

So what’s a mom to do? Where can moms find fresh doses of new hope in the midst of all they juggle at work? I’ll propose that several hope-filled insights emerge from a couple of women, undeniably two of the greatest moms in all of history.

BEST MOMS, EVER!

Luke’s Gospel records how Mary encountered the angel. She said “YES” to God’s plans, even though they were immensely challenging (Luke 2:38). It’s not everyday a young woman is told she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. There would be gossip and accusations. “Who can believe such a claim? It’s scandalous.” She was to become MOM to the Son of God! And she said, “I am your servant; May it be. . . .”

It seems that a YES to God is the essence of deep trust—genuine dependence—and the very core of faith for all of us. Will moms step boldly into what God wants? Will you listen and be receptive to God’s words, his instructions? Will you process life’s difficult assignments, hard tests, and rascally scenarios through God’s truth and his powerful presence?

Years ago, there was a mom named Susanna. She had a gaggle of ten kids with her husband, Sam. Sadly, their house caught fire and all but burned to the ground—not once, but twice. Her husband was devoted, both to God and to Susanna. However, Sam also had a very judgmental side, often expressing strong critique toward her and the children. He was also precarious with money, which made life extremely difficult for the family. Susanna constantly sought to cultivate Jesus’ values and heart, in all daily actions with her children. One of their girls, Hetty, a very bright but equally strong-willed young woman, kicked up her heals. She recklessly leaped into a brief fling with a young lawyer and got pregnant outside marriage. This caused great disgrace to the very proper and religious family. Dad disowned her, but Susanna persevered with motherly love for her wayward daughter, Hetty.

A Mom’s Integrated Prayer

This is actually a very old account, so you might benefit by hearing one of Susanna’s prayers. Each phrase reveals just how integrated she was about her daily work and how much she desired to incorporate Jesus’ heart into her own heart as well as her children.

“Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church, or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy presence. So may my every word and action have a moral content . . . May all the happenings of my life prove useful and beneficial to me. May all things instruct me and afford me an opportunity of exercising some virtue and daily learning and growing toward Thy likeness. . . . Amen.” (quoted in Richard J. Foster’s, Streams of Living Water, 237)

Susanna’s son, Jacky, became one of the foremost leaders, thinkers, and provocative communicators of his era. John, as he was widely known outside the family, left a massive footprint on the culture of his day. And Susanna’s son, Charles, is responsible for crafting amazing songs, many of which are still sung in churches today. The family name is Wesley. Their profound legacy in Christian thought and practice resulted from Susanna’s passionate aim to form Christ’s heart in all of her children.

Both Mary and Susanna’s examples point out this vital truth: Mom’s best hope is found in connecting her own heart—and her kids’ hearts—with Christ’s heart!

There was a fantastic outcome for Mary’s work, even after comically losing Jesus in Jerusalem for three days. (How do you lose the Son of God?) Luke 2:51-52 notes the holistic development. Jesus grew in wisdom, in physical height, and in favor with both God and other humans. When moms access Jesus’ heart and choose to say YES, then kids grow strong and experience whole-person development—mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially.

Don’t miss it, moms. Your kids can grow up to make HUGE impact, to touch lives and become big workers in God’s kingdom business. You might say, “My kid will never be a Wesley. And he or she certainly won’t be Jesus.” OK, but you can raise kids who grow up to work hard daily, build the next bright future, fight disease, solve hunger crises, create noble cultural endeavors, plant churches, and in a myriad of other ways, share Christ with a world in desperate need of Jesus’ grace.

Moms, we thank you. Realize it or not, your work is full of hope!