Tag Archives: Eucatastrophe

Eucatastrophe and Resurrection in a Thin Place

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 1 Corinthians 15:54

I am a geek at heart. Exhibit A is my life-long love for the works of Tolkien. I recently finished listening to the entire audiobook version of The Lord of the Rings and am now reading The Silmarillion again. They call me back again and again, an my appreciation only deepens each time I pick up the adventures.

Tolkien himself coined the phrase eucatastrophe to describe the moment when the tide turns and victory is gained amidst in the moment when defeat seems a sure thing. Eucatastrophe would be a theme that he used again and again:

  • Most famously, the arrival of the eagles both at the Battle of Five Armies in The Hobbit, and at the Battle of the Black Gate in The Return of the King.
  • Gollum’s final treachery that is the salvation of Frodo
  • When Gandalf arrives with Erkenbrand at the battle of Helm’s Deep
  • When the Ents and Huorns rise up unexpectedly against Isengard
  • The arrival of Aragorn upon the Corsairs of Umbar

Tolkien loved the dramatic moment when the light of hope springs unexpectedly in the deepest darkness. In his personal letters (which I have also read; behold Exhibit B of my geekiness), Tolkien explains that the model of eucatastrophe, and its greatest example, is the incarnation of Jesus Christ and His resurrection.

In today’s chapter, Paul argues for the resurrection of the dead against those in the city of Corinth who were teaching that there is no life after death. Paul, who had a life-changing encounter with the resurrected Jesus (read Acts 9), now explains that if there is no life after death then the whole of Christian belief is null and void. If there is no life after death, then his life-changing encounter was nothing more than a hallucination; His work to share the message of Jesus to the world a huge waste of time and energy.

It is Paul’s description of resurrection in today’s chapter that brings Tolkien’s eucatastrophe to mind:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

This morning I sit with my cup of coffee at the lake and watch the warm sun coming up over the back of the cove, where bald eagles often roost. Staring back at the treeline I, from time-to-time, get to shout “The eagles are coming!” This is, for me, a thin place; An earthly location where the impermeable veil between the mortal and immortal becomes sheer. Eucatastrophes of various shapes and sizes are experienced here. In this place my faith in resurrection takes shape and mass. 

Conflict and the Narrative

Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.
John 16:2b (NRSV)

Stories are boring if there is no conflict.

In 8th grade, Mrs. McLaren taught me that conflict in stories and literature can, in general, be broken down into a handful of categories:

Person vs. Self (think A Beautiful Mind)
Person vs. Person (think Kramer vs. Kramer)
Person vs. Nature (think Tom Hanks in Castaway)
Person vs. God/fate (think Michael Corleone in The Godfather)
Person vs. Supernatural (think of any ghost story)
Person vs. Technology (think The Matrix)
Person vs. Society (think Fahrenheit 451)

The epic stories, whatever mix of narrative they employ, are stories of good versus evil. Good stories are a reflection of the Great Story, and I have encountered many people along my journey who seem to forget that even the Jesus story is a story of good versus evil. Jesus regularly came in conflict with demonic power. He spoke clearly of the enemy who was arranging circumstances that would lead to His death. In todays chapter, Jesus’ even told His followers to expect that others will try to kill them and think they are worshipping God.

The tactics of evil do not change much over time. I have come to believe that we, as human beings, are lemmings by our sinful nature. As such, our enemy uses common tactics across generations. Despite our desire to think ourselves progressive and enlightened, we have, I fear, learned very little from history. Getting people to commit deathly acts as “worship” of God is evil 101. In Jesus’ day the Jews were trying to kill Jesus and His followers thinking they were doing God a favor. Later the Christians would kill the Jews and muslims thinking they were doing God a favor. Today, ISIS and their ilk are killing Jews, Christians, and any who refuse to accept Allah.

How fascinating to think that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God of Abraham. What goes around, comes around.

[sigh]

Today, I am reminded that in each chapter of my personal narrative I may encounter different types of conflict from conflict with others, to conflict with myself, conflict with fate, conflict with society, et al. As I live out my role in the Great Story, I must not forget that this is a story of good versus evil. I do not want to be caught unaware, but rather desire to be ever mindful of how my words and actions are contributing to the grand narrative. In my story, as it dovetails into the Great Story, I want to be an agent of Love, Life, Light and redemption.

chapter a day banner 2015

These Cubs Aren’t Following the Narrative

This Cubs team is not sticking to the narrative. The narrative is legendary. It is mythical in proportion, and as a long time Cubs fan you begin to trust the narrative like the you trust the impending arrival of winter.

Our friends Kevin and Linda experienced the narrative when they made a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field this past summer to watch the Cubs play the rival Cardinals in the friendly confines. The Cubs had a 5-4 lead in the rainy 9th inning. Two outs. Two strikes. Wrigley was rocking and the fans were pumped to take the mid-season series at home. Then the narrative kicked in. Jhonny Peralta belts a two run homer off Pedro Strop. Once again, our hopes are dashed at the moment we were about to experience eucatastrophy.

Soaring hopes tragically dashed. That’s the narrative. The ’84 Cubs get to the postseason for the first time since 1945 then watch Steve Garvey take our hopes away. The ’03 Cubs up 3-1 in the NLCS and the Wrigley faithful preparing for our first trip to the World Series since World War II. Then the narrative kicks in with a fly ball to left, an angry outburst from Moises Alou, and it all unravels before our eyes as the Marlins take three straight and go on to win the World Series. The ’07 and ’08 Cubs packed with all-stars and raising our hopes with stellar regular season play. Then the narrative kicks in early we couldn’t eek one postseason win in either year.

“That’s the Cubs,” Cardinal fans laugh with smug arrogance as they smooth out the wrinkles on their latest World Champions t-shirt. That’s the narrative and this is our lot.

Last night Wendy and I stood in our living room and watched Hector Rondon take the mound against the rival Cardinals in the 9th inning. Up two runs and here we are again. We’re just a few outs away from going to the NLCS. We’re just a few outs away from beating the dreaded Cardinals in the postseason for the first time in history. This is when the narrative kicks in. This is when the meltdown happens. This is when Peralta homers, or a Cubs player trips on a shadow, or a black cat appears and steals the eucatastrophic moment from us all.

Then, a strange realization creeped into my conscious thought as I stood stood there behind the couch and felt the adrenaline rush I have not experienced since 2003. This Cubs team is not following the narrative. This batch of talented youngsters and their aged hippie Manager seem to know nothing of Billy Goats or curses or mythic narratives. This is not our father’s Cubs teams running from the past and feeling the pressure of the ages. With the death of Ernie Banks this past spring, his spirit seems to have been freed to descend on this group of boys. These young men in Cubbie blue pinstripes are playing with joy. They are living in the moment. They are rewriting the narrative.

Swing and a miss. Strike three. Cardinals vanquished. Cubs win!

I make no predictions. This young, inexperienced team may yet fall short to the Dodgers or the Mets. The Cardinals are not the only team who know the Cubs’ narrative. Nevertheless, I wake up this morning and look out the window to see the “W” flag wafting over Vander Well Manor. We beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh. We beat the Cardinals at Wrigley. It’s the first time we’ve beat the Cardinals in the postseason in history. It’s the first time a Cubs team has ever won a postseason series at Wrigley. It’s the first time a team with so many rookies has won so many games, made it to the postseason, and hit so many home runs. And on, and on, and on it goes.

These 2015 Cubs appear to be rewriting the narrative. I can’t wait to find out what kind of story we get to experience in the coming week.

The Eagle, Sovereignty, and Redemption

A photo I snapped of the eagle soaring over our cove a few summers ago.
A photo I snapped of the eagle soaring over our cove a few summers ago.

Does the eagle soar at your command
and build its nest on high?
Job 39:27 (NIV)

When I was a child in elementary school, I remember studying the American bald eagle and how near they were to extinction. I have memories of thinking that I might never see one and how sad that would be. The few that did exist, I was told, were in the wild of Alaska or the Rocky Mountains far from my home on the rolling plains of Iowa.

Much to my joy, bald eagles have become a fairly common sight near my Iowa hometown in recent years, though the sight never ceases to stop me in my tracks and fill me with wonder. Conservation efforts have worked. At our place on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri there are eagles which nest in the back of our cove. There is nothing quite like the  sight of that giant raptor with it’s snowy white head and tail soaring right over you. This summer we even had the treat of watching a young eagle dive into the shallow water at the back of the cove over and over and over again learning to catch fish.

God’s questioning of Job in today’s chapter focuses on His sovereignty and care over creation. I find it interesting that creation has a natural order to it which God set into motion. It fascinates me how the animal and plant kingdoms operate in symbiotic relationships and function amazingly well in the propagation of life and the natural environment. Humanity has a way of coming along and messing things up more often than not. I would argue that it is a consequence of the Fall, and perhaps that is part of God’s point to Job.

I’m looking forward to seeing the eagles again at the lake this summer. They remind me that there is hope of redemption, even at the brink of extinction. A eucatastrophe in nature. This summer there will be an added layer of meaning as I remember God’s questioning of Job, and me.

The Battlefield of Job

spiritual battle for job

“where then is my hope—
    who can see any hope for me?”
Job 17:15 (NIV)

We find ourselves in today’s chapter back on the ash heap with Job and his three friends. The friends have all had a chance to address Job and they all express their own taken on the same theme: “You must have done something wrong and your suffering is God’s just punishment. Simply confess and repent and God will restore you.” Job, in response, continues to plead his case: “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve done nothing to deserve my sufferings. God refuses to answer my requests for explanation. I have no hope. Let me just die and be done with it.”

In today’s chapter, Job both expresses his utter hopelessness and then invites his friends to have another go at him. I don’t hear Job’s invitation as a challenge as much as it is a gesture of futility and despair. It as if he’s saying “I’m just waiting to die. I’ve got nothing better to do, and nobody better than you blowhards to keep me company. Go ahead and take another shot at me while I’m down.”

Job continues to express his feelings of isolation. His suffering has singled him out from the rest of the world. I think back to the beginning of Job’s story and the root of his suffering:

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Job 2:7

I never want to forget that the story of Job is a story about spiritual warfare waged to claim the territory of an individual’s spirit. Job was a righteous and blameless man. Job was a King’s man. Satan, the enemy, desired to break Job, make him curse God so as to raise his black flag of victory over Job’s soul . Any student of history and war knows that one of the most basic military tactics is to isolate your enemy. Cut your enemy off from supply lines and make them despair, and you usually find yourself victorious. Satan has done just that. Job feels isolated, alone, and in utter despair.

Today, I am reminding myself that the enemy uses the same tactic on me that he did with Job. Feelings of isolation lead to despair, despair leads to hopelessness, hopelessness sucks faith and life from our soul. Parched and starving for faith and hope, we are rendered spiritually impotent. On the other hand, continuing to choose faith and hope in the midst of inexplicable suffering is a powerful spiritual weapon through which eucatastrophe springs.

 

The Hope of Dawn

Dawn Over Lake of the Ozarks
photo by Tom Vander Well

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Psalm 143:8 (NIV)

Morning has always been one of my favorite times of the day. Each day I wake up and the sun rises it is a fresh eucatastrophe of Life. Hope comes with the dawn and I have a fresh start and a clean slate in front of me. Whatever poor choices I made yesterday, the dawn brings opportunity to make different and better choices today. I can’t change the past, but each morning I am reminded that I have this day to love well, live well, laugh well, en-joy my blessings, be a blessing to others, and join the Creator in the art of creating something new.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote in his poem of Lamentation that God’s love and compassion are “new every morning.”  Old things pass away each night, and new things come with the break of each dawn.

Today lies before me like a blank canvas. What picture will I paint in my relationships? What story will I write with my choices? I am not guaranteed a tomorrow. What will I do with this one day that is dawning; The one day I know I have before me?

Good morning.

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The Night Watch

the office of dawnI wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130:6 (NIV)

I have, in other blog posts, chronicled my adventures in sleeplessness. From childhood I’ve been a morning person. It’s in my DNA, I’m afraid. Especially in the depths of the winter, as we are in now, my day usually begins in the deep dark before dawn.

As a child, I would hate the early mornings as I lay in bed or sat in a dark house and waited. I waited for the light of dawn or the light in the bathroom which signaled that my dad was up and it was okay for me to be up too. As a kid, I hated sleeping over with friends, most of whom liked to sleep in. It meant I would wake up early in a strange house and have to wait hours for my friend to get up.  As I got older and became the father of little ones, I began to relish my early morning hours of quiet before the house began to stir. I have embraced my early mornings as productive and peaceful on a number of levels.

As I read the lyrics of Psalm 130 this morning, I ran across the verse above which has become very familiar and even dear to me in recent years. It is used in praying the hours (a.k.a. The Divine Offices), which I often do, especially The Office of Dawn. There is even The Prayer of the Night Watch, which are prayers offered between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m.

As a morning person, I feel a deep resonance with the wait for dawn. It is more than longing and desire. It is both the anticipation and expectation of what is to come. As persons of faith, the assurance of what we hope for and evidence of that which we do not see is a key ingredient in our day-to-day life journey. The physical and temporal is embodied in the instant gratification of our appetites and the blunt realities of our senses. That which is eternal and of the Spirit is generally realized at the end of the faithful, expectant, long watch of the night when eucatastrophe dawns and rends the unsuspecting darkness.

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