Thursday, 31 January 2013

Pierces with a joy that brings tears

J R R Tolkien writing to his son (Christopher) explains why the Resurrection is the best and greatest story. The context is that Tolkien has just heard a sermon on the healing of Jairus' daughter and is reflecting on another healing, that of a young boy which Tolkien had witnessed in 1927. He writes:
But at the story of the little boy (which is a fully attested fact of course) with its apparent sad ending and then its sudden unhoped-for happy ending, I was deeply moved and had that peculiar emotion we all have--though not often. It is quite unlike any other sensation. 
And all of a sudden I realised what it was: the very thing that I have been trying to write about and explain--in that fairy-story essay that I so much wish you had read that I think I shall send it to you. For it I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). 
And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint has suddenly snapped back. It perceives--if the story has literary 'truth'--that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story--and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love. 
Of course I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the greatest. . . . So that in the Primary Miracle (the Resurrection) and the lesser Christian miracles too though less, you have not only that sudden glimpse of truth behind the apparent ananke of our world, but a glimpse that is actually a ray of light through the very chinks of the universe about us.
The only fitting conclusion to this vignette of Tolkein's profound mind is to repeat what Jesus says to Martha moments before raising Lazarus from the dead.. Jesus says:
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Christians, let us "vent" like Gildas

Gildas (the Wise) was a 6th-century monk born in Dumbarton, Scotland. In his treatise, On the Ruin of Britain, he points to the moral laxity of the populace and covenant infidelity of Christians as the cause of the early Anglo-Saxon invasions of Britain. Examples of this were the corrupt clergy, the rampant immorality and the realm's selfish leaders (sound familiar?) What is exemplary though is the manner Gildas deploys as he does his venting. Listen to him introduce his treatise:
Whatever my attempt shall be in this epistle, made more in tears than in denunciation, in poor style, I allow, but with good intent, let no man regard me as if about to speak under the influence of contempt for men in general, or with an idea of superiority to all, because I weep the general decay of good, and the heaping up of evils, with tearful complaint. On the contrary, let him think of me as a man that will speak out of a feeling of condolence with my country’s losses and its miseries, and sharing in the joy of remedies.

Gildas was not afraid to confront the evils of his day (as we too shouldn't) but let us (especially conservative evangelical Christians) emulate his manner, grieving our Nation's heaping up of evils even as we proclaim the truth with great fervour and passionate ardour.