Tag Archives: hope

“To See Real Strength, Look Into the Face of a Farmer”

A glance through the window on the other side of the room tells me that we’re “in for it” again.

It’s mid-morning and the trees are already waving their branches maniacally, flailing arms raised in surrender, as the wind lashes them unmercifully. They seem to know that they are facing another withering day of wind-scourging, aided and abetted by blistering, unrelenting, sap-boiling, life-sapping heat.

The calendar says that it’s not officially summer yet. But the window and the trees are issuing a bleak and soon-to-be scorching sort of warning. Like the trees, I feel ready to surrender.

I’m weak. If you want to see strength in the face of a drought’s merciless onslaught, look into the face of a farmer.

If you’re not a farmer and you glanced into his barn at a pallet loaded with bags of seed, and if your life depended on correctly guessing the cost of the seed in those bags, I’m guessing you’d miss it by a factor of three zeros. Rich life is in that seed, dormant but real. The life is the miracle and our Creator freely gives the life. He also has given us men and women who have gained the knowledge and ability to be able to enhance that seed and multiply its blessing for a world much in need of it. That part does not come cheap, but when that seed grows, it’s green and rich and beautiful, full of potential and blessing.

But I look through the window again. I’m not standing out in the midst of the wind’s assault, waiting for the blast furnace to fire up again, knowing that we’re heading into another day, another week, with no rain. I’m not loading heavy bags—they might as well be filled with silver dollars—into planters, knowing that, barring some meteorological miracle, each seed is being plunged toward death by asphyxiation in dry dust.

No, I’m not a farmer, and though I respect and appreciate and love a bunch of farmers and farm families, just looking through the window today reminds me of how little I really understand about the way of life that makes it possible for me to live. Even to me, planting in a drought seems pointless. But that’s what the insurance rules require, and to have any chance at all to live long as a farmer, you must not only know how to grow things, you must understand, though it breaks your heart and goes against every fiber of your being, why for far too many years, seed has to be planted just to die.

Jesus once told a parable about seed; it was really a parable about souls (Matthew 13). But telling it showed that our Lord completely understands both. He understands seed. He understands souls. And he understands a farmer’s soul. He keeps planting seed, and he keeps planting in hope. He knows that at the end of the day he’s one day closer to the time when he’ll tuck that seed into the ground, the rain will fall, life will conquer death, and what grows will be beautiful.

Yes, in farming and in all of life, in times of difficulty and drought, we’re still one day closer . . .

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Christ’s Disciples Were Sheltering in Place When Suddenly . . .”

A normal Easter Sunday.

That’s pretty much exactly what this Covid-19 Easter Sunday 2020 wasn’t.

For my family, it was already a “particularly special” holy day. It was the fifth anniversary of my granddaughter Brenley’s baptism. And it was the thirty-fifth anniversary of our move to the 16th & D Church in Muleshoe. Especially special, for sure.

Just not normal.

Like churches all over the country, and a lot of the world, we were “social distancing,” not meeting together in large groups, even on Easter Sunday.

Pope Francis did not celebrate the traditional open-air mass in St. Peter’s Square; instead, the mass was “live-streamed” from inside an almost-deserted St. Peter’s Basilica. He acknowledged the terrible hardship and suffering the pandemic has thrust upon the world, but he talked about “the contagion of hope” and spoke of God’s reassurance: “Do not be afraid, I have risen and I am with you still.”

I enjoyed an interview Savannah Guthrie did with New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan. (That man is always worth a listen!) He made the excellent point that though this Easter is certainly a difficult one, it may also be a particularly meaningful one. In the midst of real darkness, maybe we are especially open to the reality of Easter hope. Yes, I thought, we so need that same power that met and dispelled the darkness of evil so long ago even as Christ’s disciples were cowering, sheltering in place, in desperate need of a mighty strength from outside of themselves, completely beyond themselves, to bring new life.

Oh, yes, we need that Resurrection power now! We always do, of course, but maybe this Easter we recognize our need more than usual. And that realization can bring very special blessing.

Yes, indeed, what a strange Easter! St. Peter’s Square in Rome was almost empty. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, basically deserted. 16th & D Church of Christ in Muleshoe, Texas. Ditto. And no news media there filming the lack of a crowd. Just one pastor and his wife. And an iPad.

A different sort of Easter Sunday, for sure. But since when can any Easter be called normal? Offhand, can you think of anything “normal” about God loving the world enough to come into it as a human being, give his life as the ultimate sacrifice to suffer and die and literally take away all of our sin and guilt, and then be raised to new life by the Spirit’s unimaginable power?

No Easter is “business as usual” in this universe. But Easter hope is the same precious gift every Easter Sunday, every Easter season, and every new day since that first Easter morning. Perhaps in the darkness surrounding our lives in the midst of this one, Easter glory just shines more brightly, its power more focused.

Let’s keep joyful and carry on—in hope!

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Resurrection Hope Shines Brightly in Dark Times

As most of our friends and parishioners know, my brothers and I, all four of us preachers, head to Robert Lee, Texas, a couple of times a year to spend some time together at the old home place of our maternal grandparents. We were supposed to be there last week, but the Covid-19 virus, national and state authorities, and our wives clipped our wings.

The Coke County Ministerial Conference. That is what I call our usual biannual get-togethers. I’ve derived far more ministerial benefit from those gatherings than any more formal pastors’ conference I’ve ever attended. We always have a great time, and I hope a few months from now we get to make up this missed one.

Summer? Yes, but that reminds me of one of our gatherings a few years ago. We probably should have taken turns preaching sermons to each other warning of hell. We were there a bit later in the spring than usual; afternoon temperatures were already hovering obscenely around 100, and we were roasting. Add a little—actually, a lot—of wind to that, and it was seriously hot.

It was also dangerously dry. I didn’t see any brimstone, but the fire danger was extreme. Not many days before we got into town, a chance of fire had become the certainty of fire as a major wildfire threatened the towns of Robert Lee and Bronte. Some of our family there had to evacuate their homes, and our cousins were among a big bunch of folks who had joined in to help get the blaze under control.

One report mentioned that the residents of the nursing home (I’ve sung there many times) just across the creek from my grandparents’ old place was also evacuated during that crisis. Part of the area threatened was out near Paint Creek (around eight miles out of Robert Lee) and the little cemetery where my parents and grandparents and many other family members and dear friends and others are buried. The fire ended up sparing the cemetery and the two aforementioned towns, but it burned a huge amount of land. Scary, to say the least.

That fire was contained, put out, and became a memory a long time ago. But fires belong on a list of the kinds of crises common to the human race. Along with earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts. Guys with questionable theology and a flare for writing can always stand to make a lot of money lining up those sorts of things in books and making questionable claims about Bible verses. People have been doing that, in one form or another, for centuries. Oh, and right now a writer with a flare for such can add in a very scary virus pandemic.

The Covid-19 mess is on all of our minds. It is a dark and difficult time, for sure. But in Easter’s brilliant light shines the hope of God’s resurrected Son. When the virus recedes and fades, Easter hope will remain.

Sunday is Easter! Even in the midst of the present distress. In Pope John Paul II’s words is still deep wisdom: “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” That’s true even if the ground shakes, or smoke is in the air, or a virus is assaulting the world. Prayer is called for, along with Resurrection hope.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com

 

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Ode to TP

Note: I hesitate–maybe not long enough!–to post my “poem” here. This is NOT a regular “Focus on Faith” blog. Possibly, the only thing it has to do with faith is a rather idiotic indication of a very real and seriously beautiful fact: God is still powerful and loving and real, and our strength is in Him. Knowing that, and with sincere apologies and prayers for those who are truly being seriously hurt by the pandemic and resulting pandemonium, maybe a little laughter can be a genuine sign of at least a little faith. I hope so. I warn you: this “poem” is BAD. And came to me right where you might think it did. I henceforth swear off and promise to refrain from further toilet paper poetry!

 


Coveys of Quail, Columnists, Politicians, and Covid-19

Quail. I have nothing at all against those birds. I enjoy looking at them. I’ve fed a few. Raised a few. Shot a few. Eaten a few. I enjoy them on every level, from my eyeballs to my taste buds. So I don’t mean to slander these fine birds when I say that their images should be woven into the logos of the world’s leading stock exchanges.

Or maybe instead the exchanges could use in their logos images of a bunch of frightened old women leaning on walkers. But that would be grossly unfair to elderly females, most of whom I’ve found to be savvy, courageous, and wise. Come to think of it, most of that breed cower and whine less than any other group you’d care to mention.

Anyway, if you’re looking for courage and fortitude, don’t look to find it in any of the world’s stock exchanges during, say, your average epidemic. If you haven’t looked at your retirement account lately, I’d suggest you wait a few months, or a year or two, to let the quail get over their cowering and covey up again. Even if the sky really has fallen by then, you’ll have time to make peace with it. (My deep apologies for herein mixing metaphors of quail and Chicken Littles, but I’m scared out of my mind. Can’t you tell?)

Of course, what at present has the national news media ecstatic and the stock market falling to its knees in terror is a virus, a “coronavirus,” namely, Covid-19. The Wall Street Journal’s headline today: “Disease Takes Toll on Companies.” But it’s not yet the disease taking a toll; it’s fear of the disease.

In that publication’s weekend edition, one columnist (who I like) conjectured that, while this thing is nothing to sneeze at, irrational fear of it will do a lot more damage than the disease itself. I understood his point to be: wash your hands, get out from under the coffee table, don’t stand in lines with hordes of other quail buying face masks, have the good sense and decency to stay home when you’re sick, and get on with life.

Another columnist (one of my favorite), writing a few pages away, while basically agreeing with the first, expressed a gut feeling that this thing and its impact is “going to be bad.”

Take your pick.

The most informative article I’ve read yet is by Matthew R. Francis (Popular Science, “Just How Contagious Is COVID-19?” 2/28/20). He looks to well-established epidemiology. An R0 (“R naught” or “basic reproduction number”) enumerates how many people will be infected by one infected person. Flu is usually 1.2; this virus seems to be “above 1.4 but below 4.” Measles is 12-18, which is why it’s crazy, if not criminal, not to vaccinate!

He also mentions the CFR, “case fatality rate,” and says that, though the “seasonal flu” has a low CFR, so far in this flu season almost 30,000 Americans have died from flu. He writes that estimates now are that the CFR of this new disease is 1.4 per cent (14 per 1000). And he cites serious research that shows that “city-wide quarantines” and “travel bans” don’t help much. They may slow down the spread, but it’ll spread anyway, do what it will do, and be done. I read that to mean that, if you’re a Christian and, on a particular Sunday morning, you find that the barometric pressure in Bolivia is right, your dog seems healthy, and it’s completely convenient, it probably won’t hurt you to go ahead and go to church.

I guess we’ll see how this all goes.

Forgive me while I make everyone mad, but I’m not presently ready (it’s the Monday before “Super Tuesday,” as I write) to place too much trust in the two guys presently “leading” in our two Keystone Cop political parties. “Controlling” a pandemic? One can’t control his own cell phone and the other recently felt compelled to give a nice “shout out” to a totalitarian murderer for “literacy” efforts. Our political prospects are enough to make you want to take a good sniff of Covid-19 or a large dose of Corona (not the virus).

I admit that, as I watched a news program yesterday, I found the words of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to be sensible. (I hope he has time to do some good things before he is inevitably thrown under the bus.)

But I find these words more reassuring: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Grief: It Is a Very Large Word Indeed

Grief. It’s a far bigger word than we usually think.

Oh, we all know that it applies to the loss wrought by death as we’ve stood at the graveside of a loved one, smelled the flowers, felt the emptiness, and wondered how to face a world so suddenly changed.

And every day changes. We may think we’re doing, well, some better. At least, maybe making small steps in the right direction. And then we get up on the next day and find ourselves, it seems, having taken two, or twenty, steps backward.

Following the death of his wife, C. S. Lewis wrote of grief’s pervasiveness, “Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection . . . I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”

Grief seems to color everything. We long for the time to come when it isn’t the first thing that hits us in the face yet again each morning and the last thing we think of before we finally find sleep each night.

Such is so very true regarding death-induced grief.

But grief is spelled L-O-S-S, and loss comes in many bitter flavors.

Whatever dreams you had for your marriage, only your nightmares would have included the divorce that throttled those dreams.

Whatever your dreams for your child, well, only bad dreams included . . .

Your dreams for your business or profession were bright and optimistic and seemed real at the time, but . . .

Maybe you’d dreamed of traveling in retirement. And now? You are. Mostly to specialists and pharmacies.

In any of your dreams for the future, did these words figure in? Cancer. Addiction. Bankruptcy. Jail. Tragedy. Hurt. Disappointment. Depression.

Need I mention that those are not words you’ll ever lightly drop into a Christmas letter?

And by the way, in the midst of such loss is one that colors it all and may surprise you until we name it. But we need to name it. It’s the loss of control.

“I don’t know what to do about . . .”

“What now?”

“Here’s what needs to happen, but I can’t . . .”

“I have no clue what . . .”

“I can’t imagine how I’ll . . .”

The ship has already embarked. You’re in the midst of the sea and the storm. And the rudder has broken loose from the wheel.

Need I tell you? This is frightening. Worse, really. This is terrifying.

Will it help much if I point out that none of us was ever really in control anyway? That was largely an illusion.

But maybe it will help a little for us to consider where we actually might try to exert a little control. Maybe just in small moments at first. But in our attitudes. In our next footstep. In sincerely asking for help, for each of the ten thousand times we’ve asked and failed yet again to truly “cast our cares” on the Captain of our souls (and leave them there). He really does care for us, love us, more than we can imagine.

As deeply frightened as I often am on life’s sea, I believe that the “man of sorrows” really is “acquainted with” our grief in all of its forms. We can believe in and trust his willingness to “carry our sorrows.”

And, paradoxically, stronger and deeper, more real and pervasive than any of our genuine grief, is his joy. When all of our griefs and hot tears have faded away, his joy will remain for a thousand forevers.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Week with Two Sundays in a Row

We had two Sundays this week at our little church. Two Sundays two days in a row.

Well, not really. But it seemed like it.

The first Sunday this week was Saturday as we held the funeral of a fine man and good friend, a well-loved and faith-filled member of our church. We sang and prayed and shared God’s good news of hope. Sweet melodies and rich tones rose in that sanctuary and lifted our spirits, and God’s Spirit comforted, and God’s word was balm, and the hearts of God’s people praising Him were washed with tears of sorrow mingling with joy and laughter and hope.

When we returned later from the cemetery, we came back to that little church and filled our stomachs with wonderful food seasoned by love, and we filled our hearts again with hope in the presence of God’s people.

And then came Sunday—the real one, albeit the second. And we sang and prayed and shared God’s good news of hope. Sweet melodies and rich tones of hope rose in that sanctuary and lifted our spirits, and God’s Spirit comforted, and God’s word was balm, and his Table was open to all, and the hearts of God’s people praising Him and participating in His sacrifice of love were washed with tears of sorrow mingling with joy and laughter and hope.

Then following worship we went into the fellowship hall of that little church and filled our stomachs with wonderful food seasoned by love, and we filled our hearts again with hope in the presence of God’s people.

Both days I arrived early and opened the doors.

Both days I scurried about getting things prepared.

Both days I stopped for a few moments to drink in the sweet silence of that sweet place.

Both days I knelt between the front pews to lift up a prayer.

Both days I thanked God for His people here and for His people everywhere who kneel before Him.

Both days I silently praised God for the opportunity to come together to praise God.

Both days, and with each breath, I thanked God for hope in Christ.

Both days it occurred to me again how much I love what happens in that little place and with a little church large in love.

Ah, “church” is a big word. No one has to tell me that the real church is the people; it’s not the building, it’s Christ’s Body.

But don’t try to tell me that the little place I also unashamedly call the church is not a special and holy place (as, I pray, is yours). How near-sighted must we be if we can’t see that “place” matters!

When I kneel here, I think of all the others who have knelt here, and who do, and who will. They are part of me and I of them.

I’ve worshiped and worked here, laughed and cried here, knelt in joy here, bowed in near-desperation here, proclaimed God’s word here, received God’s word here, celebrated Christ’s life and death and resurrection here, and been filled with His life and hope here.

This place’s two-by-fours and sheetrock and glass (even stained) are ordinary, but what happens here is more than ordinary. What happens here on Sundays (usually just one a week) is so holy that it lifts and sanctifies the remainder of even the most ordinary days of the most ordinary of weeks.

Maybe this week it took two Sundays to remind me that if we ever let the wine of the grace we receive in such a place turn back into water when we leave, well, that’s not the fault of the wine-making Lord who bids us drink from His full cup. I love worshiping Him here in this special place of grace.

May God sanctify and bless such a beautiful place in your life, too. Yes, and drink deeply!

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 


“How Are You? Good! I’m Fine!”

People can be maddening, frustrating, bull-headed, mean, dumb, astonishing, resilient, weak, strong, gentle, loving, perplexing, bitter, graceful, resentful, hateful, merciful, and . . . pick any adjective and stack ’em up. Any one of those will apply to a few someones, and lots of them will apply to the same folks at the very same time.

None of that is news to anyone.

Having said that, and having lived for six decades, I must say that, as many human idiosyncrasies and traits as I’ve observed in myself and others, sometimes I’m still surprised. For example . . .

It may not be true in a larger town where you either don’t know each other or, if you’re in a very large town, folks think eye contact might predict a mugging.

But in a small town like mine, when you set foot into your doctor’s waiting room, you almost always know a few folks, and you will quite naturally shake hands and say, “Hi, Joe! How are you?” And Joe will shake your hand and very likely reply, “Hey, Curtis! I’m fine; how are you?”

Now, remember, you’re in your doctor’s office. First of all, it’s a great place to get sick, and any sensible person would be wary of shaking hands. (Which is why I carry in my pocket a little bottle of hand sanitizer.)

Second, you are in your doctor’s office. How likely is it that you are both there because you’re fine as frog hair? But you’ll still reply, “I’m fine.” You might say later, “Oh, honestly, I’m leaking snot out of every pore in my body.” You probably won’t say, “Well, except for a potentially life-threatening, life-altering, disgusting, maddening disease that has me scared out of my wits, I’m fine.”

Still, I guess it’s a good comment on our town that, really, most of us are happy to be aboard, and mostly, “We’re fine.”

My doctor—I hope he doesn’t mind the description—is as close to Marcus Welby as you’ll ever find. I’ve been loving and serving this community for well over three decades, and he has been for a lot longer—all of his life. He’s pulled me and mine through a bunch of scrapes. We obviously like, respect, trust, and enjoy each other a lot. Not many folks do I enjoy talking to more. And I’d put him up against any big town medical guru any day.

I still laughed when I read one lady’s words. An emergency room physician, she said, “If your bone is presently sticking out of your leg, you should come see me; otherwise, you’ll likely live longer if you use medical care rarely and judiciously.”

I figure she’s talking mostly about specialists, though. The kind retired folks (that’s not me yet) tend to collect as a very unfulfilling, expensive, and too-often truly necessary hobby. Probably the same ones we read about in Mark 5:26 when we’re told of a poor lady who had “suffered much under the care of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” A cautionary tale.

Specialists. Three options. Pick two out of three. Get better. Get worse. Get poor. Before you try them, I’d suggest some time out on the back porch with a good book and maybe even an occasional fine cigar to lower your blood pressure. If you can get your doc to smoke one with you, you’ll have both relaxation and some of the best conversation with one of the best friends you’ll ever find.

By the way, how are you? Good. I’m fine.

 

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


A Real Question: “How Much Is Happiness Worth?”

“Happiness is worth a lot to me,” a good friend, colleague, and mentor once told his boss as he made a decision that would lead to his leaving the company.

“Well, so what? Isn’t happiness worth a lot to everybody?” his boss replied.

“No,” my friend replied truthfully and I think with unusual wisdom, “it is not—not to everybody.”

I’ve thought of that exchange often. My friend’s words may mean more when I tell you that he is very motivated and one of the better businessmen I know.

I haven’t conducted any polls, scientific or otherwise, to shed light on the percentages involved, but I’d speculate that more people than not so “naturally” equate “bigger and more” with better and happier—a bigger title, a bigger salary, more responsibility, more prestige, more power, increased “upward mobility,” etc.—that they hardly even consider that “bigger and more” might not mean “happier.”

It may. Aside from the fact that none of us can actually “make” anybody happy and that people who really want to be unhappy are almost always really good at it, sometimes, though not nearly as often as we think, bigger and more actually is better.

I have known some remarkably unselfish and praiseworthy folks who seem absolutely gifted by God in leadership, business skill, organization-building, etc., who have honored God in everything they’ve done. And they seem happy to me.

But every bit as impressive to me are folks I know who have realized that, in this decision or that goal, if they didn’t believe God was calling them in one direction or the other, if it was more a career choice than a moral choice, more a geographical choice than a spiritual choice, they recognized that real happiness often lies in living “peaceful and quiet lives” and “being content with what you have.” I can hardly imagine two admonitions that would more squarely slap our sick society full across the face!

But what good, after all, is a bigger house if the job you had to take to pay for it means you’re never home?

A very common and oft-repeated error some people make, author Philip Gulley writes, is to “mistake contentment for stagnation.”

Trust the Lord for your true contentment. Do your job “as honoring the Lord.” And I suspect that more than a few opportunities will come your way for advancement.

But be sure to look them over carefully and prayerfully. Not every opportunity for advancement is an opportunity for increased happiness or real contentment or genuine service. Even if this world can’t begin to understand Christ’s words, you believe them: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Happy is the person who knows that more money, more power, more prestige does not necessarily mean more genuine happiness.

 

  You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Resurrection Is the Greatest “Eucatastrophe”

More than a few writers have talked about the place where Joy and Sorrow meet.

In a moment of deep contentment, someone may say, “I’m so happy I could cry!” And in the moments of deepest and most unutterable joy, we say nothing at all. We don’t live long before we learn that tears are more precious than diamonds, and the best tears are tears of joy.

When those joy-tears come, we usually don’t analyze them; we live the moment. But if the time comes to talk about such moments, author J. R. R. Tolkien, most famous for his amazing Lord of the Rings trilogy, has kindly coined for us a very good word.

That joy and sorrow are so closely intertwined is ironic. And so, at first glance, seems Tolkien’s word: “eucatastrophe.” “Eu-” is a Greek prefix meaning “good,” and “catastrophe”? Most of us are all too familiar with the word and the situations it describes.

“Catastrophe” is a Greek word brought directly into English that means “destruction.” According to Webster’s, it has come to hold such decidedly negative meanings as “a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin,” a “violent usually destructive natural event,” or an “utter failure.” Understandably, most of us seek to avoid such. I think of the crash of the Hindenburg (see the first meaning). Or, more personally, I remember the first time I sang publicly in a quartet and we started the same song in different keys (see the third meaning).

But the word first had, and still has, a more technical meaning. In literature, especially in tragedy, the “catastrophe” is the technical term for the final conclusion or “unraveling” of the drama’s plot. No surprise that in tragedy, that conclusion is sad. Tragedies in literature, by definition, have sad endings.

Ah, but fairy tales are different. A true fairy tale always has a happy ending. Thus the master wordsmith Tolkien coined the word “eucatastrophe” to describe just such an ending: “I coined ‘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).” He goes on to explain that what we call fairy tales actually point to the deepest truth and happiest ending of all (really a beginning), that good will overcome evil.

Tolkien knew that the Cross and Resurrection are no fairy tale. He speaks deep truth when he says that “the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible.” Its truth “pierces” us with “a joy that brings tears.”

The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God” (12:2).

“Christian joy,” Tolkien writes, “produces tears because it is so qualitatively like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled.”

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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