Hope for Yawning Children

This excerpt (below) taken from a 1963 letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Michael addresses his son’s doubting the institution of the university and the institution of the Church. Tolkien affirmed his son’s misgivings, but asserted that, in the end we must love and support these institutions in spite of their many, many failings — failings which are in the final analysis also our own.

What I love most about Tolkien’s response in this letter is his grasp of the central paradox of Christian faith: though God never wills evil, nor wills that we do evil, He seems to show preference, according to the mysterious logic of mercy, to manifest perfection in the messy, beauty in the grotesque, omnipotence in weakness, life in death, wise Providence in foolish disarray, glory in shame, Highness in lowliness, purity in filth. The saints got this, for even as they cast heavenly fire into the midst of earthly things, they knew well that they bore this stolen fire in fragile earthen vessels. And this emboldened them to imitate God who seemingly recklessly causes rain to fall lavishly upon the just and the unjust.

Oh yes, absolutely, we work tirelessly to correct the injustices and confront the abuses, but, if we willingly consent to the paradox of the Cross, we can never become jaded, bitter or cynical in the face of human an d angelic failure, but rather rejoice that God makes all things conspire to the good for those who love Him. That’s really the essence of the theological virtue of hope, and it’s why we say that joy-in-the-midst-of-woe is the unshakable fruit of hope.

Here’s Tolkien’s unique and wry take on how his son might steal some of that celestial fire and find in his/their flawed humanity the impeccable mercy of God ablaze:

The only cure for the sagging of fainting faith is in Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also, I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your Communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children — from those who yell to those who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn — open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a Mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand — after which [Our] Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.)

3 comments on “Hope for Yawning Children

  1. […] This excerpt (below) taken from a 1963 letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Michael addresses his son’s doubting the institution of the university and the institution of the Church. Tolkien affirmed his son’s misgivings, but asserted that, in the end we must love and support these institutions in spite Source: Neal Obstat Theological Opining   […]

  2. Br Patrick says:

    The best biography for Tolkien is his letters. This letter is a gem. Hope many parents write their children in this crazed techno world! What a treat that this letter can bless people fifty years after it was written! Thanks for the post.

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