JRR Tolkien on the death of his wife Edith

Since I came of age, and our 3 years separation was ended, we had shared all joys and griefs, and all opinions (in agreement or otherwise), so that I still often find myself thinking 'I must tell Edith about this' – and then suddenly I feel like a castaway left on a barren island under a heedless sky after the loss of a great ship.

… the Luthien Tinuviel of my own personal 'romance', with her long dark hair, fair face and starry eyes, and beautiful voice…

But now she has gone before Beren, leaving him indeed one-handed.

[from Letter 332 of 'The Letters of JRR Tolkien']


Melancholic moments sometimes strike me, and I feel for a second something of how I would respond if Maria were to die.  I won't describe it now, but I will say what happens in the middle of it: I find myself loving her more (or being more aware of the degree to which I love her).

'The way to love anything is to realise that it may be lost' said Chesterton.

a humble pride in the impossible truth

So far as a man may be proud of a religion rooted in humility,
I am very proud of my religion;
I am especially proud of those parts of it that are most commonly called superstition.
I am proud of being fettered by antiquated dogmas and enslaved by dead creeds
(as my journalistic friends repeat with so much pertinacity),
for I know very well that it is the heretical creeds that are dead,
and only the reasonable dogma that lives long enough to be called antiquated.

–G. K. CHESTERTON, in Autobiography, 1936


Coptic Daily Prayers pt 3

This section comes straight after the Introductory Prayer (previous post), in which God is approached and thanked.  Here, we get on to some detailed requests.  Reflections below.

Therefore we ask, and appeal to Your goodness, O lover of mankind,
That You grant us to conclude this blessed day
And all the days of our lives
In peace and in Your fear.

All envy, all temptation, all works of Satan,
All intrigues of the wicked; rising up of enemies, seen and unseen;
Do cast away from us, and from all Your people,
And from this, Your holy place.

Grant us the endowments and benefactions, Lord, as You have promised,
To trample on serpents, scorpions, and over all the power of the Enemy.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
Through the grace, mercy, and love of all mankind
Of the only-begotten Son,
Our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.


In praying this prayer every day, different emphases and nuances emerge and replace one another constantly.  For example, I have often directed the 'And from this, Your holy place' line to a part of me (eg. the heart, the brain) or to a particular location (not necessarily where I am).  But I'm not in that swing of things just now.

Likewise, there have been (plenty of) times when trampling on 'serpents, scorpions, and over all the power of the Enemy' has been like a wrestling match, with the words standing in stark contrast to my inability to trample on anything whatsoever, let alone demonic evil.

At present, it is the asking to reach the end of the day in peace which is standing out to me, particularly because the prayer is not that the day would be filled with peace minute-by-minute, but rather that a sense of perspective and concluding shalom would be reached, whatever is endured along the way.


Coptic Daily Prayers pt 1

I pray set-prayers (pretty much) every day, and I'm going to break them down into bits over the next few posts, with some brief reflections.

The mode of prayer I use is from the Coptic monastic tradition (which I was introduced to by YWAM and Dr Atif in 2005).  Monks around the world pray every Psalm every day, with introductory prayers, kneeling/prostration, and space for spontaneous prayer.

And it begins like this.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord bless us.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever.

Let us give thanks to the gracious and most merciful God,
the Father of our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ,
for He has protected, assisted, preserved, and accepted us,
has had compassion upon us, supported us, and brought us to this hour.

Let us also ask Him, the Almighty God, to keep us in peace;
this blessed day and all the days of our lives.


Coptic-Icons (3)

Cherish Her!

I'm presently writing a book about JRR Tolkien's proverbs – the original sayings and aphorisms of The Lord of the Rings et al – and I have to say, doing my research has led
me in some very enjoyable (and blessed) directions.

For example, today (whilst looking at the root cause of proverbs – the need to pass on wisdom from one generation to the next) I read this fantastic little poem from a few thousand years back:

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get

Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
Embrace her, and she will honour you.
She will give you a garland to grace your

And present you with a glorious crown.



[Proverbs 4:7-9, by the way]

The Eucatastrophe of Human History

To come to the end of a time of anxiety and fear!
To feel the cloud that hung over us lift and disperse
— the cloud that dulled the heart and made happiness no more than a memory!
This at least is one joy that must have been known by almost every living creature.

Here is a boy who was waiting to be punished.
But then, unexpectedly, he finds that his fault has been overlooked or forgiven
and at once the world reappears in brilliant colours, full of delightful prospects.

Here is a soldier who was waiting, with a heavy heart, to suffer and die in battle.
But suddenly the luck has changed.  There is news!
The war is over and everyone bursts out singing!  He will go home after all!

The sparrows in the plowland were crouching in terror of the kestrel.
But she has gone; and they fly pell-mell up the hedgerow,
frisking, chattering and perching where they will.

The bitter winter had all the country in its grip.
The hares on the down, stupid and torpid with cold, were resigned to sinking
further and further into the freezing heart of snow and silence.
But now — who would have dreamed it? — the thaw is trickling,
the great tit is ringing his bell from the top of a bare lime tree, the earth is scented;
and the hares bound and skip in the warm wind.

Watership Down, Richard Adams

, or 'the sudden joyous turn', is a term coined by JRR Tolkien to describe the wondrous moment in a story when, in the midst of darkness and despair, everything suddenly goes right; when, all-of-a-sudden, everyone realises: there will be a Happy Ending.

When the eucatastrophe strikes, in story or in nature, Tolkien (like Richard Adams) says it manifests itself in unplanned euphoric responses: 'a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears'.  Why?  Relief, thankfulness, hope.  But also because the eucatastrophe 'reflects a glory backwards' – because of the Happy Ending, all trials and sufferings previously endured receive a posthumous weight of meaning and purpose; where once there was only angst, now we see that none of it was in vain.  In this way, the sickness, pain, and plain inconvenience of pregnancy is overwhelmed by the eucatastrophe of birth.

The Gospels, Tolkien tells us, contain a fairy-story; an account of the greatest and most complete eucatastrophe conceivable: the one that came true.

This story has entered History and the primary world…
the Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history.

In this story, unlike all the others, not only is the 'turn' memorable and the response euphoric and emotional, but also the happy ending is perfect, since it not only involves the characters, but also the reader as well.  We are all invited into the true Happy Ending:  From sorrow and failure to Joy.

Joy beyond the walls of the world


What is the Future of the Church?

To me, people like Richard Rohr, Brennan Manning, and Tom Wright represent attitudes to following Jesus that are simple, humble, wise, and eye-openingly life-giving.  I respect them a lot.

So it's worth noticing their answers to the above question.


Richard Rohr:  The future is ecumenical; discovering the Pearl of Great Price in each Christian tradition.

Brennan Manning:  The future is little communities of mystics who have genuinely experienced Jesus.

Tom Wright:  The future is international; a truly global family, not a western hegemony.  Heart-soul-mind-strength, holistic, and post-postmodern.

And in many ways – I'm attempting not to sound too triumphalistic – this is exactly where Maria and I, and all sorts of other people we know, are at already, and have been for some time.  None of us has our hands on the steering wheel of the Church, and that frustrates us, but to believe that this is what God has been, is, and will be doing is very encouraging.

From A Resident Alien [Letter 11]

Letter 11

The picture above is Charleston, picture-perfect as ever.  When I first came, in 2006, I was here about six weeks; I got about, observed the natives, and felt like I'd seen the place for what it was.

A year or two later (when living in Edinburgh), it suddenly struck me that in my time visiting Maria's family I'd not really met any black people.  I'd seen them around now and then, but I'd never met any.

My guess was that African Americans (ooh get me with the adjusted terminology!) make up about 5-10% of the population, but I decided to look it up anyway, because I'm into demographics and stuff like that.  And when I did it made my head spin: in Charleston, 40-45% of all people are black.  Nearly half. And I hadn't met ANY of them.

Where the frick were they all?

Now maybe I was just wildly naive or whatever, but I had no idea that this is exactly what racial segregation looks like in practice: large, mutually-exclusive populations getting on with their lives in virtually parallel worlds.  Black neighborhoods, white neighborhoods; black restaurants, white restaurants; black churches, white churches.  It's not about hate, just separateness.

Around here, the races are so socially unmixed that sometimes they actually speak different languages: black people (especially amongst themselves) often speak Gullah, a Caribbean-style creole named, apparently, after Angola, where many slaves were brought from.  It's a beautiful language.


So, segregation – albeit informal – is alive and well.  I remember last November having lunch at a fast-food place here called Arbie's (they do curly fries!) and being slightly stunned that the manager was white and ALL the other staff were black.  But no one from here would bat an eyelid at that – it's the absolute norm.

The obvious foundational background for all this is slavery.  Over 40% of all slaves in North America arrived via Charleston, and Charleston, if you did not know, was the place where war kicked off over the rights of Americans to own other Americans.


South Carolina seceded from the United States because white people wanted the liberty to own black-skinned property.  And when the Confederates lost the war, the underlying issues were never dealt with – I've searched and searched and can find no record of any reconciliation work in Charleston, whatsoever.

And I love reconciliation work.  One of the great things about being English is that wherever you go in the world, there is always someone to apologise to (whether Zimbabweans, Maori, or Scots).  I would love to see reconciliation in process here, but it seems pretty unlikely, since people are so accustomed to the situation that they don't even know that there's a problem.

Like me when I was finding all this out, you are probably thinking something along the lines of, 'Those dumb, racist, Southerners!' and there is some validity in that.  But only some.  I researched into the heritage of this place from January to May this year, and one fact became very apparent very quickly: it was all caused by the English.


It was the English who set up Charleston and the state of Carolina to be the seat of commerce for the South.  It was the English who kidnapped, bought, tricked, and captured Africans, and shipped them to America.  It was the English who prioritised wealth over goodness, and turned brothers and sisters into property.

It was us.  It was my people.

Maybe someday there will be racial reconciliation in Charleston, but I have the feeling that it might very well require the English to take the first step, in recognition of what we started.  And that makes me glad that I'm here, because I'd love to be part of that.