Chesterton, Thankfully

What’s on my mind? Chesterton, thankfully.

“All sane men can see that sanity is some kind of equilibrium; that one may be mad and eat too much, or mad and eat too little. Some moderns have indeed appeared with vague versions of progress and evolution which seek to destroy the meson or balance of Aristotle. They seem to suggest that we are meant to starve progressively, or to go on eating larger and larger breakfasts every morning for ever. But the great truism of the meson remains for all thinking men, and these people have not upset any balance except their own. But granted that we have all to keep a balance, the real interest comes in with the question of how that balance can be kept. That was the problem which paganism tried to solve; that was the problem which I think Christianity solved and solved in a very strange way.

Paganism declared that virtue was in a balance; Christianity declared it was in a conflict: the collision of two passions apparently opposites. Of course they were not really inconsistent; but they were such that it was hard to hold simultaneously. Let us follow for a moment the clue of the martyr and the suicide, and take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book.

This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: It has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying. And it has held up ever since above the European lances the banner of the mystery of chivalry: the Christian courage, which is a disdain of death; not the Chinese courage, which is a disdain of life.

And now I began to find that this duplex passion was the Christian key to ethics everywhere. Everywhere the creed made a moderation out of the still crash of two impetuous emotions. Take, for instance, the matter of modesty, of the balance between mere pride and mere prostration. The average pagan, like the average agnostic, would merely say that he was content with himself, but not insolently self-satisfied, that there were many better and many worse, that his deserts were limited, but he would see that he got them. In short, he would walk with his head in the air; but not necessarily with his nose in the air. This is a manly and rational position, but it is open to the objection we noted against the compromise between optimism and pessimism–the “resignation” of Matthew Arnold. Being a mixture of two things, it is a dilution of two things; neither is present in its full strength or contributes its full color. This proper pride does not lift the heart like the tongue of trumpets; you cannot go clad in crimson and gold for this.

On the other hand, this mild rationalist modesty does not cleanse the soul with fire and make it clear like crystal; it does not (like a strict and searching humility) make a man as a little child, who can sit at the feet of the grass. It does not make him look up and see marvels; for Alice must grow small if she is to be Alice in Wonderland. Thus it loses both the poetry of being proud and the poetry of being humble. Christianity sought by this same strange expedient to save both of them.

It separated the two ideas and then exaggerated them both. In one way Man was to be haughtier than he had ever been before; in another way he was to be humbler than he had ever been before. In so far as I am Man I am the chief of creatures. In so far as I am a man I am the chief of sinners. All humility that had meant pessimism, that had meant man taking a vague or mean view of his whole destiny — all that was to go. We were to hear no more the wail of Ecclesiastes that humanity had no pre-eminence over the brute, or the awful cry of Homer that man was only the saddest of all the beasts of the field. Man was a statue of God walking about the garden. Man had pre-eminence over all the brutes — man was only sad because he was not a beast, but a broken god. The Greek had spoken of men creeping on the earth, as if clinging to it. Now Man was to tread on the earth as if to subdue it. Christianity thus held a thought of the dignity of man that could only be expressed in crowns rayed like the sun and fans of peacock plumage.”

– G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The Eternal Revolution

My dilemma in paring down G. K. C.: I want to just stick with the one point I thought poignant, and so condense the quote accordingly. The problem is that it is hard to find a point that is not poignant, and not only not poignant, but also not poetic, beautiful and highly enjoyable. And that makes me think deeply about life… My solution? Simply quote more Chesterton. Someone once said that Chesterton quotes are like potato chips, you can never stop at just one. Indeed.

The Eternal Revolution

“We may say broadly that free thought is the best of all the safeguards against freedom. Managed in a modern style the emancipation of the slave’s mind is the best way of preventing the emancipation of the slave. Teach him to worry about whether he wants to be free, and he will not free himself. Again, it may be said that this instance is remote or extreme. But, again, it is exactly true of the men in the streets around us. It is true that the slave, being a debased barbarian, will probably have either a human affection of loyalty, or a human affection for liberty. But the man we see every day–the worker in Mr. Gradgrind’s factory, the little clerk in Mr. Gradgrind’s office–he is too mentally worried to believe in freedom. He is kept quiet with revolutionary literature. He is calmed and kept in his place by a constant succession of wild philosophies. He is a Marxian one day, a Nietzscheite the next day, a Superman (probably) the next day; and a slave every day. The only thing that remains after all the philosophies is the factory. The only man who gains by all the philosophies is Gradgrind. It would be worth his while to keep his commercial helotry supplied with sceptical literature. And now I come to think of it, of course, Gradgrind is famous for giving libraries. He shows his sense. All modern books are on his side. As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realized, or even partly realized. The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind.

This, therefore, is our first requirement about the ideal towards which progress is directed; it must be fixed. Whistler used to make many rapid studies of a sitter; it did not matter if he tore up twenty portraits. But it would matter if he looked up twenty times, and each time saw a new person sitting placidly for his portrait. So it does not matter (comparatively speaking) how often humanity fails to imitate its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitful. But it does frightfully matter how often humanity changes its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitless.”

– G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

One Thing Have I Desired of the Lord

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.
Psalms 27:4

My Daughter is now 18

My daughter is now 18… I can’t believe it. I remember when I was afraid of turning 18, and what was in store for me in the big world of ‘adults’. Cheryl, I hope you enjoy every minute of being 18. And 19, and 20. And 30, 40 and 50 too. For that matter, I hope you enjoy your whole life, not only every year but every day and every moment; I hope you enjoy every season of its wonder and all the unique joys and beauties that each age will bring. I hope you find the beauty in the laughter as well as the tears, and I know that you will find strength to match each challenge along the way. I know this because I have, somehow. As has my mother before me, and her mother before that, ad infinitum. It is simply a matter of continuing to place one foot in front of the other and stay the course. (BTW, the ‘simply’ may be somewhat other than implied.)

And I hope you dance. And not only that, but I want you to get swept away, sing with rapture, dance like a dervish. I hope you wake up every morning and say “I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna wind up.” Because life is what you make it, so make it rock. And if ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you. And if you ever need me, I’ll be there.

Happy birthday to you, my darling daughter; you are a beauty, a joy, and a gift, and I have loved getting to hold you in my hands this far. May your voyage into adulthood be everything it should be and more – all my best wishes, hopes, prayers and dreams are for you. May you be wise, and keep your girlish charms. May you be strong in trying times, and also have cause for much laughter and joy. May you find your life’s purpose, and enjoy every second of the ride. And may your ship be blessed and guided by God’s hand, and may your course follow His path.

All my love to you today and always,

Mom ♥


– Watergirl