Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Spirit of the Child in the World

The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged…

Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again!’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again!’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes ever daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.
GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Reflection – Time for a new author on the blog, something completely different. His face has been peering intensely out at us on the side there since I redesigned the blog in March, but I haven’t gotten around to having the man himself on the blog yet.

Yes, it’s time for a series on Chesterton.  I set myself the challenge yesterday evening of opening the book Orthodoxy at random seven times and finding bloggable text each time. It was not difficult – the man had a way with words, with the telling phrase. So we’re going to delve a bit into the world of Orthodoxy over the next week or so. Now, every passage in Chesterton people quote is necessarily pulled out of context and somewhat distorted in the process. The man thought, not in sentences or in paragraphs, but in books, and any section of his writings only has its full meaning in the context of the whole book it is in.

In Orthodoxy GKC is at pains to show his path to Christianity through his discontent with the prevailing ‘orthodoxies’ of the modern world of his day and the deep intuitions and apprehensions he had that all ended up confirmed and clarified in orthodox Christianity, ultimately in Catholicism. In this text he is really critiquing the dead mechanism of materialism, the image of the cosmos as a sort of giant clockwork or engine chugging away on lifeless principles.

His point is subtle and manifold. I suspect GKC did not actually think the sun to be a living being with intentions and attitudes, but his part of his point is that speaking of the sun as something dead and mechanical is just as unfounded and unscientific. The mere fact that there is repetition and regularity in the universe does not support the material mechanistic model of reality. There is repetition and regularity in a pattern of woven cloth or a formalized dance or a children’s nursery rhyme, and these all bear witness to life and vitality.

By way, though, of his critique of the materialist model of reality we see one of the great qualities of GKC, a quality that shines through all his works. That is his great spirit of exuberance and joy in creation, his capacity to marvel at the wonders of the world around him and to never grow tired or bored of one bit of it. In a sense, he is the little child who never grows tired of seeing the sun rise each morning and says ‘Do it again! Do it again!’, who could spend a life time making fields of identical daisies and never grow even slightly bored with the perfect beauty of each one.

This is rather an important matter for us a century or so later, isn’t it? We are a people suffering from ennui, often, who clamor for ever varying stimulus, spectacle, entertainment. I’m boooooooooored, is the cry not just of teen and tweens at the end of the summer vacation, but of a great deal of post-modern mankind. The demand for ever new entertainments and ever more exciting spectacle is a toxic one. We are like drug addicts who need ever higher dosages of our drug of choice to feel the high.

So we need ever more sexually explicit music and dance, ever more outrageous transgressive movies and television shows (coming soon to HBO, a vampire who starts a meth lab to fund his werewolf daughter’s brothel: Blood Brothelling Bad!), ever more revealing fashions, ever more shocks, thrills, chills. This is not the spirit of men and women fully alive, fully vibrant, fully awake and aware of the world we live in, but of tired old drug addicts one fix away from a final OD.

Really, we should be utterly thrilled and captivated by every sunrise, by the play of light on a maple leaf, by the perfect roundness of a full moon, by the flight of a blackbird and the hop of a rabbit, by each daisy and marigold, and in fact each blade of grass. GKC had eyes to see, and a heart to marvel in, the utter beauty and wonder of the most prosaic everyday things of the world around us, and a mind to know that this is the attitude of God to his creation, and the everlasting, ever joyful, ever young spirit of the child (the Spirit of God) in the world.


  1. Speaking of the pictures at the side, who is the man above (I'm guessing) Ruth Barrows?

    1. Hans Urs Von Balthasar! (Confusing, as he is not wearing clerics in this picture...)


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