fans of peacock plumage

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. Yet at the same time it could hold a thought about the abject smallness of man that could only be expressed in fasting and fantastic submission, in the grey ashes of St. Dominic and the white snows of St. Bernard. When one came to think of one’s self, there was vista and void enough for any amount of bleak abnegation and bitter truth.

From chapter VI “The Paradoxes of Christianity” in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.

to sympathize with it

One of the most important—and much neglected—ingredients of Christian discipleship is the cultivation of a listening ear. Bad listeners do not make good disciples.
…We listen to the Word with humble reverence, anxious to understand it, and resolved to believe and obey what we come to understand. We listen to the world with critical alertness, anxious to understand it too, and resolved not necessarily to believe and obey it, but to sympathize with it and to seek grace to discover how the gospel relates to it.

Quoted by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby in The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness (2007) from the Contemporary Christian: Applying God’s Word to Today’s World by John Stott (1992).

forgotten chambers in the dark house of infancy

According to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.
…The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence. But I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring. The knowledge found out and illuminated forgotten chambers in the dark house of infancy. I knew now why grass had always seemed to me as queer as the green beard of a giant, and why I could feel homesick at home.

From chapter V “The Flag of the World” in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.

no ancient to point the way

Thanks to colleagues for some time spent contemplating this poem by Billy Collins.

Scenes of Hell

We did not have the benefit of a guide,
no crone to lead us off the common path,
no ancient to point the way with a staff,

but there were badlands to cross,
rivers of fire and blackened peaks,
and eventually we could look down and see

the jeweler running around a gold ring,
the boss captured in an hourglass,
the baker buried up to his eyes in flour,

the banker plummeting on a coin,
the teacher disappering into a blackboard,
and the grocer silent under a pyramid of vegetables.

We saw the pilot nose-diving
and the whore impaled on a bedpost,
the pharmacist wandering in a stupor

and the child with toy wheels for legs.
You pointed to the soldier
who was dancing with his empty uniform

and I remarked on the blind tourist.
But what truly caught our attention
was the scene in the long mirror of ice:

you lighting the wick on your head
me blowing on the final spark,
and our children trying to crawl away from their
eggshells.

fortress of our family

Whatever the reason, it seemed and still seems to me that our attitude towards life can be better expressed in terms of a kind of military loyalty than in terms of criticism and approval. My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.

From chapter V “The Flag of the World” in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.

undue attention on your wants and supposed needs

This comes from a review by Collin Hansen of the book Where Mortals Dwell by Craig G. Bartholomew. I have not read the book but hope that I will.

“The best writers on place speak of the need for attentiveness, familiarity, silence, slowness, stability, repetition, particularity, hope, respect, love,” Bartholomew writes. “These are all characteristics and the fruit of Christian spirituality, but rare in our speed-driven, consumerist Western culture” (320).

Extolling the virtues of place necessarily leads us to reassess our places today and wonder whether our lifestyles adorn or inhibit true worship. Does your place help you reflect on God’s provision, beauty, and loving-kindness? Or does it lead to undue attention on your wants and supposed needs?

expanders of the universe

These people seemed to think it singularly inspiring to keep on saying that the prison was very large. The size of this scientific universe gave one no novelty, no relief. The cosmos went on for ever, but not in its wildest constellation could there be anything really interesting; anything, for instance, such as forgiveness or free will. The grandeur or infinity of the secret of its cosmos added nothing to it. It was like telling a prisoner in Reading gaol that he would be glad to hear that the gaol now covered half the county. The warder would have nothing to show the man except more and more long corridors of stone lit by ghastly lights and empty of all that is human. So these expanders of the universe had nothing to show us except more and more infinite corridors of space lit by ghastly suns and empty of all that is divine.

Wrapping up (again) from the “The Ethics of Elfland,” chapter III in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.

cosy little cosmos

A man may say, “I like this vast cosmos, with its throng of stars and its crowd of varied creatures.” But if it comes to that why should not a man say, “I like this cosy little cosmos, with its decent number of stars and as neat a provision of live stock as I wish to see”? One is as good as the other; they are both mere sentiments.

…I was frightfully fond of the universe and wanted to address it by a diminutive. I often did so; and it never seemed to mind. Actually and in truth I did feel that these dim dogmas of vitality were better expressed by calling the world small than by calling it large. For about infinity there was a sort of carelessness which was the reverse of the fierce and pious care which I felt touching the pricelessness and the peril of life. They showed only a dreary waste; but I felt a sort of sacred thrift. For economy is far more romantic than extravagance. To them stars were an unending income of halfpence; but I felt about the golden sun and the silver moon as a schoolboy feels if he has one sovereign and one shilling.

…The greatest of poems is an inventory. Every kitchen tool becomes ideal because Crusoe might have dropped it in the sea. It is a good exercise, in empty or ugly hours of the day, to look at anything, the coal-scuttle or the book-case, and think how happy one could be to have brought it out of the sinking ship on to the solitary island. But it is a better exercise still to remember how all things have had this hair-breadth escape: everything has been saved from a wreck.

Wrapping up “The Ethics of Elfland,” chapter III in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.

apparently contradictory and without point

From the Bonds of Imperfection by Oliver O’Donovan (a potent exposition of John’s Apocalypse):

As a scroll, it represents history; as a sealed scroll, its contents are unintelligible. So the prophet presents his problem: how can the created order which declares the beauty and splendor of its creator be the subject of a world history, the events of which are apparently contradictory and without point? Only if history can be shown to have a purpose can the prophet’s tears be wiped away and the praise of the creation be resumed.

pay for extraordinary joy in ordinary morals

The aesthetes touched the last insane limits of language in their eulogy on lovely things. The thistledown made them weep; a burnished beetle brought them to their knees. Yet their emotion never impressed me for an instant, for this reason, that it never occurred to them to pay for their pleasure in any sort of symbolic sacrifice. Men (I felt) might fast forty days for the sake of hearing a blackbird sing. Men might go through fire to find a cowslip. Yet these lovers of beauty could not even keep sober for the blackbird. They would not go through common Christian marriage by way of recompense to the cowslip. Surely one might pay for extraordinary joy in ordinary morals. Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde.

Continuing on in “The Ethics of Elfland,” chapter III in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.