“I am sorry I cannot explain the thing to you,” he answered; “but there is no provision in you for understanding it. Not merely, therefore, is the phenomenon inexplicable to you, but the very nature of it is inapprehensible by you. Indeed I but partially apprehend it myself. At the same time you are constantly experiencing things which you not only do not, but cannot understand. You think you understand them, but your understanding of them is only your being used to them, and therefore not surprised at them. You accept them, not because you understand them, but because you must accept them: they are there, and have unavoidable relations with you! The fact is, no man understands anything; when he knows he does not understand, that is his first tottering step—not toward understanding, but toward the capability of one day understanding. To such things as these you are not used, therefore you do not fancy you understand them.”
…Those children are the greatest wonder I have found in this world of wonders.
…I was like a child, constantly wondering, and surprised at nothing.
George MacDonald (Lilith)
From The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald (chapter 4):
I suspect there is nothing a man can be so grateful for as that to which he has the most right.
…But the story of the evening was too solemn for Curdie to come out with all at once. He must wait until they had had their porridge, and the affairs of this world were over for the day.
…They were the happiest couple in that country, because they always understood each other, and that was because they always meant the same thing, and that was because they always loved what was fair and true and right better, not than anything else, but than everything else put together.
…It is not for me to say whether you were dreaming or not if you are doubtful of it yourself; but it doesn’t make me think I am dreaming when in the summer I hold in my hand the bunch of sweet peas that make my heart glad with their colour and scent, and remember the dry, withered-looking little thing I dibbled into the hole in the same spot in the spring. I only think how wonderful and lovely it all is. It seems just as full of reason as it is of wonder. How it is done I can’t tell, only there it is! And there is this in it, too, Curdie—of which you would not be so ready to think—that when you come home to your father and mother, and they find you behaving more like a dear, good son than you have behaved for a long time, they at least are not likely to think you were only dreaming.
Learning to love “the things we already have” is always the fount and foundation of contentment, happiness, and wonder:
The whole object of real art, of real romance—and, above all, of real religion—is to prevent people from losing the humility and gratitude which are thankful for daylight and daily bread; to prevent them from regarding daily life as dull or domestic life as narrow; to teach them to feel in the sunlight the song of Apollo and in the bread the epic of the plough. What is now needed most is intensive imagination. I mean the power to turn our imaginations inwards, on the things we already have, and to make those things live. It is not merely seeking new experiences, which rapidly become old experiences. It is really learning how to experience our experiences. It is learning how to enjoy our enjoyments.
From G.K. Chesterton in the Illustrated London News, October 20, 1924. [Quoted in Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton by Dale Ahlquist (28-29).]
Indeed, it is a [tragic] fact that the same progressives who insist that government shall be democratic often insist that art must be [elitist], and “the public”, which is a god when they are talking about votes, becomes a brute when they are talking about books and pictures.
[The solution] does not lie in increasing the number of artists who can startle us with complex things, but by increasing the number of people who can be started by common things. It lies in restoring relish and receptivity to human society; and that is another question and a more important one.
…What the modern world wants is religion or something that will create a certain ultimate spirit of humility, of enthusiasm, and of thanks. It is not even to be done merely by educating the people in the artistic virtues of insight and selection. It is to be done much more by educating the artists in the popular virtues of astonishment and enjoyment.
From “Are the Artists Gone Mad?” by G.K. Chesterton in Century Magazine, December 1922. [Quoted in Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton by Dale Ahlquist (58-59).]
From pages 114-115 of “Creative Vow as the Essence of Fatherhood” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965):
The man of today tends to establish, as far as he can, an order of things in which the words “to place oneself at life’s disposal” have literally no meaning. This is true above all in so far as he asserts the primacy of technics and technical knowledge. …Technics are seen as all the systematized methods which enable man to subordinate nature, considered as blind or even rebellious, to his own ends. But it must be noted that the point at which man’s powers of wonder are applied is thus inevitably shifted: what now seems worthy of admiration is above all technical skill in all its forms, it is no longer in any way the spontaneous course of phenomena, which has on the contrary rather to be controlled and domesticated, somewhat as a river is by locks. This admiration is tinged with a shade of defiance of a truly Luciferian character, it can hardly be separated from the consciousness of a revenge taken upon Nature whose yoke it has borne so long and so impatiently. This is particularly clear with regard to living nature. …Without any given reason, they agree to regard life itself as a “sale blague” (rotten humbug), or at least as the rumbling of threatening possibilities against which it would be impossible to take too many precautions, whereas formerly it was hailed as a revelation, or at the very least a promise and pledge of a marvelous and unlimited renewal. …It is to be noticed in passing that the development of prophylactic methods and of systems of insurance, because at bottom these correspond to analogous inner tendencies, have helped to foment in souls a spirit of suspicious vigilance, which is perhaps incompatible with the inward eagerness of a being who is irresistibly impelled to welcome life with gratitude.
The great Swiss author Ramuz, writing some years ago, spoke of a certain sense of holiness “which is the most precious thing the West has known, a certain attitude of reverence for existence–by which we must understand everything which exists, oneself and the world outside oneself, the mysteries which surround us, the mystery of death, and the mystery of birth, a certain veneration in the presence of life, a certain love, and (why not acknowledge it?) a certain state of poetry which the created world produces in us”. It is precisely this sense of holiness, this fundamental reverence for life and for death, itself considered as the nocturnal phase of life, it is this state of poetry produced in us by the created world which, during the last decades, and more particularly of recent years, has given way to the pressure of pride, of pretentiousness, of boredom and despair.
From page 75 of “The Mystery of the Family” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965). [This concept closely parallels the term quiddity as used by C.S. Lewis, or “omnivorous attentiveness” as Alan Jacobs calls it.]
by Taylor Mali
A grand piano wrapped in quilted pads by movers,
tied up with canvas straps—like classical music’s
birthday gift to the criminally insane—
is gently nudged without its legs
out an eighth‐floor window on 62nd street.
It dangles in April air from the neck of the movers’ crane,
Chopin-‐shiny black lacquer squares
and dirty white crisscross patterns hanging like the second‐to‐last
note of a concerto played on the edge of the seat,
the edge of tears, the edge of eight stories up going over—
it’s a piano being pushed out of a window
and lowered down onto a flatbed truck!—and
I’m trying to teach math in the building across the street.
Who can teach when there are such lessons to be learned?
All the greatest common factors are delivered by
long‐necked cranes and flatbed trucks
or come through everything, even air.
See, snow falls for the first time every year, and every year
my students rush to the window
as if snow were more interesting than math,
which, of course, it is.
Let me teach like a Steinway,
spinning slowly in April air,
so almost-‐falling, so hinderingly
dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane.
So on the edge of losing everything.
Let me teach like the first snow, falling.
There is a deep similarity between the union of the soul and body and the mystery of the family. In both cases we are in the presence of the same fact, or rather something which is far more than a fact since it is the very condition of all facts whatever they may be: I mean incarnation. I am not, of course, using this term in its theological sense. It is not a question of our Lord’s coming into the world, but of the infinitely mysterious act by which an essence assumes a body, an act around which the meditation of a Plato crystallised, and to which modern philosophies only cease to give their attention in so far as they have lost the intelligence’s essential gift, that is to say the faculty of wonder.
From page 69 of “The Mystery of the Family” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965).
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.
These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.
From “The Ethics of Elfland,” chapter III in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.