Chesterton: On Sanity, Truth, Wonder and Joy

Recently for Torrey Academy we read the book Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. This is a classic work on the “romance” of Christianity. Within the book, the fat yet jolly and jocular Chesterton, wittily describes the nature of sanity and insanity.  He basically argues that one who is sane views life more as a fairy tale rather than as lifeless routine.  For the one who is sane, there is a wonder, an oddity, a sublime obscurity to reality.  The fact that things occur over and over again-i.e. the sun rising- is viewed not so much as a mechanical fact, but as an argument for a divine magician who performs the same magic consistently due to the joy that comes from the beauty therein.  The insane person is the one driven to death by their reason attached to no root.  As he says, the poet only seeks to put his head in the heavens, the logician wants to put the heavens in his head.  His head, therefore, explodes as a result.

Chesterton relates the idea of seeing the world as a new magical place everyday to the joy of being a Christian.  This idea is so profound it’s a wonder I constantly forget it.  Here is what he says:

“The Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one.  It not only certainly taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me to-morrow.  Once I saw suddenly the meaning of the shape of the cross; someday I may see suddenly the meaning of the shape of the mitre.  One fine morning I saw why windows were pointed; some fine morning I may see why priests were shaven.  Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead.  Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. 

But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song.  The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast.  He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before.”  

So often I forget that my faith is not dead, but is alive.  That is, so often I go through the day down-trodden and burdened by life’s stresses forgetting that a new truth awaits to be seen.  It seems that the agony of stress and the labor of life are sometimes necessary to experience the joy of new truth.  Yet sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever truly live in the way Chesterton describes in the midst of my burdens.  I long to see and experience life as a joyous journey in pursuit of the Good, True, and Beautiful.  To live life in praise, and to only allow stress and burdens to interlude.

For as Chesterton says, “Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial.  Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.  Pessimism is a best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.”

Amen and Amen.

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