Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I finished two Chesterton books today...

You don't know how amazing this is for me, who tends to think of myself as someone who has difficulty finishing books; someone who had difficulty talking much in my college classes (seminar style) and got completely lost in Senior Philosophy.

Anyway, I finished reading The Man Who Was Thursday aloud to Ria and Gus this afternoon. This was much more engaging and engrossing than I ever expected. Certainly it will be worth additional re-reads in the future (and I should say that at this point in my life, I seldom have the desire to read a book twice). This experience also reminds me of how helpful reading stories aloud can be to the reader and the listener(s). It often brings out more meaning (I think of this especially with Shakespeare which we've read as a group on occasion) and makes things more interesting as well as promoting conversation afterwards.

The other book I finished (these things happen when you end up reading three Chestertoon books at once)is Orthodoxy. These are hard books to review and sum up, though I will make an attempt to do so at some point. For now, I'll take the easy way out and share a quite lengthy quote (part of which I quoted in a post late last year after discovering it on another homeschool mom's website):

I freely grant that the pagans, like the moderns, were only miserable about everything - they were quite jolly about everything else. I concede that the Christians of the Middle Ages were only at peace about everything - they were at war about everything else. But if the question turn on the primary pivot of the cosmos, then there was more cosmic contentment in the narrow and bloody streets of Florence than in the theatre of Athens or the open garden of Epicurus. Giotto lived in a gloomier town than Euripides, but he lived in a gayer universe.

The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless (I offer my last dogma defiantly) it is not native to man to be so. 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 at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. Yet, according to the apparent estate of man as seen by the pagan or the agnostic, this primary need of human nature can never be fulfilled. Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity. This is what I call being born upside down. The sceptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstacies, while his brain is in the abyss. To the modern man the heavens are actually below the earth. The explanation is simple; he is standing on his head; which is a very weak pedestal to stand on. But when he has found his feet again he knows it. Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man's ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. The vault above us is not deaf because the universe is an idiot; the silence is not the heartless silence of an endless and aimless world. Rather the silence around us is a small and pitiful stillness like the prompt stillness in a sick-room. We are perhaps permitted tragedy as a sort of merciful comedy: because the frantic energy of divine things would knock us down in a drunken farce. We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels. So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heaven is too loud for us to hear.

Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this resepct, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

On a tangentially related topic - you know your keyboard is going when the word "earth" consistently comes out "ear".

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