She assumed a humble expression, but the look in her eyes said plenty.
This was a great accomplishment.
She held my gaze, and then allowed the smile in her blue eyes to spread to her entire face as she did it again:
My granddaughter stood up in my lap.
In Chapter 4 of Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton matches me awe for awe with his vivid “sense of the miracle of humanity.” He would be amazed–not merely that my granddaughter stood up, but that she has legs! He would be transfixed not merely by her adorable pug nose, but with the wonder that any of us has a nose at all.
“The mere man [or blue-eyed granddaughter] on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heart breaking than any music and more startling than any caricature.” (72)
Chesterton sees more wonder in one ordinary encounter with creation than most of us would see in a lifetime of miracles. Even the sunrise, by his reckoning, is not merely a happy confluence of planet-tilt and celestial orbit, but rather a delighted God proclaiming, “Do it again!”
Chesterton’s Path to Orthodoxy
In his pre-Christian life, Chesterton worked to frame a personal philosophy or a “natural religion” (75) that would express his thinking about some of the fundamentals of life.
Imagine his surprise in finding that (1) the essence of all he had “discovered” was already embedded in Christianity; (2) his thinking about the world had been shaped by his reading of fairy tales.
C.S. Lewis would have whole-heartedly agreed, pronouncing:
“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
According to Lewis, fairy tales, “say best what needs to be said,” and awaken the desire for “something beyond,” a something that heightens appreciation of the real world and gives it new depth. “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”
Delighting in the enchanted woods of “Elfland,” Chesterton gained “a certain way of looking at life” through reading fairy tales, but then learned that the perceptions gained through his reading were actually confirmed by his observations of real life. He invites his readers to delight in the imaginative cause and effect of “blow the horn and the ogre’s castle will fall.” (79) No fairy tale character would call this a “law,” but a scientific explanation of the process of metamorphosis (and even of the beginning of human life) reads more like magic and miracle than pure science.
The Astonishment of Real Life
“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” ~C.S. Lewis
As much as Chesterton enjoyed “astonishing tales,” (82) he noted that very young children do not need to be astonished in order to enjoy a story.
“A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door.”
I experimented with this notion, because all the home spun tales I told my own kids involved heroism and pirate ships and the continuing saga of their ventriloquist dummies on a crazy, impulsive road trip. Sure enough, when I told my grandson a story that featured his brown fuzzy slippers, his dog Ruby, and a glass of juice for breakfast, his response was, “Again!” along with a big smile. Because he was three, every day life was astonishing enough.
The Purpose and Plan of the Storyteller
We are made to love and to respond to story, and Chesterton began to perceive, through story, “that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.” (93)
Before Chesterton had “even thought of Christian theology,” he had laid down five “ultimate attitudes toward life”:
- This world does not explain itself.
- The magic of the universe must have meaning, and “meaning must have someone to mean it.” (98)
- The design is both purposeful and beautiful (in spite of the dragons).
- The right response to this beauty is “humility and restraint” (99) in our use of it, along with obedience to its maker.
- All that we see that is good is a “remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin.”
Clearly, Chesterton’s ponderings set him on a course of rescue, and this encourages me as a parent and as a teacher. When we share stories with our children, we are seeding in them the ability to find and appreciate bigger truths than the entertaining plots we all enjoy on the surface.
Too, in God’s rejoicing over us and in His waiting to extend grace, there are cords of love, drawing us ever closer to the Truth of His existence and His right to rule over His creation.
How does this land on your heart today?
If you are praying for a prodigal, I would be privileged to pray along with you. If you are a tired mum, reading the same story book for the tenth time this week, kick it surreptitiously under the couch and spin a tale for your tiny person in which he is the main character who eats toast for breakfast and then goes outside to play in the sunshine.
How has God led you in your path toward Orthodoxy?
I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below, and, as ever, thank you for your eyes here and for your faithful encouragement,
Oh, and one more thing: My persevering friend Linda has written an insightful post about this chapter of Orthodoxy as well, and I invite you to click on over to her place for more thoughts on Chesterton’s Elfland.
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