Tag Archives: G. K. Chesterton

And the heart of the Earth a star

Merry Christmas to all my readers who, by virtue of my utter strangeness, are also wonderfully strange (otherwise you’d just shake your head and move on). I love you! ^_^

A Child of the Snows

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

-by G. K. Chesterton

And here is my reading of it.


Autumn in Tennessee

Autumn opened its eyes, smiled, still half asleep, and rolled over.

At least, that is what it felt like.

We had a spell of cool weather, unseasonably, bizarrely cool, but lovely. Right on its edge, I thought I caught the scent of Autumn. There is no smell like it, no smell that quickens my blood that much. It is like the breath of God entering my lungs and enlivening the spirit He once breathed into me.

August, in my hometown, is hot, oppressive, and usually muggy (though we are in a mild drought this time). 30+ years living here, and indeed, further south where it is worse, have not helped me to like summer weather.

There are things I like about summer. The food is great, the greens of the landscape are rich, some of my favorite wildflowers put on a show and there are awesome insects and migratory birds everywhere. The other day I saw a clearwing moth, and just yesterday, I watched two female ruby-throated hummingbirds compete over coral honeysuckle, native salvia and a feeder.  And cicadas. I revel in summer cicada-song! But the heat and humidity wear me down quickly, and I run inside to escape.

The three other seasons, though, make up for the heaviness. For one thing, our seasons are pretty evenly spaced, around 3 months apiece. Spring, instead of being a brief link between winter and summer, is a long stretch of flower successions, greening, warming, and rain. It smells of sap and clean earth and breaks through the grays of winter with sharp, vibrant splashes of yellow, purple and white. Then, as the green begins to show, red, orange and blue mix in with the first colors, like a Fauve painting.

Winter, here, has little in the way of snow or persistent ice (though we always get some) but it is filled with opalescent grays, fawn-browns, and frost. A hillside covered with mostly deciduous trees looks like the speckled flank of a sleeping beast with a long, soft, gray-brown winter coat. It is subtle, and yet beautiful, like the many grays of the limestone sky. And in the morning, as I go to work in the dark, the street-lights set lawns and leaves sparkling with frost. It is as if every surface of the world is covered in glitter, and the smell of frost quickens the cold air.

But autumn. It leaves the rest behind. For some reason, the season of dying is life-giving to me. Sumac is the first to turn, a brilliant scarlet, brighter than flame or blood. The sugar-maples, perhaps the most spectacular, create a spectrum that runs from green, through yellows and oranges and into red, all at the same time. They look like shards of living rainbow. Sweetgums turn dark crimson, purple and black. Each tree species (and sometimes each tree) has its pattern and its method, and we have well over 100 species here. Some non-evergreens even retain their dead leaves to whisper through the winter, shedding them only when the new growth arrives in the spring.

One of my favorite species, eastern red cedar (which is actually a juniper) is an evergreen, though it takes on a winter sheen of dark bronze.

But if it were just about visual wonder, Spring and Autumn would be equally loved by me. They are not.

Spring breaks into winter just when I am weary of the gray. It is welcome and enlivening. But there is something about Autumn air. It blows across my mind, causing the embers there to redden, dusting away the white ash until flames flicker to life. It sparks my creativity, my well-being, my life. The taste we had recently whetted my appetite for that rare wind. I am never satisfied, it is never enough. Even in this place, that has a long autumn, it is too brief.

But for that short time, every year, I seem to touch something beyond myself. Perhaps it really is a time when the boundaries between worlds grows thin. I do not fear fairies, or the dead. What I feel coming near is different from that. It is the Christian song. I feel like I breathe in eternity, that eternity that is already here, present within me, but that I do not fully understand. Not yet. Not yet, but one day. Until that day, I have the contradictions, the mystery, a keyhole through a door.

Autumn, dying and living, curling up to sleep, comfort in fear, but not a vulgar fear as of being afraid. I am not afraid, but my heart is racing. It is so hard to express.  I think C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are right about that desire. The desire I feel that is soothed a little in this world, but never satisfied, the hunger for the excitement of adventure coupled with the comfort of coming home, that contradiction in my soul during Fall, fear and comfort, excitement and peace, thrill and balm.

I think of Bilbo Baggins. That journey at my feet, the road tugging at me, that song in the wind. Maybe that is why Bilbo’s song always brings me tears, good tears, and makes me think of Autumn.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

-J. R. R. Tolkien: From Bilbo, in The Hobbit and (the last stanza) Lord of the Rings.

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*I’ve been told that this post can easily be taken as disrespectful to other beliefs. If you find it so, I apologize. That was not my intent.


Chesterton, Treatment, and Aunthood

When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered by the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Food for thought.

Also, an update on how I am doing. As far as my prognosis goes, things are great. I have been downgraded from an original stage 3, to a stage 0. Basically, I no longer have cancer (thank you, God, for my doctors and my health!).

The combination of medicines primarily responsible for this extraordinary progress are, however, experimental, and so I am undergoing more “tested” treatments as well. I am through, hopefully, with surgery. I am currently undergoing Chemotherapy. I hope that, some day, this part of treatment will not be considered necessary.

It’s Not Fun, but I will make it through. The most annoying part has been the recurring fevers, most likely caused by one of the medications. I’ve lost most of my hair and buzzed the rest. I must say, baldness feels really good.  I am enjoying Fall weather, even if the trees are a little tardy with their colors this year.

My nephew has finally gotten to go home! I have not seen him in person for a while, but his parents supply the family and some close friends with pictures and videos daily. The last one I saw was a photograph of my brother reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar with his tiny son lying against his chest.

I just about died from cuteness overload. I’ve done that several times now. It will take some time for me to wrap my mind around the fact that my brother is a father, and that I am an aunt.

That is all for now!


Time is Scarce

But I will offer a quote which I have been mulling over from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy as well as some of my mullings.

“No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world and enough of a Christian to die to it?”

Simultaneous fanatical pessimism and fanatical optimism… the words do not, in themselves, communicate what is intended, but Chesterton manages to redefine them enough for me, I think, to understand what he means. I’ve spent a lot of my life darting around people I know like a crazed sheepdog, nipping their heels when they move too far towards extremes of optimism and pessimism. I’ve done this partly because I am an insufferable “fixer” who has a hard time staying out of other people’s business (I am working on this), but I have also done it because I have experienced one side of that dangerous equation and witnessed the results of the other.

But for all this, I have long been aware that there is a good kind of balance and a bad kind. Before I read this passage of Chesteron’s, I did not have a good way to express what I mean.  He opened a new avenue of thought to me.

A bland medium breeds complacency,  resignation, and inaction. I do not want that kind of balance for myself or for others. I do not want to race around myself, or around my friends and family, nipping heels until the person is afraid to move. I want the balance that is stability, but that also propels us forward into action. I want the balance that burns, changes and grows.

When I was in Canada recently, a man walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls. He had one of those long poles used for balance. This strikes me as an apt metaphor in some ways. When I need to balance, I have two options. Either I can stand still or crawl. When I spread my arms out to their full length and try to walk I am not very stable and I am apt to fall.  A puff of wind or a slight miscalculation can send me reeling because I am trying to balance within reasonable limits. The long pole, projecting far beyond normal human reach, gives a person the ability to balance while walking forward. The pole is a balance between extremes. True balance, in this sense, is not an absence of extremes but a coexistence. This means that my entire life must be an epic balancing act which propels me forward, not static inaction in an attempt to maintain equilibrium.

Maintaining opposing extremes within myself is akin to playing with fire (I love fire).  Extremes are dangerous, but then a lack of extremes is equally dangerous.  If I shift my grip too far towards one end of the pole, I will topple, just as I would lose my balance without the aid of the pole. Constant vigilance is needed. I pray to God to help me not slip to one extreme while leaving the other behind. That sort of thing happens all the time, and the results make my hair stand up. I know myself too well to doubt that I can easily slip, with disastrous consequences, and yet I feel that this seeming-paradox is the safest, most healthy course. Irony is ever with me and I am not blind to the irony of my belief that the safest place to be looks, from the outside, so dangerous.

Like all metaphors, this one only goes so far. As usual, I am left wondering how much questions like this can be communicated through words. The above makes sense to me in the same way balancing makes sense to me. At first it was instinctual, and only now am I coming to understand the forces at work. I know enough to say that I know very little. I hope, in time, to know more.


Packing lightly?

Book Meme 2012

Week 10: Books that I would bring if the world was going to be destroyed by aliens/cylons and we had to restart civilization as we know it. (ie: the basis of human knowledge and thought and civilization.)

Oh my.

The only way I can psych myself into answering this question is by assuming that everyone is going to bring books, and that what I am able to bring will only be the tip of the iceberg. Logically, I know that books are not a top priority for everyone packing for the apocalypse, but I this is speculative, so I can dream. Let us assume that everyone will bring the books they consider most fundamental to society. That takes a little pressure off. That said, I am still a librarian. This question is HARD!

I will categorize the books I take.  Some of these categories are dependent on the type of apocalypse we are facing. The cylon/alien world destruction assumes the loss of Earth (or the 12 colonies), but this is not the only way society might collapse. Thus my first category of books is dependent on their still being a world, but not a civilization.

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Survival:

Obviously one cannot rebuild society if one is dead. Therefore my primary concern with these books is surviving. If we are all on a handful of jump-capable space ships I might still have a hard time leaving these behind, but they would not be necessary, to my mind, for the rebirth of civilization.

Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart
There is a reason that this book is still available and still read by campers 106 years after its original publication. If I had to survive in the wild and on the move, this would be my manual of choice.

The Forager’s Harvest: a Guide to Identifying, Harvesting and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
This is the best guide to wild foods I have found, and I thank my mother for giving it to me one Christmas!

I would also include a medical manual of some kind, but looking in my collection, I have none, and I am going to limit myself to my own collection because A: it is simpler and B: if I am going to stuff books in a backpack I need to actually have the books.

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General Knowledge:

Science Textbook:
I have to cheat a little for this one because my old textbooks, if we still have them, are in my parent’s attic. Also, they are quite heavy. I would have to look through them and decide which would be best, and I have not done so. But a science textbook would be high on my list of priorities. Even if I could just preserve the basic principles of scientific theory I would be glad. Observation, investigation and logical reasoning are, I believe, fundamental to the growth of society and I would not want to be without them.

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Religion:

The Holy Bible:
As one might expect, the sacred text of my faith would be the first book packed. Which copy is difficult to choose. If size was not an issue, my first choice would be my 4-in-one comparative copy, but it is very large. My small New International Version is my favorite sword, lightweight and easy to handle, but then again my old, ragged study NIV has served me very well. For the sake of argument, I will go with the smallest.

Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
I am, by nature, a skeptic. I prod things, test them, reason them through, and I am leery of trusting too much. From what I can tell, Lewis was much the same kind of person. If I am to help rebuild civilization, I must start from what I know, and this book tends to speak to people such as me.

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesteton
This is a relatively new discovery for me, but my copy is compact, and enlightening.  I think I would pack it. I have some issues with Chesterton, and with Lewis as well, but where Mere Christianity appeals to my logical mind, Orthodoxy appeals to my abstract mind. The two together cover a lot of thought-territory.

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Mythology:

More than anything, human communities thrive on stories. Our myths help us to understand concepts that are otherwise difficult to express. They are, I believe, the nearest words can come to soul-to-soul communication. I cannot conceive the rebuilding of society without stories, and it would be best to carry some along to remind us how important they are. I will list the myths I would carry with me in order of importance. The most important are those supposedly designed for children because, in truth, they are the ones designed for everyone and often their essence is more fundamental than the complexities created for adults.

The Princess and the Goblin and the Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
Thankfully, I have a copy of this with the two books in one small paperback. These stories are true fairy-tales, filled with magic, danger, courage, friendship and beauty. Much of what I am I owe to these stories, and if I were to assist in reviving civilization, I would be reading them to children and adults alike.

The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
These tales represent the heart of folklore in western civilization, both good and bad, and I would not be without them. I would have to take the stories one by one to talk about why, but the variety of stories contained herein offer a wealth of fodder for communication.

Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
Anyone who knows me well could have predicted this choice. I consider this a powerful myth dealing with the nature and the state of humanity. It is not a children’s story, but adults need stories as well, and I could not bear to allow this one to pass away.

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Oh Tolkien… why oh why? This author might break my backpack. Of all mythologies I have encountered, his is the one I would most desire to take with me. The problem is that I want to take it all, and that may prove the end of my backpack. My three thick paperbacks might be the lightest way to carry this book, but even so it is probably pushing the limit, but I could not bear to be without it, at least until I collapse under the weight. The themes of this book are the reason it comes before its companions. The relationships and struggles contained therein speak to their own value and their rightful place in the mythologies of Earth.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
My second Tolkien is chosen for its accessibility and the joy contained in its pages. This is another book born for all ages, which makes it versatile.

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
And this is the hard mythology behind the mythology. Stories that are indicative of people’s struggles and the flow of the world can be found within this book for those who have the patience to read, and I assume that people struggling to remake themselves would find a need for and an interest in the tales of this kind. I know I would.

The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle Earth by Ruth S. Noel
This one is small for all that it adds to the reading of the above three.

The Classic 100, edited by William Harmon
I cannot forget poetry. By this time my backpack is bursting and there is no room for food, but to lose all of this art… I cannot leave it! I will wedge this one in an outside pocket, a remnant of an art that may yet be revived. For the rest, I must trust my memory, as best I can.

That is 16 books if I include LOTR as three volumes. Heaven knows how many pounds!

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Books I would love to take, but can’t:

Gardner’s Art Through the Ages
This is a textbook on art history. I would love to drag it everywhere with me, but sadly it is also massive. I carried it for three semesters in college, and I can attest to its ability to slow a person down. Unless someone invents a Bag of Holding or an Undetectable Extension Charm, I am out of luck.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
I have this in a reasonably small form. I may get a lot of flack for not including it in my theoretical backpack, but this is why: while I have been fairly fluent in Shakespearean English from a young age, I know that the language is a barrier for many people. If I am intent on rebuilding civilization, I need that which is most accessible, else the chances are it will not survive past my life. Perhaps I am wrong, but would I risk it for valuable backpack slots? Alas, I would not.

There are hundreds of others. Such a wrench! May I never have to make this choice for real!

That… that is it! I did it! I made it all the way through a meme on time! …it will probably be a long time before I try this again, but I feel accomplished!

Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:

1. Motley Crew

2. Cue Music/Shout Out

3. Villainy Most Vile

4. Very Ominous Endings

5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names

6. Chridonalchett

7. Verbage

8. The Scent Test

9. Personal Question

10. Packing Lightly


A couple more tidbits

There are a couple more tidbits of G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy that I am mulling over. I am pleased to share them.

“It is constantly assured, especially by our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb, the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is – can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved.”

“It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced.”


Adventure

I am making my way through G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. It is quite an experience so far. Sometimes I lose his thread. Sometimes I feel he is expressing aspects of my own beliefs that are new and strange to me, as if he is looking at the prism of the world from a different angle. Occasionally I disagree with him, but that is something I look for in anything I read. If I agree with a writer fully, I know something is wrong with me.

Most of all, I am loving the read. Chesterton’s prose are sometimes dense, but often entertaining, and they force me to think. He speaks of the necessary paradoxes, the marriages of extremes, that are the vitality and mystery of Christianity.

Today I came across a simple sentence that affects, immediately, both my life and my writing. I thought I would share it here for the benefit of my friends and family. For all of its simplicity, its implications are complex and far-reaching, or so I think.

“Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them.”


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