Tag Archives: G. K. Chesterton

On trifles – or rather, on the view from down low


I have my doubts about all this real value in mountaineering, in getting to the top of everything and overlooking everything. Satan was the most celebrated of Alpine guides, when he took Jesus to the top of an exceeding high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth. But the joy of Satan in standing on a peak is not a joy in largeness but a joy in beholding smallness, in the fact that all men look like insects at his feet. It is from the valley that things look large; it is from the level that things look high; I am a child of the level and have no need of that celebrated Alpine guide. I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help; but I will not lift up my carcass to the hills, unless it is absolutely necessary. Everything is in an attitude of mind; and at this moment I am in a comfortable attitude. I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them, I assure you. The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.

– G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

I’ll be back to sketching soon:).

A good reason to celebrate


I am grateful to the fun and varied blog Interesting Literature, for without today’s post there, the fact that today is G. K. Chesterton’s birthday would have passed me by.

I first read fiction by G. K. Chesterton, and loved it. I tried a book of his apologetics next, but I confess that at first I didn’t like it. It bothered me because it seemed unsystematic and too off-the-cuff. However, I came to appreciate his apologetics. Chesterton makes statements that are startling because they are simple and make so much sense; and mixed with his often humorous style, he also makes observations that are startlingly lyrical.  And not rarely, either.

One of the Chesterton quotes on today’s post at Interesting Literature is this, from Heretics: “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.” The same thing is true about art. With stakes like that, is it any wonder that writers and artists get writers’ or artists’ blocks? It is terrifying to have before one the chance to show reality as it is, or simply to reveal one’s own smallness. It takes humility to keep on writing or making art – thank goodness Chesterton (and many other greats) had that humility.

So go have a beer (or an herbal tea) to celebrate, and read some Chesterton! You can get a goodly bit of it to read online.

To paint, or not to paint?

Michael drew this little picture for me a long time ago, on the back of a store receipt. I keep it in my desk.

Michael drew this little picture for me a long time ago, on the back of a store receipt. I keep it in my desk.

For a long time I considered that Paul Gaugin was a consummate blackguard for leaving his wife and children to go off painting in the tropics. I still think it was a pretty blackguardly thing to have done – only now I don’t judge him so harshly as I used to.

For one thing I am older, more storm-beaten, and humbler than I was. For another, have you ever felt that if only you could get away – to some place of peace, where the wind made the pine trees gently sway in the stillness, that then you could be so good? “If only I had wings like a dove that I might fly away and find rest.”

And I understand likewise the desire to paint and paint.

When I was in college my friend Monika shared with me a piece of advice she had received from her father, which was something like this: “Ask of everything, is this vocation or distraction?”

At that time, I found life so very complex and my vocation so unclear that the advice seemed so simple as to be useless. But now, I love it. I do like to paint, when I can. But whenever I get too busy and frenetic I will stop what I am doing and reassess. Is what I am doing vocation or distraction? If I get too busy to fulfill my vocation – wifehood and motherhood – then I need to jettison the distractions.

I wonder if Gaugin conflated the question “To paint, or not to paint?” with “To be, or not to be?” For someone with artistic genius, the two might at any rate overlap very closely. But, to abandon a vow, is that worth even a thousand paintings of genius?

Another amazing “little” saint


That is a tau, not a “T”; sorry if that was confusing.

It is said that St. Francis deliberately did not see the wood for the trees. It is even more true that he deliberately did not see the mob for the men . . . He only saw the image of God multiplied but never monotonous . . .from the Pope to the beggar, from the sultan of Syria in his pavilion to the ragged robbers crawling out of the wood, there was never a man who looked into those burning brown eyes without being certain that Francis Bernardone was really interested in him; in his own inner individual life from the cradle to the grave; that he himself was being valued and taken seriously, and not merely added to the spoils of some social policy. . .

But as St. Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ. Say, if you think so, that he was a lunatic loving an imaginary person; but an imaginary person, not an imaginary idea . . .To this great mystic his religion was not a thing like a theory but a thing like a love affair.

Happy Feast of St. Francis of Assisi – two great “little” saints in one week!  And happy name day to Pope Francis!

The above is from G. K. Chesterton’s book St. Francis of Assisi.  You’ve never read it?  Oh, go read it read it read it!