Cornerstone

"The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder." -G.K. Chesterston

It's just about summer—or at least it feels like it, given the heat—which is the time some of us pick up a book to enjoy on the beach, or in the air conditioned room away from all those UV rays. If you're in the mood for a book that will make you look at the world in a distinctly God-centered way, but feels bouncy and joyful along the way, let me recommend G.K. Chesterton's Tremendous Trifles.

I’ve only read a small selection of G.K. Chesterton’s work: a few of the "Father Brown" stories, snippets from his better known works like "Orthodoxy" and "The Everlasting Man", and the dizzying, pleasantly confusing "The Man Who Was Thursday". There are times that I find myself reading Chesterton just to enjoy his sentences. That’s true of other writers as well (Lewis, for example), but Chesterton has always felt a bit unique. There’s a kind of serious whimsy that goes into his phrasing, as if words hold the potential for a joy or even a giddiness so immense that one should approach them with reverence. That potential, as far as I can tell, isn’t really in the words themselves, but in the way that those words can communicate the experience of love, or a good chair, or a really fine sandwich.

In his collection of essays, Tremendous Trifles, I’ve discovered at least one of the secrets of this perspective that I find so winsome. Chesterton opens with a story: Peter and Paul, two young boys, happen upon a genie (technically it was a fairy, and the fairy happened upon them). The boy Paul asks the genie to make him a giant, so that he could stride across continents and see all the big sights. When his request is granted, he finds himself unimpressed with Himalayas that are so tiny, and the way Niagara Falls looks like a kitchen faucet to his giant eyes. He soon meets an odd and untimely end.

Peter, on the other hand, asks to be a pygmy who is a half-inch tall (I had flashbacks to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids). When his wish is granted, the small granite path in the garden became a vast plain, and the roses beyond a humongous forest of crimson on the distant horizon. And Peter found himself having amazing adventures in his own small garden.

Of course, the whole thing is allegory, and Chesterton places himself squarely in the pygmy camp. “We may,” he says, “by fixing our attention almost fiercely on the facts actually before us, force them to turn into adventures; force them to give up their meaning and fulfil their mysterious purpose….The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”

I find this sentiment biblical in all kinds of ways. He's making a theological statement—we stop and smell the roses because they are miracles from the Giver of all good things. At the very least, we refuse to forget the wonder of the roses, even when we are forced to pass them by. When we ignore them, we are not just foregoing a light bit of potential pleasure. We are to some degree neglecting a fundamental part of our world’s design, and our own design as creatures who are to worship God and enjoy Him forever. Our anthropology says we are more like pygmies than giants anyways. When we make ourselves out to be giants, surveying the earth from above, looking for “wonders,” it’s no surprise that we sacrifice real enjoyment. Life as a little child is much more enjoyable than life as a giant. Efficiency, priorities, and other grown up things do not need to be held over against engaging the world around us for the sheer observational delight of it. I would suggest they need each other, and feed each other. (I’d recommend surveying Tremendous Trifles - his story in part two is a doozy about chalk.)

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat." –Psalm 19:1-6 ESV

Brian Colmery

Brian serves the church by overseeing preaching and Sunday morning services at Cornerstone.

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