Tag Archives: G.K. Chesterton

A new nose and backbone.

Soldier both picked me up from the Denver airport two weeks ago, and dropped me off for my return flight. He drove his truck, which seats four, so each time, in addition to me, he could accommodate two passengers. For the first trip that was Liam and Laddie, and Brodie stayed home with Clara.

Brodie therefore was automatically put on the passenger list for the drop-off yesterday, New Year’s Eve, and the other boys drew lots for second place, the lot falling to Liam. On the way up the highway we got to talking about the new year, and how it is a time when many people resolve to improve themselves in the coming year. Boys of ten and six aren’t likely to set overlarge goals for themselves, so they didn’t really need the cautionary words of their father and me, but we reminded them and ourselves that every day of the year provides the opportunity to pray, and to present ourselves to the Lord as His servants. That’s not a big resolution, but it is a powerful daily orientation.

If you do have a goal you want to work toward, Soldier explained, it must be measurable, so that you will know when you have achieved it. And it needs to be a realistic, reasonably achievable goal (Not of the sort “You can be and do anything you set your mind to!”). I added that it’s good to break such a project into small parts, and figure out what the first step is. If it’s a worthy goal, you probably won’t get it done in one day, or one week.

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year.
It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose;
new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.”

-G.K. Chesterton

I think of the command of the Lord, first spoken in Leviticus, of which the Apostle Peter reminds us, to be holy:

Christ and Peter

“Therefore prepare your minds for action. Be sober-minded. Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not conform to the passions of your former ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” –I Peter 1

Now that is a large and worthy goal, which one might feel is not in the least achievable… but since it is the will of the Lord God, we have to take it seriously. And not as a rash New Year’s resolution, like: “This year, I am turning over a new leaf, and I will be a saint by 2024!” No, it will have to be sober-mindedness every morning, and setting our hope every evening. St. Peter continues:

“Since you call on a Father who judges each one’s work impartially, conduct yourselves in reverent fear during your stay as foreigners. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot. He was known before the foundation of the world, but was revealed in the last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him; and so your faith and hope are in God.”

Christ praying in Gethsemane

How does “Conduct yourselves in reverent fear” fit into an outline according to our modern, systematic way of thinking? I suppose it might serve as Plan 1 under the Goal of Be Holy…. followed by those small steps I advised the boys about. But really, God doesn’t want us to come up with our own system to work toward “goals” that He has set for us. That kind of thing can be a big distraction from His true plan, that we would walk moment-by-moment with Him, and be changed by the Holy Spirit’s work. Improving ourselves by our own devices will ultimately get us nowhere; “…your faith and hope are in God.”

Today is not only New Year’s Day, but being the eighth day after Christ’s birth, it is the day we remember that his parents brought Him to be circumcised according to the law. This sermon on the feast day by Fr. Philip LeMasters on “Purifying the Heart” expresses the mind of the apostles on these same matters:

“Christ’s circumcision is a sign that He fulfilled the requirements of the law and enabled all with faith in Him to find a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees because it extends to the very depths of our existence, to our hearts.

“Consequently, the only way worthily to celebrate His circumcision is for us to perfect the circumcision of our hearts.  That means purifying them, cutting off their corruption by uniting ourselves to the God-Man from the depths of our souls.  And there is no upward limit to this calling.”

“If we reduce our high calling to legalism or a simple list of deeds to perform, we will have missed the point.  For being united with Christ in holiness is not a matter of simply doing this or that by our own will power.  As St. Paul reminded the Colossians, ‘you were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, Who raised Him from the dead.’  We obviously cannot conquer sin and death by even our best actions or thoughts.  As St. Paul taught, ‘By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.’ (Eph. 2.:8.)”

You can read the whole sermon: here.

Returning to the Chesterton quote above, I pray that our souls would truly be “new,” along with our eyes, etc., in these first days of 2023, by God’s ever-present gift of grace. If my spiritual “nose” is refreshed by the Lord, it will be better able to detect the sweetness of His mercies every morning, and continuing.

In-between December days.

The first half of the week was a flurry of activity: First a Santa Lucia Eve procession that I was invited to, with a few families I have been getting to know because of my involvement in a homeschool group. With the eldest girl wearing a wreath studded with candles, we processed through the neighborhood singing “Santa Lucia” in Italian — I admit I was only humming the tune because I haven’t become that involved to have learned the words in Italian or even English. Then back at the house, we added “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) in the original German. Tea and Santa Lucia buns in their delicious quintessential selves finished out the evening’s simple program. I took the picture three days later so the greenery is a bit dried out.

The next night our women’s book group at church got together. Originally that meeting was to be a soup dinner for 10 at my house, but the time and place got changed because of a funeral; it was a big relief for me, because as soon as December arrived, I couldn’t imagine getting ready for a party at the same time I was getting ready for a trip, which this year is the case: I’m headed to Soldier and Joy’s for Christmas.

At the first part of the funeral, in the evening.

I made split pea soup, and we had a very festive group and evening, eating fish chowder, pumpkin soup and lentil tomato soups as well — plus accompaniments. Of course, cookies and vegan brownies, too! I don’t think I mentioned before what books we have been reading this time. They were Strength in Weakness by Archbishop Irenei Steenberg, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I’d been wanting to gather my thoughts on The Secret Garden for about five years, so this was the impetus I needed to buckle down. I’ll share more about my resulting amateur analysis in the new year.

By Julia Morgan

Thursday I attended a tea party of about a dozen ladies and girls, several of whom I was meeting for the first time. Many of them are very accomplished, cultured and educated, and there was lots of fascinating conversation about our personal histories, world events, information about our local towns and the architecture of particular houses that were built by a relation of the woman sitting next to me. She was the only one there who is older than I, and she has been involved in our town’s history from way back, and continuing.

It was while this talk was flowing around me that the name of Julia Morgan, architect, made me pay closer attention; a bit more information about the time frame in which she worked, and I began to wonder if my grandfather was one of the contractors that she worked with in the San Francisco Bay Area; she designed more than 700 houses in California. I will be doing more research on that, but in the meantime I show you these photos of the Berkeley City Women’s Club building, in which my grandmother (on the other side of the family) was very active, and where she took us swimming when we visited her. That building has been called a “little Hearst Castle,” referring to the real (huge) Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, the estate that Morgan designed with William Randolph Hearst.

Since the tea party I have switched gears and stayed home, slowly working on wrapping presents, packing bags and organizing my thoughts in preparation for my departure. One by one little things that need to be done come to mind and I do them, or write them down. It is not very systematic, and the whole process seems to require frequent attention to everyday tasks like building the fire and tending the frozen fountain. I guess it’s because I’m not systematic that I require banks of time for the creative flow to happen. As I am fond of quoting G.K. Chesterton:

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind
that makes me unaware of everything else.”

Even things I’ve been procrastinating on for months must be put off no longer, whether or not they have anything to do with the trip — like making a phone call. My daughter Kate says everyone does the same at the end of the year, finally sending in reports or contacting loved ones, I guess because they don’t want to come back from Christmas break with “old business,” whether it’s work or family related, dutiful or joyful.

Now that I’ve procrastinated enough to get another unnecessary thing done, the writing of this post, I will have to hustle a little bit and fold the clothes I laundered, to figure out what to take with me. Before I know it, these in-between days will have ended and I’ll be boarding an airplane and on my way to a happy reunion with several of my dear family. I hope that on Christmas Eve we will sing “Stille Nacht.”

A new universe in each head.

I’ve never met a child whose physique brought to mind the form of a mushroom. For that reason only, and for years, I’ve delayed posting this provocative quote. Now I’ve pretty much gotten over my shock and am no longer embarrassed on behalf of the dear man who had no children of his own, but seems rather in awe of them, and charmed. 

Also, I gave up trying to find a picture of one of my family when a child, with a head that I would call bulbous. It might be that the word was more neutral in tone at the beginning of the last century. But I imagine that the poet and artist also delighted in how the toddler’s proportions were just the reverse of his, whose body was quite oversized relative to its head.

ON THE SEVENTH DAY OF CREATION

“The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common-sense. The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial.

As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea.”

—G.K. Chesterton, The Defendant (1901)

All the most dramatic things happen.

“It is right that men should have houses, right that they should have land, right that they should have laws to protect the land; but all these things are only machinery to make leisure for the labouring soul. The house is only a stage set up by stage carpenters for the acting of what Mr. J. B. Yeats has called ‘the drama of the home.’

“All the most dramatic things happen at home, from being born to being dead. What a man thinks about these things is his life; and to substitute for them a bustle of electioneering and legislation is to wander about among screens and pulleys on the wrong side of pasteboard scenery; and never to act the play. And that play is always a miracle play; and the name of its hero is Everyman.”

-G.K. Chesterton

2016