RENEWED BY SHIPWRECKS

God teaches us through the ethics of elfland

Illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary

But it is a better exercise still to remember how all things have had this hair-breadth escape: everything has been saved from a wreck.

― G.K. Chesterton, The Ethics of Elfland, Orthodoxy, 1908

These are times when it is easy to lose heart. We see destruction of a grand civilization around us, that for its admitted imperfections, was built with the aims of the better angels of our nature. It still remembered God. But now it is sinking, tragically, into the West. Even our own beloved country is losing its buoyancy. Its sinking as in a shipwreck. What will we save from the wreckage? Chesterton reminds us in Orthodoxy that even in a shipwreck there is hope.

These subconscious convictions are best hit off by the colour and tone of certain tales. Thus I have said that stories of magic alone can express my sense that life is not only a pleasure but a kind of eccentric privilege. I may express this other feeling of cosmic cosiness by allusion to another book always read in boyhood, “Robinson Crusoe,” which I read about this time, and which owes its eternal vivacity to the fact that it celebrates the poetry of limits, nay, even the wild romance of prudence. Crusoe is a man on a small rock with a few comforts just snatched from the sea: the best thing in the book is simply the list of things saved from the wreck. The greatest of poems is an inventory. Every kitchen tool becomes ideal because Crusoe might have dropped it in the sea. It is a good exercise, in empty or ugly hours of the day, to look at anything, the coal-scuttle or the book-case, and think how happy one could be to have brought it out of the sinking ship on to the solitary island. But it is a better exercise still to remember how all things have had this hair-breadth escape: everything has been saved from a wreck. Every man has had one horrible adventure: as a hidden untimely birth he had not been, as infants that never see the light. Men spoke much in my boyhood of restricted or ruined men of genius: and it was common to say that many a man was a Great Might-Have-Been. To me it is a more solid and startling fact that any man in the street is a Great Might-Not-Have-Been.

G. K. Chesterton, The Ethics of Elfland, Orthodoxy, 1908

Through shipwrecks in our life, God is teaching us, as children, the ethics of elfland, in this case, the poetry of limits. And out of this, our wonder and gratitude, that have been lost in excessive prosperity, shall be renewed…and with it, our creativity, the very thing that the Left wants so much and has lost.

“Even in a world that is being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong.”

– St. Hildegard of Bingen

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