ADVENT: REALIZING OUR ANCESTRY – A HUMILIATING SPLENDOUR

The two twilights of view – two ways of looking at free will.

Go out in the early morning, when the world around you is grey and the streetlights are still on. Go out in the evening, when the world is grey and the streetlights are just coming on. Can you tell the difference in your mind?

It has been crushing for me in recent years to see so much of the goodness we have inherited dismissed so easily, the precious things being replaced with ephemeral & twisted things, and those who could transmit wisdom from the lessons of time (our elders) being dismissed with phrases such as ‘okay, boomer’.

– an observation from a fellow Christian
London at Twilight

Yes, things have changed from our expectations of the world. We are facing a time where there are two interpretations of what we are seeing and therefore two moralities are facing off with one another. But there is nothing new in that, as Chesterton notes, just that it is now more clear what is going on. Question is: how are we each going to respond to what is happening? How does Christ lead us to respond? In other words, which way of thinking, acting, and believing do we go in each and every dilemma with which we are now faced?

There’s a lot to unpack in this Advent meditation, but what Chesterton is challenging us to, by way of a very humbling thought, is what our grandmothers used to mean when they would note of our bad behavior: “You’re better than that“. And that is what he means when he observes that there are two ways of looking at free will – we can give in to the pressure around us of “the load of the evil of humanity” or we can live up to the magnificence of what God has done in creating us in his image, with the potential to choose to be heroes in this life. That is what Chesterton calls a “humiliating splendor“.

“There are two equal and eternal ways of looking at this twilight world of ours: we may see it as the twilight of evening or the twilight of morning; we may think of anything, down to a fallen acorn, as a descendant or as an ancestor. There are times when we are almost crushed, not so much with the load of the evil as with the load of the goodness of humanity, when we feel that we are nothing but the inheritors of a humiliating splendour. But there are other times when everything seems primitive, when the ancient stars are only sparks blown from a boy’s bonfire, when the whole earth seems so young and experimental that even the white hair of the aged, in the fine biblical phrase, is like almond-trees that blossom, like the white hawthorn grown in May. That it is good for a man to realize that he is ‘the heir of all the ages’ is pretty commonly admitted; it is a less popular but equally important point that it is good for him sometimes to realize that he is not only an ancestor, but an ancestor of primal antiquity; it is good for him to wonder whether he is not a hero, and to experience ennobling doubts as to whether he is not a solar myth.” – G.K.Chesterton, A Defense of Nonsense, The Defendant, 1901

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