A CHESTERTON ADVENT: WONDER, JOY, MYSTERY AND SANITY

The wonder, joy and mystery we seek during Advent and Christmas is what protects our sanity

Saturday, December 3, 2022

“Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.”

– G. K. Chesterton, The Romance of Faith, Orthodoxy, 1908

Wonder is the “ability to be curious to know something, to feel surprise mingled with admiration over the inexplicable“, It is this mystery in life that keeps us sane. Why is it that real wonder seems missing from our present society, a society that is increasingly going mad? Chesterton made a startling connection as to the reason why:

I do not, in my private capacity, believe that a baby gets his best physical food by sucking his thumb; nor that a man gets his best moral food by sucking his soul, and denying its dependence on God or other good things. I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

– G. K. Chesterton, A Short History of England (1917)

Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder, Chesterton asserted – a wonder that is attached to something else that keeps us sane and content – mystery. One could almost think of it as an equation (which our present scientifically admiring society seems to think in terms of most everything). So, taken that way, the equation has become unsolvable because gratitude has become ‘x‘ and we have no idea how to solve for ‘wonder‘. How do we get that back? Chesterton solved the problem for himself this way:

[T]he chief idea of my life … is the idea of taking things with gratitude, and not taking things for granted. – G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography (1936)

The answer was to get back to not expecting anything in this life, not to take anything for granted, to be surprised that we have two legs instead of one, to realize we are a hair-breadth away from losing everything we presently have. To realize all of that, and let it drive us not to fear and greed, but to gratitude and wonder! The kind of wonder that a trusting child has that something good is on the other side of that door because we trust the One who opens it for us.

When we arrive at that point in our Advent journey, we have accomplished the unlocking of a door to the most important mystery of all mysteries that keep us sane: that we have been created, that there is a Creator who loves us and that he has a definite plan for saving us from our present problem of death and misery in this world. When we can arrive at a gratitude for that, everything we see shifts into a new perspective. Life changes because we change. That is the biggest discovery we can make in our Advent journey. We change. We go back to being as fascinated as a young child who wonders what is behind the door as this famous child’s television program from the 60s began….

Bob Keeshan opening the door with the many doors to Captain Kangeroo’s Treasure house!

If Chesterton had been alive to see it, he too would have been as delighted as so many viewers, now older, remark upon how that famous and magical door entranced them!

What God has done in giving us life at all, in providing a way back to Him is like standing and watching those doors open and wondering what was going to be behind them and inside that big door! It should fill us with a wondering at why we don’t wonder anymore and remember what that lovely excitement at a mystery about to be revealed to us feels like again.

Imagine now, as did Govert Flinck, a student of the great painter Rembrandt, when he visioned for his painting, Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds, the heavens opened up, like a door between eternity and man, and the heavenly host appearing at the Nativity of our Lord! What joy and wonder fill our hearts when we share in this moment simply looking at such a work! Then gratitude, for the Christian, quickly follows. God has given us a solution to the madness of the world! And He has made a way in the joy of it, so simple if we trust, to retain our sanity in a world going insane.

“Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus, he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus, he believes that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.”

G. K. Chesterton, The Romance of Faith, Orthodoxy, 1908

God has given us the truest of fairy tales – the tale of the Christ. Our real prince came, this “Prince of Peace” and He has promised to come again with His Kingdom that will never be brought to an end. God gives us wonder, joy, mystery and gratitude to keep us sane on our Advent journey through a mad world to our celebration of the birth of His Son.

You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of to-day discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world.

– G. K. Chesterton, The Maniac, Orthodoxy, 1908

Our Advent Prayer

O holy St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy, you who trusted Scripture’s promise that the Lord is always at hand and that we need not have anxiety about anything, in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows and lift the burdens from our hearts. We come to you as one whose heart swells with abundant love for God and all creation. Hear us, we pray, especially in this need of joy, wonder, gratitude and a sane mind. Keep us safe through your loving intercession, and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, St. Philip, transform our lives and bring us peace. Amen Ora Pro Nobis

Beloved, The protection against madness is your joy. Don’t ever lose it. Most people who have gone mad have lost their joy. Joy is not seeking pleasures, it is seeking Him. God bless you!

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