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The Absolute Necessity of Awkwardness

To Genevieve and Katie, Who Have Watched Me Learn This


There is much that is lacking in our culture in  the way of acesticism. It is not that we are utterly devoid of discipline. It’s just that our discipline seems always directed toward the most marginal and mediocre of things. A man who ‘works out’ develops large biceps so that, when he sits around in his cubicle, it might feel a little less empty. A stuggling family eats Raman noddles and buys their clothes at Goodwill so that all the children can have iPhones. A soccer mom limits her food intake, not simply to prevent obesity, but so that she might feel sexy in the sequins panties that her husband bought her. Chesterton was fond of saying that it is not the vices, but the virtues, that were let loose to wreak havoc when the Post Christian era began. Thus we see the old forms of fasting and renunciation haven’t disappeared; they just no longer correspond to charity. We still forgo food and beat our bodies into submission; its just that we no longer expect earth and heaven as our reward, but merely the worldly.

Being born into such a situation, it might seem odd that I suggest a reexamination of an obscure form of acesiticism, so obscure in fact that I think hagiologists are the only ones who ever wrote on it. If all the world is mistaken about the nature of self-discipline, why on earth should I waste my time with this ambigious point? Would it not be better to stick to the main issue: the radical loss of meaning in discipline? Perhaps, but (praise God) there are much better writers that can handle that battle. I am obscure, and so that the author may be comensurate with his subject matter, I will keep to reflecting on points of seeming obscurity.
In all the great saints, there was an acesiticism of humility that I can only call the radical call to awkwardness. We read about it in the mendicants mostly, though it is easier to put in proper context when we look at the more recent Saints. It can be seen when Boniface cut down the oak, when Patrick lit the bonfire, when Teresa took off her shoes and danced in the middle of meal time. Therese betrayed it when she snuck into the male monastery while on pilgrimage, and Athanasius displayed it when he jumped out of hiding to stop Constantine’s chariot and argue with the Emperor. JP II was notorious for it, sneaking away in the middle of meeting and meals only to be found lying prostrate before the tabernacle—kissing men, women and children full out on the face in St. Peter’s square—doodling out poetry when he got bored during sessions of the Second Vatican Council. Aquinas was caught talking to the crucifix. Pier Gorigio interrupted conversation to say rosaries. Mother Teresa walked out of committee meetings when she found out how much their bottled water had cost. And the list goes on. The point is that all of these saints knew the great secret of humility and kindness: that we must risk seeming rude and vulgar. “We must defy convention if only to keep the commandments.” (GKC, once more) We must learn what God has always known: that every act of love is at risk of being interpreted as an infringement on freedom and, thus, an act of annoyance.

Now somewhere along the way, our culture made awkwardness the ultimate mortal sin. We have invoked these great disciplines of ours, the schedules, the diets, the exercise routines, the penny-pinching, all in the name of avoiding discomfort. The man at the gym never breaths a word of humility. The family on the tight budget never questions the necessity of wireless technology. The woman haphazardly starving herself never stops to think if her husband should be looking at more than her thinner thighs. At the end of the day, all of these disciplines bring them further from, not closer to, the type of humility that Francis enjoyed or Don Bosco exuded when they spent all their time with animals and children. Saints were always faulted for the ‘awkwardness’ that such a lifestyle created. But the secret that all the Saints knew was that the greatest joys in life begin when we call into question our own limited assumptions and priorities. “There is nothing like pain and discomfort to plant the flag of heaven behind enemy walls.”(CSL, this time) Sheer happiness can never give us such a perspective, for sheer happiness is all too small a feeling. There must be an element of embarrassment or our humility is insincere. There most be that moment when it all seems wrong in order for us to know that it is truly right. The problem, as far as I can tell, with our silly Chicken Soup for the Soul discipline is not that it lacks effort, but that it lacks something of this authentic embarrassment. We look for disciplines that will bring us happy sex lives, better pleasures, stronger contentment, stable relationships, etc. We should look for the discipline that would risk all that in order to bring us back to ourselves and the Other. It is a discipline that constantly bets anything in order to gain everything. And that kind of bet is always embarrassing.

One final note before I leave you to assess your own asceticism of awkwardness; it is not enough to simply defy convention. It is not enough to be counter-cultural, eccentric, and thus enticing. Even the pagans have done the same. I hang out with many artists and eccentrics who, for all their oddness, are no closer to the Kingdom of Heaven. What I have discovered, what I so wish to see more of in the lives of my brothers and sisters, and what I am dying to find more often in my own life, is that radical humility in which I am utterly embarrassed, rolling-on-the-floor-of-my-mind-laughing-at-myself-embarrassed, and then Love comes rushing in and gathers me up. This asceticism of awkwardness should not only make Christians stand out: it should make them give up. Surrender. Make a gift of themselves. Man only discovers himself through a sincere gift of self. A sincere gift of self requires a great deal of confusion and blushing. We are told that our bodies are washed in the blood of the Lamb, and I have often wondered if we see something of that crimson when our cheeks turn red.

Gratitude=Happiness x Wonder

“I would maintain that thanks is the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”-GKC, 1917

There are truly refreshing moments in life when we are relieved of the pressure of standing alone with some thought by discovering that it has already been said or thought by another. When I read the above quote, I was so taken up by the joy of this phrase that I wanted to share it with all those present. I felt as if something special, almost sacramental, had occured. And indeed (as you will read), a communion had taken place. Unfortunately, the place I found myself reading this passage was a coffee shop, where such delicate and delicious thoughts lost in the shuffle. Starbucks does us no favors by printing all sorts of maxims on their cups: one becomes deceived that they are all of equal quality (isn’t it ironic that, regardless of quality, they all end up in the garbage can).

Anyway, for months now I had found myself trying to say that above quote, but being impaired by not having yet read it. In fact, I had almost taken the extremely treacherous step of trying to write the idea out myself, but was happily prevented from doing so by discovering that I was a century too late. So, instead of a sloppy, second rate version of the above truth, I was taken up with the less tedious task of writing a commentary on it.

And the commentary will be short (though commentary is never as brief as the primary source): Our dependence on God creates as thrill in us that can reach the point of anxiety. Speaking personally, my experience of it often involves a signifigant amount of anxiety. Recently, a close friend of mine rightfully corrected this anxiety by comparing our reception of God’s grace to the catching of a frisbee. She stated that, just like a frisbee, grace seems to waver delicately between heaven and earth. She insisted, however, that this should not be a source of fear. We should be confident that, if God tossed us the frisbee, He had ever intention of our catching it. And the intention of the Divine is above suspicion.

Now, she left off the metaphor here, but I will pick it up again by pointing out that I have often dropped a frisbee. She was very right to correct my fear, but the fear was justified. The great feeling of gratitude that comes from participating in Reality is that happiness comes at a risk. That is to say, love comes at a price. There can be no wonder unless the pass can be dropped. There must be some real chance that frisbee will slip through my fingers, otherwise my wonder at catching it will indeed slip through my fingers. But my friend was right: fear is not the right response. Wonder is the right response.

I do not plan here to tackle the topic of Divine Will and human freedom, only to comment that our freedom is indeed Divinely willed. God wants to give us grace (otherwise it could not be gratia, gift) and, in doing so, there must be the real risk that we might not acccept that gift (overwise, it would be said to be forced on us, and not given). What has to happen is a willing to unwill, an active choice to be passive and catch the pass. Some call this surrender. Some call this receptivity. Whatever it is called, it result in thanks, in gratitude, in eucharist. And Eurcharist is the source and summit of life.

When we come to God in this way (that is, in the Eucharist) what we find is that startling fact that He came to Himself in this way. He gave Himself on the cross. For our Salvation did indeed waver between heaven and earth, and when Christ passed on His Spirit, there had to be some real risk that the pass might be dropped. And now my commentary must end, for I have reached the limits of what mere words can express. There is a Divine Silence that surrounds this mystery of Calvary, where even the Word refused to speak. All I can say is that when we have some experience of this love, speaking louder in its silence than all the tongues of man, the very value of Reality seems to double up on itself. We exist most when be understand what it would be to cease to exist. Value pours in from every corner of consciousness. Our happiness is multiplied by wonder, even as drift dying in mid-heaven. The matter of catching the frisbee becomes secondary to the fact that there was a God so loving as to pass it to us in the first place. That we should even be there to catch it becomes the content of our gratitude.

Of Hair and Health Care, by GKC

This is a Chesterton essay that acts as the conclusion of his book What’s Wrong with the World. Though written over a century ago, it asks just how far the government can go in matters of health and hygiene. It’s pertinence to our current situation cannot be overstated.

A little while ago certain doctors and other persons permitted by modern law to dictate to their shabbier fellow-citizens, sent out an order that all little girls should have their hair cut short. I mean, of course, all little girls whose parents were poor. Many very unhealthy habits are common among rich little girls, but it will be long before any doctors interfere forcibly with them. Now, the case for this particular interference was this, that the poor are pressed down from above into such stinking and suffocating underworlds of squalor, that poor people must not be allowed to have hair, because in their case it must mean lice in the hair. Therefore, the doctors propose to abolish the hair. It never seems to have occurred to them to abolish the lice. Yet it could be done. As is common in most modern discussions the unmentionable thing is the pivot of the whole discussion. It is obvious to any Christian man (that is, to any man with a free soul) that any coercion applied to a cabman’s daughter ought, if possible, to be applied to a Cabinet Minister’s daughter. I will not ask why the doctors do not, as a matter of fact apply their rule to a Cabinet Minister’s daughter. I will not ask, because I know. They do not because they dare not. But what is the excuse they would urge, what is the plausible argument they would use, for thus cutting and clipping poor children and not rich? Their argument would be that the disease is more likely to be in the hair of poor people than of rich. And why? Because the poor children are forced (against all the instincts of the highly domestic working classes) to crowd together in close rooms under a wildly inefficient system of public instruction; and because in one out of the forty children there may be offense. And why? Because the poor man is so ground down by the great rents of the great ground landlords that his wife often has to work as well as he. Therefore she has no time to look after the children, therefore one in forty of them is dirty. Because the workingman has these two persons on top of him, the landlord sitting (literally) on his stomach, and the schoolmaster sitting (literally) on his head, the workingman must allow his little girl’s hair, first to be neglected from poverty, next to be poisoned by promiscuity, and, lastly, to be abolished by hygiene. He, perhaps, was proud of his little girl’s hair. But he does not count.


Upon this simple principle (or rather precedent) the sociological doctor drives gayly ahead. When a crapulous tyranny crushes men down into the dirt, so that their very hair is dirty, the scientific course is clear. It would be long and laborious to cut off the heads of the tyrants; it is easier to cut off the hair of the slaves. In the same way, if it should ever happen that poor children, screaming with toothache, disturbed any schoolmaster or artistic gentleman, it would be easy to pull out all the teeth of the poor; if their nails were disgustingly dirty, their nails could be plucked out; if their noses were indecently blown, their noses could be cut off. The appearance of our humbler fellow-citizen could be quite strikingly simplified before we had done with him. But all this is not a bit wilder than the brute fact that a doctor can walk into the house of a free man, whose daughter’s hair may be as clean as spring flowers, and order him to cut it off. It never seems to strike these people that the lesson of lice in the slums is the wrongness of slums, not the wrongness of hair. Hair is, to say the least of it, a rooted thing. Its enemy (like the other insects and oriental armies of whom we have spoken) sweep upon us but seldom. In truth, it is only by eternal institutions like hair that we can test passing institutions like empires. If a house is so built as to knock a man’s head off when he enters it, it is built wrong.


The mob can never rebel unless it is conservative, at least enough to have conserved some reasons for rebelling. It is the most awful thought in all our anarchy, that most of the ancient blows struck for freedom would not be struck at all to-day, because of the obscuration of the clean, popular customs from which they came. The insult that brought down the hammer of Wat Tyler might now be called a medical examination. That which Virginius loathed and avenged as foul slavery might now be praised as free love. The cruel taunt of Foulon, “Let them eat grass,” might now be represented as the dying cry of an idealistic vegetarian. Those great scissors of science that would snip off the curls of the poor little school children are ceaselessly snapping closer and closer to cut off all the corners and fringes of the arts and honors of the poor. Soon they will be twisting necks to suit clean collars, and hacking feet to fit new boots. It never seems to strike them that the body is more than raiment; that the Sabbath was made for man; that all institutions shall be judged and damned by whether they have fitted the normal flesh and spirit. It is the test of political sanity to keep your head. It is the test of artistic sanity to keep your hair on.


Now the whole parable and purpose of these last pages, and indeed of all these pages, is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little girl’s hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict’s; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

Graceful Freedom


The topic of freedom and grace remains one of the most difficult discussions in Christian theology. When John Paul II writes about it, at the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart: what is the heart made for, how can it love, what model does it take? In the post Christian west, we are told that salvation is liberation, and liberation is at the service of the individual. But if freedom and grace are only ordered to the self, then it becomes clear that human dignity means nothing more than autonomy, and salvation is reduced to selfishness. If, however, human freedom exists to be at the service of others, then human beings ‘become like God’ when they empty themselves for the sake of everybody else. In light of this truth, JP II knew that it was counter-productive to present a God of triumph when, in fact, the mystery of the Christian God is that He Himself is a God of surrender. “In his intimate life, God ‘is love,’ the essential love shared by the three divine Persons: personal love is the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Therefore he ‘searches even the depths of God,’ as uncreated Love-Gift. It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the Triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons and that through the Holy Spirit God exists in the mode of gift.” (Dominum et Vivificatem, 10.)


In the Holy Spirit, God exists in the mode of gift. God exists in the mode of gift. God exists in the mode of gift! While all the power and progress of this world promises to move mankind toward some infinite pleasure or individual indulgences, Christianity, alone of all the world’s religions and philosophies, presents a man’s end as the God Who IS Gift. Who IS selflessness. And when choosing to make this fundamental reality of His existence known to men, He became a man and died, thus fully inaugurating a new law of Gift (or, in Latin, gratia, grace). JP II phrases it this way: “Christ is the centre of the economy of salvation, the recapitulation of the Old and New Testaments, of the promises of the Law and of their fulfillment in the Gospel; he is the living and eternal link between the Old and the New Covenants…Jesus himself is the living “fulfillment” of the Law.” (Veritatis Splendor, 16.) This new law of gift is the great revolution of our religion. Its not just about helping people or ‘making the world a better place’: it’s about making heaven a better place, or rather, making both heaven and earth a place where the King of Gift can actually be given something Himself. For grace (gift) is, after all, how Christians have access to the God who exists in the mode of Gift (grace).

Anyone familiar with Pauline theology or the evangelical applications thereof will know that this is no new theme in Christianity. In her most recent century, fundamentalists and street preachers commonly talked about it within the context of conversion. JP II’s himself approaches the topic of grace from the same angle; “The Apostle Paul invites us to consider in the perspective of the history of salvation, which reaches its fulfillment in Christ, the relationship between the (Old) Law and grace (the New Law). He recognizes the pedagogic function of the Law, which, by enabling sinful man to take stock of his own powerlessness and by stripping him of the presumption of his self-sufficiency, leads him to ask for and to receive ‘life in the Spirit.'” (Veritatis Splendor, 23) Once we ‘take stock’ of our own powerlessness, however, we are invited into a new freedom where we extend ourselves beyond the limits of our own person by giving of ourselves for the sake of the Other (‘the Other’=Christ and other humans). Therefore, JP II points out that “Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called….Human freedom and God’s law are not in opposition; on the contrary, they appeal one to the other. The follower of Christ knows that his vocation is to freedom.” (Veritatis Splendor, 17.) No longer are we slaves to the things of this world, to sex, to food, to cloths, to the news, to politics, to even culture itself. All of these things are created good, culture included, but JP II knows that it is important that “man does not become the prisoner of any of his cultures, but asserts his personal dignity by living in accordance with the profound truth of his being.” And the truth of man’s being is the truth of gift (grace).
Man’s graceful freedom can only come through the gospel of Christianity. This gospel is itself Christ’s gift: it is not an imposition or a burden. As JP II puts it; “On her part, the Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.” (Redemptoris Missio, 39) To accept Christ’s word in freedom is to become free to live for others and the Other, for a destiny far greater than the autonomous self could ever provide. “Hence, human activity cannot be judged as morally good merely because it is a means for attaining one or another of its goals, or simply because the subject’s intention is good. Activity is morally good when it attests to and expresses the voluntary ordering of the person to his ultimate end and the conformity of a concrete action with the human good as it is acknowledged in its truth by reason.” (Veritatis Splendor, 72.)

GKC was fond of saying that you cannot argue with a man unless you can sympathize with his perspective. It’s not simply a matter of understanding his view, but truly feeling the pain he feels. In our day and time, there are many who feel that ‘the Church’ (it matters little whether they mean Roman Catholicism or merely the body of Christians) stands as an institution in contrast with individual freedom. The fact of the matter is that Christianity does, in a very real way, stand in contrast with (if not opposition to) our contemporary conception of freedom. If by ‘freedom’ we mean ‘privacy,’ than Christianity accepts it as only a condition of worldly existence, and a rather negative one at that. In heaven, there will be no privacy for there will be no ability to hold back a part of yourself from anyone else. It would be foolishness to stand before the pearly gates and say to God and the angelic court, the Saints and the Martyrs: “I will share anything with you except this small part. I need it for myself and would feel insecure were I forced to give it away.” Heaven knows nothing of such privacy. The Church admits of the right to privacy as she admits to the right to property: as a temporal affair. That is to say, she concedes to it as temporary, something that will disappear with the coming of the Kingdom. And she prays earnestly, each day, that the Kingdom come sooner rather than later.

In his writing, John Paul II certainly sympathizes with this situation in which Christianity and the world’s opposing ideas of freedom war for men’s hearts. However, he never let this sympathy (which is an emotion) interfere with his love (which is an action). He was willing to admit that complex modern realities, tied into the perennial scandals of humanity-this-side-of-heaven, leave Christianity an easy target of ridicule and suspicion. The question is whether or not we can separate the teachings of Christ from the communion of love he personally established, a communion called the Church. As he says in Veritatis Splendor, “At times, in the discussions about new and complex moral problems, it can seem that Christian morality is in itself too demanding, difficult to understand and almost impossible to practice. This is untrue, since Christian morality consists, in the simplicity of the Gospel, in following Jesus Christ, in abandoning oneself to him, in letting oneself be transformed by his grace and renewed by his mercy, gifts which come to us in the living communion of his Church.” (119) In this self-abandonment, the human person breaths again, living not just for herself, but gracefully for the Other.

Boredom and Bag End

I have been bored over the past couple of days and, like most contemporary young adults, have attempted to relieve my boredom with, among the whole host of possible distractions, videos on Youtube. That is to say, I have watched the Hobbit trailer several times over. I can’t wait for Peter Jackson to take us back to Middle Earth. However, while watching the video recently, I had one of those silly, humbling moments so necessary in life: I realized that all my complaining must fall back on my own head. As I watched Bilbo and Frodo waved to each other in the opening shot of the trailer, followed by the shots of Bilbo writing “There and Back Again” at his desk and smoking a pipe in front of Gandalf, I cried (whether out load or to myself, it makes no difference [for I can’t really tell which]) “I want to go there!” And not just to be with a wizard, but to be with a friend. I want to smell the Gaffer’s roses and eat Hobbiton cheese, not just the cross swords and see magick. I want songs around my hearth and an unexpected party, and not just elves and dwarves. Fantasy is fine, but reality is so much finer. The trail is makes the adventure, whether that trail leads through the Pearl‘s marshes or over the MistyMountains.
And then I realized what a greedy fool I was. My living room is made up just like Bag End (minus, of course, the rounded doors, windows and hallways)! The trim is bare wood with light beige walls. Our hearth is always warm this time of year, and all sorts of singing and dancing goes on. I hike almost everyday in the woods behind my house, ride to parks and shops, can see roses just outside my bedroom window while I writing tales of mine own. This summer I hiked, hunted, fell from waterfalls and fought my demons. This school year I’ve had many an unexpected party and late night adventure. This weekend I’ll join many an old friend on a wonderful retreat. So why am I bored?

“You have to be happy in those quiet moments when you remember that you are alive; not in those noisy moments when you forget.” This quote of Chesterton’s entered my mind, and then I realized just what it was I was missing. I didn’t need an adventure that would have me forget reality. I wanted an adventure that would remind me I am a living reality. We grow too used to escapades that are escapes, rather than adventures that are returns. I sat there fuming about the grass being on the other side because I didn’t want to risk having to cut my own grass. Which is another way of saying I didn’t want to risk my own ,Assk you I will: why is the contemporary person so unsatisfied with their over entertained, over indulged, first world, last place kinda life style. Why does our boredom destroy us instead of rejuvenating us? Why do the few blessed hours granted us for recreation soon lapse into desperation for entertainment?

Simple: we’ve forgetton the pure joy of being. Of being what? Of BEING.

You might respond (and probably should respond), “Oh, thank you Daniel. Your metaphysics just solves all my problems. Meanwhile, you JERK, maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’ve got all sorts of things to worry about: a car, a house, a job, school, friends, lovers, haters, etc. I’ve got a life. So what if I want to escape to the land of the elves, or the wizards, or the vampire spouses, of Beyonce, Anime or the LSU tigers. Do not judge my hobbies!”

I don’t judge. I really don’t. They are all fine and good quality things, your hobbies are (except maybe the Tigers’ coaching). It is myself that I’m judging, that I’m making a public spectacle of. What need I of Rivendell when I’ve been to Kahdelea, Bag End when I live on

Stratford Drive

or the Dead Marshes when I have the home of Swamp People in my proverbial backyard? And yet I am bored with it! Why am I bored? Is there something wrong with me?

I always risk being far too intimate in these reflections, but I only do it because I sincerely believe that we all can relate. And what I would like to relate is this lesson (though I live it rather imperfectly myself): boredom is not a curse, but an invitation. Disappointment and disillusionment with our amusements must not be the final word. Rather than taking my word for it, though, here are some more of Chesterton’s, echoing from 80 years ago;

“What we have to teach the young man of the future, is how to enjoy himself. Until he can enjoy himself, he will grow more and more tired of enjoying everything else. What we have to teach him is to amuse himself. At this moment he is more and more dependent upon anything which he thinks will amuse him. And, to judge by the expression of his face, it does not amuse him very much. When we consider what he receives, it is indeed a most magnificent wonder and wealth and concentration of amusement. He can travel in a racing-car almost as quick as a cannon-ball; and still have his car fitted up with wireless from all the ends of the earth. He can get Vienna and Moscow; he can hear Cairo and Warsaw; and if he cannot see England, through which he happens to be travelling, that is after all a small matter. In a century, no doubt, his car will travel like a comet, and his wireless will hear the noises in the moon. But all this does not help him when the car stops; and he has to stand stamping about in a line, with nothing to think about. All this does not help him even when the wireless stops and he has to sit still in a silent car with nothing to talk about. If you consider what are the things poured into him, what are the things he receives, then indeed they are colossal cataracts of things, cosmic Niagaras that have never before poured into any human being are pouring into him. But if you consider what comes out of him, as a result of all this absorption, the result we have to record is rather serious. In the vast majority of cases, nothing. Not even conversation, as it used to be. He does not conduct long arguments, as young men did when I was young. The first and startling effect of all this noise is silence.”

Into that silence, let us pour our prayer, so that our silence yields not despair. Oh Great God, do your best. Oh Great God, give us rest.

GKC and the Largeness of the Faith

Yet another GKC read! 

This could be considered his commentary on John 6: 68; "To whom, Lord, shall we go." Specifically, he is defending to freedom of the faithful, that when they come to Christ, He enlarges their freedom rather than dismantling it. 

Nothing is more amusing to the convert, when his conversion has been complete for some time, than to hear the speculations about when or whether he will repent of the conversion; when he will be sick of it, how long he will stand it, at what stage of his external exasperation he will start up and say he can bear it no more. For all this is founded on that optical illusion about the outside and the inside which I have tried to sketch in this chapter. The outsiders, stand by and see, or think they see, the convert entering with bowed head a sort of small temple which they are convinced is fitted up inside like a prison, if not a torture-chamber. But all they really know about it is that he has passed through a door. They do not know that he has not gone into the inner darkness, but out into the broad daylight.  It is he who is, in the beautiful and beatific sense of the word, an outsider. He does not want to go into a larger room, because he does not know of any larger room to go into.  He knows of a large number of much smaller rooms, each of which is labelled as being very large; but he is quite sure he would be cramped in any of them. Each of them professes to be a complete cosmos or scheme of all things; but then so does the cosmos of the Clapham Sect or the Clapton Agapemone.  Each of them is supposed to be domed with the sky or painted inside with all the stars. But each of these cosmic systems or machines seems to him much smaller and even much simpler than the broad and balanced universe in which he lives.  One of them is labelled Agnostic; but he knows by experience that it has not really even the freedom of ignorance. It is a wheel that must always go round without a single jolt of miraculous interruption--a circle that must not be squared by any higher mathematics of mysticism; a machine that must be scoured as clean of all spirits as if it were the avowed machine of materialism. In living in a world with two orders, the supernatural and the natural, the convert feels he is living in a larger world and does not feel any temptation to crawl back into a smaller one. One of them is labelled Theosophical or Buddhistic; but he knows by experience that it is only the same sort of wearisome wheel used for spiritual things instead of material things.  Living in a world where he is free to do anything, even to go to the devil, he does not see why he should tie himself to the wheel of a mere destiny. One of them is labelled Humanitarian; but he knows that such humanitarians have really far less experience of humanity. He knows that they are thinking almost entirely of men as they are at this moment in modern cities, and have nothing like the huge human interest of what began by being preached to legionaries in Palestine and is still being preached to peasants in China.  So clear is this perception that I have sometimes put it to myself, as something between a melancholy meditation and a joke.  "Where should I go now, if I did leave the Catholic Church?"  I certainly would not go to any of those little social sects which only express one idea at a time, because that idea happens to be fashionable at the moment. The best I could hope for would be to wander away into the woods and become, not a Pantheist (for that is also a limitation and a bore) but rather a pagan, in the mood to cry out that some particular mountain peak or flowering fruit tree was sacred and a thing to be worshipped.  That at least would be beginning all over again; but it would bring me back to the same problem in the end. If it was reasonable to have a sacred tree it was not unreasonable to have a sacred crucifix; and if the god was to be found on one peak he may as reasonably be found under one spire. To find a new religion is sooner or later to have found one; and why should I have been discontented with the one I had found? Especially, as I said in the first words of this essay, when it is the one old religion which seems capable of remaining new.  I know very well that if I went upon that journey I should either despair or return; and that none of the trees would ever be a substitute for the real sacred tree. Paganism is better than pantheism, for paganism is free to imagine divinities, while pantheism is forced to pretend, in a priggish way, that all things are equally divine. But I should not imagine any divinity that was sufficiently divine. I seem to know that weary return through the woodlands; for I think in some symbolic fashion I have walked that road before. For as I have tried to confess here without excessive egotism, I think I am the sort of man who came to Christ from Pan and Dionysus and not from Luther or Laud; that the conversion I understand is that of the pagan and not the Puritan; and upon that antique conversion is founded the whole world that we know. It is a transformation far more vast and tremendous than anything that has been meant for many years past, at least in England and America, by a sectarian controversy or a doctrinal division.  On the height of that ancient empire and that international experience, humanity had a vision. It has not had another; but only quarrels about that one. Paganism was the largest thing in the world and Christianity was larger; and everything else has been comparatively small.