Common Sense 101: The Intoxication of Existence

Before you read the below poem, written by Mr. Gilbert Keith Chesterton, try first to picture the person speaking and the environment in which that person is in. Create in your mind a baby, lying in a dark womb, trying to imagine a world of blue skies and green grassy hills. To this tiny person, what we call the commonplace and everyday can only be imagined as a dream. The baby believes that if only he/she (whichever gender came to your mind) could attain it, if they could see the world and be a part of it, their gratitude would be never-ending.

By The Babe Unborn
G. K. Chesterton

If trees were tall and grasses short,
As in some crazy tale,
If here and there a sea were blue
Beyond the breaking pale,

If a fixed fire hung in the air
To warm me one day through,
If deep green hair grew on great hills,
I know what I should do.

In dark I lie: dreaming that there
Are great eyes cold or kind,
And twisted streets and silent doors,
And living men behind.

Let storm-clouds come: better an hour,
And leave to weep and fight,
Than all the ages I have ruled
The empires of the night.

I think that if they gave me leave
Within that world to stand,
I would be good through all the day
I spent in fairyland.

They should not hear a word from me
Of selfishness or scorn,
If only I could find the door,
If only I were born.

After reading this I was…convicted. Not just by the words of the poem, but by what Chesterton said in explanation of those words. “A literary man who cannot see that a baby is marvelous could not see that anything was marvelous. He has certainly no earthy logical reason for regarding a movie vamp as marvelous. The movie vamp is only what happens to the baby when it goes wrong.”

I have to admit that I have never been one to oooh and aaah over babies. Actually, for years my natural inclination was to stay as far away from them as possible. A child’s cry could send me running for the door as soon as those high-pitched octaves reached my ears, and I could never quite understand their constant motion, never-ending talk, and silly antics. That’s because I had lost sight of my own sense of childhood, and didn’t remember what it was like to be a child, in a constant state of discovery and wonder.

Babies remind us to be in awe of the world. We should never stop being in awe of babies, because as Chesterton explains, each time a child is born it is as if a whole new world has been created. The world is being seen as if for the first time by a new soul as if it were the first day of creation; inside that little head, there is a new system of stars, new grass, new paths to follow, a new sea.

We don’t recognize a baby as marvelous quite simply because we refuse to see basic obvious things. It is the obvious things that are never seen; the things we have been viewing all along without really seeing them. The wonders of this world are in every green blade of grass, and every lap of water as it pounds against the shore. All of these things were created to be drank in and cause the viewer to be intoxicated by the magnitude of existence.

I had to ask forgiveness for my own lack of awe. The marvelousness that is a baby is something that the world seems to have taken for granted, and I find myself truly thankful that my eyes and ears are now open to the giggles and shrieks of delight that come from the discovery of new worlds.

Comon Sense 101: The Ugliness of Modern Life

A caricature of GK Chesterton

I’ve decided to make this week GK Chesterton week. I’m currently reading Common Sense 101, which is a compilation of many of the wisely-simple truths that Chesterton came up with on a daily basis. If you’ve never heard of Chesterton, that’s ok…most people haven’t. But I would highly recommend that you find out more about him!

Throughout this particular book, I’ve been struck by the elementary clarity that comes from each sentence he spoke, yet will find myself reading it more than once just to truly grasp the ideal he’s presenting. This is because, as he is quick to point out over and over, the greatest things in life are the simplest; we just have to be able to see them.

A few weeks ago I found myself at a coffee shop, speaking with a friend who had just come back from a backpacking trip to Europe. While there, she was struck by the beauty of art in its various forms, and how we are so lacking in that type of timelessness today. She asked where the modern day Michealangelos and Divincis where, and why artists today won’t ever produce works that will stand the test of many centuries of trials.

No matter how many time one views the Sistine Chapel's beauty, it never ceases to awe and amaze.

Reading Chesterton, I found myself recalling this conversation. “The fundamental problem with modern life is…it’s ugliness.” How truly simple he has made it! The reason for this ugliness is a lack of enthusiasm. If we really loved life, we would make it more beautiful, because all men seek to make beautiful what they already find beautiful.  A mother dresses her child in finery, the owner of a lovely home decorates it from top to bottom, a believer beautifies his church, and a lover lavishes his lady. But today we seem to be bored, no matter the beauties, fascinations and mysteries that life offers.

Modern life is bored, and modern life is reflecting this truth with what it produces – therefore there are no more Michaelangelos or Divincis. Boredom can be seen in the way we pass our time. No longer do we play games; instead we hire professionals for that purpose, while we merely sit and watch. Our entertainment grows louder, flashier, and more bizarre in an increasing attempt to simply keep our attention. Chesterton talks of this and says that “men are walking in their sleep and trying to wake themselves up with nightmares.”

Installation art may cause someone to think for a moment, but it will never be seen in museums hundreds of years from now.

Innocence is probably the key to preventing this jadedness. A child’s sense of wonder at a fairy tale is something that is basic. But what is interesting is that the younger the child is, the less fantastic the tale has to be. Again, Chesterton makes this clear with only a few words. “A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door.”

We are made to be astonished. And that is what we expect art to do for us. But there are no Masters today, because we’ve lost that sense of wonder, trying instead to create thrills with large-scale installations, abstract or surrealist paintings, and even films that frighten or disgust. Even with all this, and there is an overabundance of it today, the only art that has stood the test of time is quite elementary and basic – it is that which reflects creation.

Finding the beauty in life may sound simple, but it requires much more than modern life is comfortable giving.

Chesterton urges us to find that childlike sense of wonder that still remains within us, although it is most likely cowering in some dark corner, trembling at the overexposure of modern life. Being able to see the beauty that is all around us will require effort, but the things we are now blind to are the largest things of all. Creation is waiting for us to enjoy it once more, to see it’s beauty and stand in awe of it’s maker.