Roughly a third way through Orthodoxy, the idiosyncratic but great G K Chesterton describes some of the factors in his coming to faith.
And then followed an experience impossible to describe. It was as if I had been blundering about since my birth with two huge and unmanageable machines, of different shapes and without apparent connection — the world and the Christian tradition. I had found this hole in the world: the fact that one must somehow find a way of loving the world without trusting it; somehow one must love the word without being worldly. I found this projecting feature of Christian theology, like a sort of hard spike, the dogmatic insistence that God was personal, and had made a world separate from Himself. The spike of dogma fitted exactly into the hole in the world — it had evidently been meant to go there — and then the strange thing began to happen. When once these two parts of the two machines had come together, one after another, all the other parts fitted and fell in with an eerie exactitude. I could hear bolt after bolt over all the machinery falling into its place with a kind of click of relief.
Having got one part right, all the other parts were repeating that rectitude, as clock after dock strikes noon. Instinct after instinct was answered by doctrine after doctrine. Or, to vary the metaphor, I was like one who had advanced into a hostile country to take one high fortress. And when that fort had fallen the whole country surrendered and turned solid behind me. The whole land was lit up, as it were, back to the first fields of my childhood.
All those blind fancies of boyhood, which in the fourth chapter I have tried in vain to trace on the darkness, became suddenly transparent and sane. I was right when I felt that roses were red by some sort of choice: it was the divine choice. I was right when I felt that I would almost rather say that grass was the wrong colour than say it must by necessity have been that colour: it might verily have been any other.
My sense that happiness hung on the crazy thread of a condition did mean something when all was said: it meant the whole doctrine of the Fall. Even those dim and shapeless monsters of notions which I have not been able to describe, much less defend, stepped quietly into their places like colossal caryatides of the creed. The fancy that the cosmos was not vast and void, but small and cozy, had a fulfilled significance now, for anything that is a work of art must be small in the sight of the artist; to God, the stars might be only small and dear, like diamonds. And my haunting instinct that somehow good was not merely a tool to be used, but a relic to be guarded, like the goods from Crusoe’s ship — even that had been the wild whisper of something originally wise, for, according to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.
G K Chesterton, Orthodoxy (end of Ch 5)
There are interesting parallels with C. S. Lewis’s conversion, a generation or so later. He had been schooled in the rigid disciplined logic of scientific materialism, in which the metaphysical world was a deception, albeit one which was (in Tolkien’s words) ‘breathing a lie through silver.’
‘Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.’
Surprised by Joy, p138.
The reason I have been consistently silent on this blog apart from the odd and/or random post is that I have been exploring these themes in-depth for my Doctor of Ministry (DMin) thesis. And I am greatly relieved to say that this is now complete. PHEW! HURRAH!
And so in exploring the importance of the arts for reaching a world immersed in secularism (of various sorts), that line from Chesterton seemed the perfect headline. And so I couldn’t resist stealing it.
If any have the inclination for reading more, it is now available online – on my Academia.edu page, and in due course in the seminary’s library archive and also here: