Monday, April 24, 2006

G. .K. Chesterton on "mysticism"

I've been looking through a copy of For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and by the Church that Andy loaned me this week, and I found an intesting reading from G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). I thought you might enjoy it. Please overlook the sexist pronouns. Chesterton was a product of his age.

"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 today) 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 the 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 as thing as free will also. Thus he believed 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 becsuse 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 become lucid.

"The determinist makes the theory of causation quite clear, and then finds that he cannot say "if you please" to the housemaid. The Christian permits free will to remain a sacred mystery, but because of this his relations with the housemaid become of a sparking and crystal clearness. He puts the seed of dogma in a central darkness; but it branches forth in all directions with abounding natural health.

"As we have taken the circle as a symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed forever in size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms forever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its center, it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a singpost for free travelers."

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

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