Sunday, September 6, 2009

THE SANE MYSTIC

G. K. Chesterton's playful observation is so interesting to me. I think it rings true.

WHAT LEADS TO INSANITY.  In his chapter "The Maniac" in the classic Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton challenges the modern assertion that anything not scientifically provable cannot be real.  Chesterton demonstrates that such assumptions lead not to open minds, possibilities, and truth, but to closed-mindedness, denial, and fatalism.  Such thinking leads ultimately to madness, to insanity, he asserts.  He makes this point in his uniquely playful, cutting, and winning manner.

FIRST POST-MODERNIST?  But what is it that makes us sane?  In his answer I find a number of compelling observations and gems that shine light across the years from Chesterton into contemporary living and my own personal experiences.  I wonder if perhaps Chesterton was the first post-modernist?:

ALLOWING MYSTERY.  "Mysticism keeps people sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary person has always been sane because the ordinary person is a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. She 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.

TRUTH MORE THAN CONSISTENCY.  "She 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. Her spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like her physical sight; she sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.  Thus he has always believed that there was such a think as fate, but such a thing as free will also.  Thus she has 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 because it was not.  It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy person.

MYSTERY AND LUCIDITY.  "The whole secret of mysticism is this: that people can understand everything by the help of what they do 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...

THE CIRCLE VS THE CROSS.  "As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol 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 its 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 signpost for free travelers."

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