Saturday, July 19, 2014

G. K. Chesterton on Divine Frivolity

Chapter XVI of Heretics – “On Mr. McCabe and a Divine Frivolity”

“If there is one thing more than another which any one will admit who has the smallest knowledge of the world, it is that men are always speaking gravely and earnestly and with the utmost possible care about the things that are not important, but always talking frivolously about the things that are.”

“Numbers of clergymen have from time to time reproached me for making jokes about religion; and they have almost always invoked the authority of that very sensible commandment which says, ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.’ Of course, I pointed out that I was not in any conceivable sense taking the name in vain. To take a thing and make a joke out of it is not to take it in vain. It is, on the contrary, to take it and use it for an uncommonly good object. To use a thing in vain means to use it without use. But a joke may be exceedingly useful; it may contain the whole earthly sense, not to mention the whole heavenly sense, of a situation. … The thing which is fundamentally and really frivolous is not a careless joke. The thing which is fundamentally and really frivolous is a careless solemnity.”

“…paradox simply means a certain defiant joy which belongs to belief. … if Mr. McCabe asks me why I import frivolity into a discussion of the nature of man, I answer, because frivolity is a part of the nature of man. If he asks me why I introduce what he calls paradoxes into a philosophical problem, I answer, because all philosophical problems tend to become paradoxical.”

And this from Orthodoxy

G.K. Chesterton
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Christians especially have reason to delight in the playfulness of our God. The Holy One deemed to take on true humanity, to be born as one of us. The nativity of our Lord Jesus is not a nursery tale, though children of all ages thrill to hear it. Even pagans and secularists are compelled to join in the Christmas festivities! It is a season of rejoicing, of feasting and song; of “peace on Earth and good will toward Men.” Christmas day, especially, is a time to put away fear and to play.

Johan Huizinga, the Dutch cultural historian, was a man of deep Christian faith with a scientific devotion to facts in the pursuit of truth. In his book Homo Ludens, he asserts that play creates order, and that play is order. He observed that in the work-play antithesis the two terms are not of equal value. Work is negative, depleting energy. Play is positive, energizing, and refreshing. Any parent who has watched children lost in play know that it is often difficult to get them calmed down and ready for bed. They are full of life; energized by play!

Huizinga writes, “Play is a thing in itself. The play-concept as such is of a higher order than is seriousness. For seriousness seeks to exclude play, whereas play can very well include seriousness.”

In the account of her brother’s death, the Martyr Perpetua tells of how she prayed for him day and night that he might be restored to her. Then, the Lord showed her in a dream that her brother was in a place of light, with a clean body and well clad. In Perpetua’s words: “He was finding refreshment. And he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children” and when she awoke she understood that her brother had been “translated” from suffering to eternal refreshment. (The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity 2:3–4 [A.D. 202])

Huisinga noted something important about the relationship between the spheres of play and work. He wrote, “Myth and poetry both come from the play-sphere… living myth knows no distinction between play and seriousness.” Such is true of the worship of the Living Incarnate Lord Jesus.

Related reading: The Africa Chesterton Never KnewChesterton on the Value of Detective Stories; Chesterton on Premature Celebrations of ChristmasChesterton on the Kingdom of HeavenWho is Sunday? Who is Thursday?


Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley, that quote from GCK is great. Thanks for highlighting. I hope you are doing well. Your blog is a wonderful resource. Please keep up the good work. Best, Brent

Alice C. Linsley said...

How nice to hear from you! You were in my thoughts just this morning. I trust that the Lord is blessing you in your journey.