Archive for March, 2013

“Do you see this lantern?” cried Syme in a terrible voice. “Do you see the cross carved on it, and the flame inside? You did not make it. You did not light it. Better men than you, men who could believe and obey, twisted the entrails of iron and preserved the legend of fire. There is not a street you walk on, there is not a thread you wear, that was not made as this lantern was, by denying your philosophy of dirt and rats. You can make nothing. You can only destroy. You will destroy mankind; you will destroy the world. Let that suffice you. Yet this one old Christian lantern you shall not destroy. It shall go where your empire of apes will never have the wit to find it.”

G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare ch. xii (1908).


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St Peter’s denials of the Lord Jesus are often chalked up to cowardice. The gospel accounts of the first Maundy Thursday suggest otherwise, that the roots of footwashingPeter’s failure lay elsewhere. He had told Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you”; his drawing the sword in Gethsemane proved it.

Peter’s deficiency was not in courage, it was in understanding. His declaration “I will lay down my life for you” exactly reversed the roles. It would first be Jesus’s part to lay down his life for Peter, the part of the greater to lay down his life for the lesser, the leader’s part to lay down his life for his follower — the Christ’s part to die like the lamb. That presented Peter — certainly a natural leader — with a most uncomfortable question: can you take that?

If so, welcome to the Kingdom of God, where the new commandment — “just as I have loved you (to the extent of laying down my life), you must love one another” — is no inaccessible ideal, but simply the way of life.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Wisdom of God, teach me
To hear the speech of every falling seed:
”If I but die, I bear much fruit indeed”;
To see in flesh flayed, limbs splayed, hands impaled
The bared arm of God; and feel in feet nailed
That man may live only if he would bleed.
Lord Jesus Christ, Wisdom of God, teach me.

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Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

G. K. Chesterton, The Red Angel, in Tremendous Trifles (1909).

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So much reads straight in a smile’s crooked lines:
One betrays care, fear of the enemy —
tough, big, or swindler — crouching at the door;
Another knows where the enemy hides,
And, that presently the bastard will be
Knocked out cold upon the doorstep.
If you smile, friend, follow that second line;
The first is to cast your pearls before swine.

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Adams never smiled during business hours—unless professionally, as it were, when a member made a joke; but he was storing up in the recesses of his highly respectable body a large laugh, to be shared with his wife when he reached home that night. Mrs. Adams never wearied of hearing of the eccentricities of the members of the club. It occurred to Adams that he was in luck to-day. He was expecting a little party of friends to supper that night, and he was a man who loved an audience.

You would never have thought it, to look at him when engaged in his professional duties, but Adams had built up a substantial reputation as a humorist in his circle by his imitations of certain members of the club; and it was a matter of regret to him that he got so few opportunities nowadays of studying the absent-minded Lord Emsworth. It was rare luck—his lordship coming in to-day, evidently in his best form.

“Adams, who is the gentleman over by the window—the gentleman in the brown suit?”

“That is Mr. Simmonds, your lordship. He joined us last year.”

“I never saw a man take such large mouthfuls. Did you ever see a man take such large mouthfuls, Adams?”

Adams refrained from expressing an opinion, but inwardly he was thrilling with artistic fervor. Mr. Simmonds eating, was one of his best imitations, though Mrs. Adams was inclined to object to it on the score that it was a bad example for the children. To be privileged to witness Lord Emsworth watching and criticizing Mr. Simmonds was to collect material for a double-barreled character study that would assuredly make the hit of the evening.

“That man,” went on Lord Emsworth, “is digging his grave with his teeth. Digging his grave with his teeth, Adams! Do you take large mouthfuls, Adams?”

“No, your lordship.”

“Quite right. Very sensible of you, Adams—very sensible of you.

Very sen — What was I saying, Adams?”

P. G. Wodehouse, Something New ch. ii (1915).

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