Today marked the birthday of one of my favorite authors, G. K. Chesterton. To mark the occasion, a number of fans on Twitter shared how they were introduced to the early-20th century author. For many it was their involvement with the Roman Catholic church. For other, it was the writings of C. S. Lewis or some other apologist. For me, it was the autobiographical writings of Frederick Buechner. His first autobiographical book, The Sacred Journey, introduced the character of Sunday as found in The Man Who Was Thursday, which was the first full Chesterton book that I read in college. From there it was to Orthodoxy and then to some of his other writings. This past Christmas I joyfully ordered a copy of The Spirit of Christmas, a collection of essays, stories, and poems about the Christmas season. I look forward to reading it during the Advent and Christmas seasons for many years to come.
I’m always amazed by how prescient Chesterton’s work has proven to be. Much like Lewis (who came after him), Chesterton was able to see “down the road” in ways that are striking in their accuracy. This is really apparent in What’s Wrong With the World, which is exactly what it sounds like. From the chapter “The Fear of the Past”:
The modern mind is forced towards the future by a certain sense of fatigue, not unmixed with terror, with which it regards the past. It is propelled towards the coming time; it is, in the exact words of the popular phrase, knocked into the middle of next week. And the goad which drives it on thus eagerly is not an affectation for futurity Futurity does not exist, because it is still future. Rather it is a fear of the past; a fear not merely of the evil in the past, but of the good in the past also. The brain breaks down under the unbearable virtue of mankind. There have been so many flaming faiths that we cannot hold; so many harsh heroisms that we cannot imitate; so many great efforts of monumental building or of military glory which seem to us at once sublime and pathetic. The future is a refuge from the fierce competition of our forefathers. The older generation, not the younger, is knocking at our door. It is agreeable to escape, as Henley said, into the Street of By-and-Bye, where stands the Hostelry of Never. It is pleasant to play with children, especially unborn children. The future is a blank wall on which every man can write his own name as large as he likes; the past I find already covered with illegible scribbles, such as Plato, Isaiah, Shakespeare, Michael Angelo, Napoleon. I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity. And the upshot of this modern attitude is really this: that men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.
And that’s just one moment that from a century ago that has odd and sobering echoes for our life together today.
So happy birthday, GKC! Thanks for leaving behind a collection of writings that it could take a lifetime to read and process!
(image from biography.com)