G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy once played a leading role in a pivotal scene in my life. For several years, I’ve assumed I would write a long blog post about the book when my ten-year reading plan got to it. Maybe several long posts. But as time and life and reading schedules would have it, Orthodoxy came up on a long road trip (I read it to my wife as we headed north to Canada), and between driving, editing photos, whale watching, and listening to live Celtic music, there’s just not that much time for blogging this month. So I’d better hit the high point while I have a moment.
I don’t know why anyone reads these musings, but since you are reading this one at least, I might as well confess to you that I struggle with depression. At least I used to struggle. These days I really should use the word “manage.” And Chesterton’s Orthodoxy deserves a lot of the credit for the change.
(OK. Essentials. High points. I can do this.) Twenty years ago, I was sad about things – a lot of things – and I believed I was justified in feeling sad about things. But most of the time it felt terrible; being right really didn’t help that much. Friends told me to be happier. Counselors told me to be happier. The Bible told me to rejoice always. But then the Bible also told me that with much wisdom comes much sorrow, and doesn’t God want us to be wise? Why did no one else see this? (Well, no one but Sally Sparrow.)
Then Chesterton came my way with an autobiographical book all about his search for the philosophy that would allow him to love the world enough to see how wrong it is. Christianity, he said, doesn’t promote a Stoic grim acceptance of the world’s conditions, doesn’t seek the Aristotelian golden mean between sorrow and joy. Instead, it encourages both emotional responses in the greatest intensity. Christianity, he said, preferred pure red and pure white, never pink. But each at its proper time and in the proper context.
Here finally was someone, a good Christian, telling me not to trade in sadness for joy, not to water down sorrow for the world and for my sins with joy, but to add joy to the sorrow. “Here you can exult,” as he explained his own discovery, “and there you can grovel. And that was a liberation.” It was a liberation for me, as well.