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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Nature: "An Excited Repetition"

On to Chesterton, Part II: In Orthodoxy, Chesterton poses something I had never thought of before (imagine that!). He looks at the repetition inherent in nature and says, "the mere repetition made the things to me rather more weird than more rational. It was as if, having seen a curiously shaped nose in the street and dismissed it as an accident, I had then seen six other noses of the same astonishing shape . . . . So one elephant having a trunk was odd; but all elephants having trunks looked like a plot." He goes on to say that nature seemed to be an excited repetition, "like that of an angry schoolmaster saying the same thing over and over again." Aplot indeed.

He felt as if God were trying to drill some understanding into his head. One of my favorite lines (which my lunatic Moon quotes in The Wolf of Tebron) is, "The recurrences of the universe rose to the maddening rhythm of an incantation." He says the fingers of grass, the crowded stars, and the sun were clamoring to be noticed by way of repetition.

Now here's what I find interesting: Some people, he states, suppose repetition signifies something dead, like a piece of mindless clockwork. "People feel that if the universe was personal, it would vary," he says. But variation is due to dying and breaking down, losing strength, fatigue. Poetically, he states, "The sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life." He compares this to children with abundant energy, kicking their legs in rhythm because of their excess of life. I love this:

"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 grownup person does it again and again until he is nearly dead. For grownup people are not strong enough to exult in monotony."

Do we get this? What a concept! Listen: "But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God say every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun, and every evening, 'Do it again,' to the moon . . . . It may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten 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." In summation, "The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore."

How many times have we watched a spectacular sunset and oohed and aahed as if it were the first one we'd ever seen? Earlier this week I saw a double rainbow in the sky, after a heavy rain, with the mountains and lake majestic behind it. I was awed to tears, even though I had seen rainbows like this a dozen times before. "Do it again," I whispered. "Do it again and again."


  1. I love this! I am like you, I had never thought of this. But upon hearing it, it makes perfect sense! God, who is older than time, is not affected by time. He is ancient, yet eternally young. Reminds me a bit of my post tonight, and our glorified bodies!

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you, C.S., for a beautiful essay.
    Though I was an English major in college, I had not heard of Chesterton until I converted to Catholicism nine years ago.
    Chesterton is truly one of the stars in Catholic literary circles ~ an original thinker and yet so full-of-faith observer of life and nature.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  3. wow. yes, I like this thought. It's so powerful and reveals something of the sublimity of nature that keeps drawing me back to the mountains... what a beautiful concept.