Friday, April 4, 2014

Chesterton, Early Childhood, the Church as Mother

Lately, in discussing art and how it can contribute to a "defamiliarizing" which can shake us out of a slumber, even a spiritual slumber, it has been said that women have contributed to this slumber and the "familiarizing", so to speak.  It was even mentioned somewhere that "dragons" kept the door to mystery, and these "dragons" sounded to me something like Sunday School teachers.

I think nowadays, when fewer children are raised in the faith, in the church, by mothers who are at home... that the emphasis on early childhood training should not be minimized. It is quite so that my own mother's piety, as well as my grandparents' piety were not dragons and gate-keepers--they were the very gates themselves.  In childhood everything is magical.  Everything is new.  Everything is unfamiliar at first.  We learn, we lay down the neurons, we are shaped into a trust and hope... and piety.  Every day we prayed:  "Lord make me pious, so that I will go to heaven."  (Lieber Gott, mach mich fromm, dass ich in den Himmel komm.)

It is the jaded, faded, the disappointed, the skeptic...  I don't know who else, who needs to be "defamiliarized".  I don't know.  It has not happened to me much, personally.  I just need to pick up a Bible and it hits me between the eyes.  It is quite enough.  Really.  I find.

Chesterton has this interesting thing to say about authority.  He means to accept the authority of Rome with this and I can't follow him there, but otherwise there is much good in the analogy.

"You believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you;  a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day.  And if this was true of your father, it was even truer of your mother;  at least it was true of mine, to whom this book is dedicated.  Now, when society is in a rather futile fuss about the subjection of women, will no one say how much every man owes to the tyranny and privilege of women, to the fact that they alone rule education until education becomes futile:  for a boy is only sent to be taught at school when it is too late to teach him anything.  The real thing has been done already, and thank God it is nearly always done by women.  Every man is womanized, merely by being born.  They talk of the masculine woman;  but every man is a feminised man.  And if ever men walk to Westminister to protest against this female privilege, I shall not join their procession.

For I remember with certainty this fixed psychological fact;  that the very time when I was most under a woman's authority, I was most full of flame and adventure.  Exactly because when my mother said that ants bit they did bite, and because snow did come in winter (as she said);  therefore the whole world was to me a fairyland of wonderful fulfillments, and it was like living in some Hebraic age, when prophecy after prophecy came true.  I went out as a child into the garden, and it was a terrible place to me, precisely because I had a clue to it;  if I had held no clue it would not have been terrible, but tame.  A mere unmeaning wilderness is not even impressive.  But the garden of childhood was fascinating, exactly because everything had a fixed meaning which could be found out in its turn."

(Chesterton, Orthodoxy, last chapter)

I like it that Chesterton does not despise his early and feminine training and dedicated "Orthodoxy" to his mother. Certainly, he was "defamiliarized" through his grown-up adventures in politics, literature, art, philosophy and debates, but he always discovered the old truths over again through his own life experiences. In a way we are all "defamiliarized" by adult life, finding our own clues and then in turn becoming teachers of the young. 

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