Introductory Note:

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was a British writer and journalist. While he often wrote on the subject of Christian apologetics, perhaps considered a “serious” subject, he did it with a child-like eye towards truth. He certainly could see how the kingdom belonged to the children and how they would lead their adult counterparts into a fuller embodiment. In the following excerpt Chesterton writes about his “bitter envy” for missing a flood occurring in London. He honors the gift of resilience located in the imaginations of children and playfully chastises adults for missing out on the adventure.

Lacy Finn Borgo

Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

Enjoy­ing the Floods and Oth­er Disasters 

I feel an almost bit­ter envy on hear­ing that Lon­don has been flood­ed in my absence, while I am in the mere coun­try. [An excep­tion­al rain­fall in Lon­don too, on June 30, over two inch­es in twen­ty-four hours, caused seri­ous floods there and in near­by coun­ties.] My own Bat­tersea has been, I under­stand, par­tic­u­lar­ly favoured as a meet­ing of the waters. Bat­tersea was already, as I need hard­ly say, the most beau­ti­ful of human local­i­ties. Now that it has the addi­tion­al splen­dour of great sheets of water there must be some­thing quite incom­pa­ra­ble in the land­scape (or water­scape) of my own roman­tic town. Bat­tersea must be a vision of Venice. The boat that brought the meat from the butcher’s must have shot along those lanes of rip­pling sil­ver with the strange smooth­ness of the gon­do­la. The green­gro­cer who brought cab­bages to the cor­ner of the Latch­mere Road must have leant upon the oar with the unearth­ly grace of the gon­do­lier. There is noth­ing so per­fect­ly poet­i­cal as an island; and when a dis­trict is flood­ed it becomes an archipelago. 

The joy of inconveniences 

Some con­sid­er such roman­tic views of flood or fire slight­ly lack­ing in real­i­ty. But real­ly this roman­tic view of such incon­ve­niences is quite as prac­ti­cal as the oth­er. The true opti­mist who sees in such things an oppor­tu­ni­ty for enjoy­ment is quite as log­i­cal and much more sen­si­ble than the ordi­nary Indig­nant Ratepay­er” who sees in them an oppor­tu­ni­ty for grum­bling. Real pain, as in the case of being burnt at Smith­field [where the Protes­tant mar­tyrs were burned dur­ing the reign of Queen Mary] or hav­ing a toothache, is a pos­i­tive thing; it can be sup­port­ed, but scarce­ly enjoyed. But, after all, our toothaches are the excep­tion, and as for being burnt at Smith­field, it only hap­pens to us at the very longest inter­vals. And most of the incon­ve­niences that make men swear or women cry are real­ly sen­ti­men­tal or imag­i­na­tive incon­ve­niences — things alto­geth­er of the mind. 

Wait­ing for a train 

For instance, we often hear grown-up peo­ple com­plain­ing of hav­ing to hang about a rail­way sta­tion and wait for a train. Did you ever hear a small boy com­plain of hav­ing to hang about a rail­way sta­tion and wait for a train? No; for to him to be inside a rail­way sta­tion is to be inside a cav­ern of won­der and a palace of poet­i­cal plea­sures. Because to him the red light and the green light on the sig­nal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the wood­en arm of the sig­nal falls down sud­den­ly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a sig­nal and start­ed a shriek­ing tour­na­ment of trains. I myself am of lit­tle boys’ habit in this mat­ter. They also serve who only stand and wait for the two fif­teen. Their med­i­ta­tions may be full of rich and fruit­ful things; and many of the most pur­ple hours of my life have been passed at Clapham Junc­tion, which is now, I sup­pose, under water. I have been there in many moods so fixed and mys­ti­cal that the water might well have come up to my waist before I noticed it par­tic­u­lar­ly. But in the case of all such annoy­ances, as I have said, every­thing depends upon the emo­tion­al point of view. You can safe­ly apply the test to almost every one of the things that are cur­rent­ly talked of as the typ­i­cal nui­sance of dai­ly life. 

Incon­ve­nience right­ly considered 

So I do not think that it is alto­geth­er fan­ci­ful or incred­i­ble to sup­pose that even the floods in Lon­don may be accept­ed and enjoyed poet­i­cal­ly. Noth­ing beyond incon­ve­nience seems real­ly to have been caused by them; and incon­ve­nience, as I have said, is only one aspect, and that the most unimag­i­na­tive and acci­den­tal aspect of a real­ly roman­tic sit­u­a­tion. An adven­ture is only an incon­ve­nience right­ly con­sid­ered. An incon­ve­nience is only an adven­ture wrong­ly con­sid­ered. The water that gir­dled the hous­es and shops of Lon­don must, if any­thing, have only increased their pre­vi­ous witch­ery and won­der. For as the Roman Catholic priest in the sto­ry said: Wine is good with every­thing except water,” and on a sim­i­lar prin­ci­ple, water is good with every­thing except wine. Last week may be said to have exhib­it­ed tee­to­tal­ism on a gigan­tesque scale. To have water, water every­where, and not a drop to drink seems to me to put that ele­ment exact­ly to its prop­er use. The whole human race has exhib­it­ed as one con­sis­tent prin­ci­ple the prin­ci­ple that those who saw most of the water drank least of it. Fish­er­men, sail­ing men, divers, and all oth­ers have always act­ed upon the idea that there might be any amount of water out­side them, but none inside them.

I won­der in what ways the incon­ve­niences you face today might be expe­ri­enced through the eyes of a child? How can you enter into the adven­ture of your day?

Excerpts tak­en from Spir­i­tu­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings on the Twelve Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines (Richard Fos­ter and Emi­lie Grif­fin, Edi­tors. Harper­collins, 2000.) and are used with permission.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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