Editor's note:

Hap­py 2018! In the very new­ness of this very new year, we think it is only fit­ting and prop­er that we share some of G.K. Chester­ton’s mus­ings on the won­der and won­der­ful­ness of very new peo­ple. In every bul­bous head three times too big for the body,” he reminds us, there is a new uni­verse, as new as it was on the sev­enth day of creation.” 

May this year be one of spir­i­tu­al renew­al and refresh­ment for you! We are glad to have your friendship.

—Renovaré Team

The two facts which attract almost every nor­mal per­son to chil­dren are, first, that they are very seri­ous, and, sec­ond­ly, that they are in con­se­quence very hap­py. They are jol­ly with the com­plete­ness which is pos­si­ble only in the absence of humour. The most unfath­omable schools and sages have nev­er attained to the grav­i­ty which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old. It is the grav­i­ty of aston­ish­ment at the uni­verse, and aston­ish­ment at the uni­verse is not mys­ti­cism, but a tran­scen­dent com­mon-sense. The fas­ci­na­tion of chil­dren lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the uni­verse is put again upon its tri­al. As we walk the streets and see below us those delight­ful bul­bous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mush­rooms, we ought always pri­mar­i­ly to remem­ber that with­in every one of these heads there is a new uni­verse, as new as it was on the sev­enth day of cre­ation. In each of those orbs there is a new sys­tem of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea. …

But the influ­ence of chil­dren goes fur­ther than its first tri­fling effort of remak­ing heav­en and earth. It forces us actu­al­ly to remod­el our con­duct in accor­dance with this rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry of the mar­velous­ness of all things. We do (even when we are per­fect­ly sim­ple or igno­rant) — we do actu­al­ly treat talk­ing in chil­dren as mar­velous, walk­ing in chil­dren as mar­velous, com­mon intel­li­gence in chil­dren as mar­velous. The cyn­i­cal philoso­pher fan­cies he has a vic­to­ry in this mat­ter — that he can laugh when he shows that the words or antics of the child, so much admired by its wor­ship­pers, are com­mon enough. The fact is that this is pre­cise­ly where baby-wor­ship is so pro­found­ly right. Any words and any antics in a lump of clay are won­der­ful, the child’s words and antics are won­der­ful, and it is only fair to say that the philoso­pher’s words and antics are equal­ly wonderful.

The truth is that it is our atti­tude towards chil­dren that is right, and our atti­tude towards grown-up peo­ple that is wrong. Our atti­tude towards our equals in age con­sists in a servile solem­ni­ty, over­ly­ing a con­sid­er­able degree of indif­fer­ence or dis­dain. Our atti­tude towards chil­dren con­sists in a con­de­scend­ing indul­gence, over­ly­ing an unfath­omable respect. We bow to grown peo­ple, take off our hats to them, refrain from con­tra­dict­ing them flat­ly, but we do not appre­ci­ate them prop­er­ly. We make pup­pets of chil­dren, lec­ture them, pull their hair, and rev­er­ence, love, and fear them. When we rev­er­ence any­thing in the mature, it is their virtues or their wis­dom, and this is an easy mat­ter. But we rev­er­ence the faults and fol­lies of children. …

The essen­tial rec­ti­tude of our view of chil­dren lies in the fact that we feel them and their ways to be super­nat­ur­al while, for some mys­te­ri­ous rea­son, we do not feel our­selves or our own ways to be super­nat­ur­al. The very small­ness of chil­dren makes it pos­si­ble to regard them as mar­vels; we seem to be deal­ing with a new race, only to be seen through a micro­scope. I doubt if any­one of any ten­der­ness or imag­i­na­tion can see the hand of a child and not be a lit­tle fright­ened of it. It is awful to think of the essen­tial human ener­gy mov­ing so tiny a thing; it is like imag­in­ing that human nature could live in the wing of a but­ter­fly or the leaf of a tree. When we look upon lives so human and yet so small, we feel as if we our­selves were enlarged to an embar­rass­ing big­ness of stature. We feel the same kind of oblig­a­tion to these crea­tures that a deity might feel if he had cre­at­ed some­thing that he could not understand.

But the humor­ous look of chil­dren is per­haps the most endear­ing of all the bonds that hold the Cos­mos togeth­er. Their top-heavy dig­ni­ty is more touch­ing than any humil­i­ty; their solem­ni­ty gives us more hope for all things than a thou­sand car­ni­vals of opti­mism; their large and lus­trous eyes seem to hold all the stars in their aston­ish­ment; their fas­ci­nat­ing absence of nose seems to give to us the most per­fect hint of the humour that awaits us in the king­dom of heaven.

Excerpt­ed from The Defen­dant, Chap­ter 14, A Defence of Baby Wor­ship.” In the pub­lic domain, via Project Guten­berg.

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An inten­tion­al way to read for trans­for­ma­tion. Cur­rent­ly under­way and runs through May 2021.

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