Friday, March 02, 2007

Thursday's Post

Due to technical difficulties, we just received Dr. Thursday's post today. I didn't think you'd mind reading it on a Friday, now, would you? ;-)

Today, the Thursday in the first full week of Lent, let us join our Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Frances in pondering the first Sorrowful Mystery (see Luke 22:37-46).

Last week I mentioned that one of the major purposes of our Lenten prayer ought to be for conversion - for us, though we already be in the Faith, and for those who are about to enter. It is interesting to note that Gilbert and Frances went to Jerusalem in 1919, three years before his conversion, and seven years before hers - Maisie Ward says that "this visit to Jerusalem had been a determining factor in Gilbert's conversion" [GKC, 444]. Perhaps a research problem for a future hagiographer, but certainly their visit to Jerusalem brought forth an unarguable result: GKC's The New Jerusalem [published in 1921; now available in CW20]

In this interesting travel-book, Chesterton tells of how he saw it snow there; I have a clipping from my own local paper of such a snowfall. Even more dramatic was the last stage of his journey up the mountain: how (by a strange series of events) he had to ride in an army ambulance and so (like a crusader) entered Jerusalem under the sign of the red cross!

Then, as he considered the "examples of Western work on the great eastern slope of the Mount of Olives", he wrote this powerful paragraph...

Read more.

...which focusses our attention on today's mystery:
At the foot of the hill is the garden kept by the Franciscans on the alleged site of Gethsemane, and containing the hoary olive that is supposed to be the terrible tree of the agony of Christ. Given the great age and slow growth of the olives, the tradition is not so unreasonable as some may suppose. But whether or not it is historically right, it is not artistically wrong. The instinct, if it was only an instinct, that made men fix upon this strange growth of grey and twisted wood, was a true imaginative instinct. One of the strange qualities of this strange Southern tree is its almost startling hardness; accidentally to strike the branch of an olive is like striking rock. With its stony surface, stunted stature, and strange holes and hollows, it is often more like a grotto than a tree. Hence it does not seem so unnatural that it should be treated as a holy grotto; or that this strange vegetation should claim to stand for ever like a sculptured monument. Even the shimmering or shivering silver foliage of the living olive might well have a legend like that of the aspen; as if it had grown grey with fear from the apocalyptic paradox of a divine vision of death. A child from one of the villages said to me, in broken English, that it was the place where God said his prayers. I for one could not ask for a finer or more defiant statement of all that separates the Christian from the Moslem or the Jew; credo quia impossibile.
[GKC, The New Jerusalem CW20:353]
I have two other fragments to add here. The first may seem bold and powerful, but the second, written nearly two decades earlier, is even more so.
The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of mill-stones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them. Criticism is only words about words; and of what use are words about such words as these? What is the use of word-painting about the dark garden filled suddenly with torchlight and furious faces? “Are you come out with swords and staves as against a robber? All day I sat in your temple teaching, and you took me not.” [cf. Lk 22:52-53] Can anything be added to the massive and gathered restraint of that irony; like a great wave lifted to the sky and refusing to fall?
[GKC The Everlasting ManCW2:341]
But if the divinity [of Christ] is true it is certainly terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point - and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologise in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." [Mt 4:7 quoting Dt. 6:16] No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. [Mt 27:46 quoting Ps 22:1]
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:343]
Let us, then, go in spirit into that Garden of the Olive-Press, silent beneath the full moon of Spring that signals the Pasch... and watch with our Rebel-King as He says His prayers.


  1. Thank you, Dr. Thursday, what a beautiful meditation on the Garden of Olives. Perfect, really, for a Friday in lent.

  2. Yes, GKC has the awesome power to bring well-known things into a completely new light - and we shall see some more of it as we proceed up the mountain.

    I noted one small but misleading omission in my own words - I should have said a "recent" newspaper article, perhaps 5 years ago. Yes, it DOES snow there. But I have not yet researched to see if the snow GKC saw back then was reported here.

    --Dr. T.


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