Book quotes: The Spirit of Christmas by G.K. Chesterton

[I read constantly and widely. I will use these “book quotes” posts to give the congregation at Trinity Covenant Church a taste of what I’ve read so they can benefit from many of the quotable quotes that I come across — Pastor DGH]

“Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but the truth.”
“The Wise Men,” p. 15

“There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes, as I am doing in this article. It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is.” – “Christmas That is Coming,” p. 18

“It is in the old Christmas carols, the carols which date from the Middle Ages, that we find not only what makes Christmas poetic and soothing and stately, but first and foremost what makes Christmas exciting. The exciting quality of Christmas rests on an ancient and admitted paradox. It rests upon the great paradox that the power and centre of the whole universe may be found in some seemingly small matter, that the stars in their courses may move like a moving wheel round the neglected outhouse of an inn.” – “The Christmas Ballads,” pp. 18-19

“Christmas and hygiene are commonly in some antagonism, and I for one, am heartily on the side of Christmas.” – “Christmas Pudding,” p. 21

[Here Chesterton is criticizing his friends that are into old or “vintage” things. He marvels that these same people don’t love Christmas and assumes that it is both ancient and “still alive.”]
“[M]ost of my aesthetic friends lie awake at night dreaming of the reinstitution of some beautiful pagan festival, and yet none of them (for I have tempted them all) can eat four helpings of Christmas pudding. Christmas, with its sausages and its stars, is the very historic thing that they are talking about, but they resent it merely because it is still alive.” “Sausages and stars,” p. 27

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.
“The House of Christmas,” pp. 34-35

“The contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare.” – “The Contented Man,” p. 76

“A man might have gone ‘through’ a plum pudding as a bullet might go through a plum pudding; it depended on he size of the pudding—and the man. But the awful and sacred question is ‘Has the pudding been through him?’ Has he tasted, appreciated, and absorbed the solid pudding, with its three dimensions and its three thousand tastes and smells? Can he offer himself to the eyes of men as one who has cynically conquered and contained a pudding?” – “The Contented Man,” p. 76

“Now Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.” – “The Spirit of Christmas,” p. 87

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is split on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all-
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.
Gloria in Profundis, p. 93


Elder Hale Ordination

We are pleased to announce that at this year’s CREC Council, Elder Derek Hale passed his oral ordination exam. This was the last in a series of exams and training by Tyndale Presbytery which he has undergone over the past year. On December 10, he will be ordained and installed into the office of minister of Trinity Covenant Church by fellow ministers and elders in the CREC. Give thanks to the Lord as He builds His church!

Rigney on enjoying God’s creation

rigneyIf divine glory really is in creation, then ought we not linger in creation? Instead of blowing through the earthly pleasure at 90 mph, shouldn’t we slow to a stroll and take in as much of creation as we can? Isn’t hurrying through on our way to praise of God the equivalent of applauding after the first three notes of a symphony? Wouldn’t it be better to attentively listen to the entire score and then let applause come thundering out of us (or perhaps be hushed into silence by the wonder of it all)? Shouldn’t we linger over creation (even loiter), not as a way of avoiding God but as a way of knowing him and enjoying him for fully?

Creation is a message, an invitation to be drawn into the divine life, the ecstatic vibrance of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As [C.S.] Lewis says, “We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects.” How closely, then, are we listening?

—Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, pp. 70-71. The Lewis quote here is from his sermon “The Weight of Glory.”

Bonhoeffer on the Psalms

Dietrich Bonhoeffer“In many churches psalms are read or sung every Sunday, or even daily, according to the regular pattern. These churches have preserved for themselves a priceless treasure, for only with daily use does one become immersed in that divine prayerbook. With only occasional reading these prayers are too overwhelming for us in thought and power, so that we again and again turn to lighter fare. But whoever has begun to pray the Psalter earnestly and regularly will ‘soon take leave’ of those other light and personal ‘little devotional prayers and say: Ah, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, the fire which I find in the Psalter. Anything else tastes too cold and too hard’ (Luther).

“Where we no longer pray the Psalms in our churches, we must take the Psalter that much more into our daily morning and evening worship. Every day we should read and pray several psalms, if possible with others, so that we read through this book repeatedly during the year and continue to delve into it ever more deeply. We also ought not to select psalms at our own discretion, exhibiting disrespect to the prayerbook of the Bible and thinking that we know better than even God does what we should pray. In the early church it was nothing unusual to know ‘the entire David’ by heart. In one eastern church this was a prerequisite for an ecclesiastical office. The church father Jerome says that in his time one could hear the Psalms being sung in the fields and gardens. The Psalter filled the life of early Christianity. But more important than all of that is that Jesus died on the cross with words from the Psalms on his lips.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 5: Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, pp. 161-62.

Westermeyer on why congregations sing

“But why do we sing at all? What’s wrong with speech alone? Isn’t that enough? Singing a text surely doesn’t alter the content, does it? What more is there?

“A number of issues that relate these questions need to be sorted out. First, let us acknowledge that only our modern world would even think of asking why we sing. As I indicated in the last chapter, primitive peoples did not regard music as the extra that we do. Until prone and Low Mass in the medieval West and parts of especially Zwinglian Protestantism or Quaker worship thereafter, worship was always sung. Even today Jewish synagogues, Eastern Orthodox churches, and many other worshiping communities treat music as intrinsic to their worship.

“Once we have asked the question our modern western tendency is to answer it by saying that, before there were microphones, the reason for singing was to amplify the voice so it could be heard better. As Frank Senn has pointed out, singing has inevitably accompanied worship in both large and small spaces, where amplification would be needed and where it would not be needed: amplification is obviously necessary and perhaps tangentially related, but it is not a primary reason for singing in worship.

“The real reasons for singing are far more profound. One reason is that singing, like nothing else, binds together a corporate gathering. Leaders of nonviolent marches know of and use music’s tremendous power. They use music not only because it gives a group a common physical response, but because in the process it also creates a psychosocial unity. Dictators, including Adolf Hitler, have been highly aware of music’s potentials. They have used music’s power for deadly demonic ends, which need to serve as a solemn warning to all of us in the church. If we do not use music well, tyrants will fill the vacuum and use it for devious purposes. But music can be used positively for the common good and for an incredible shalom. People do not think this out logically. They simply yearn to sing when they gather for worship and know how right it is to sing after they have done it. The psalmist, the poet-musician, gives them the voice they yearn for.

“Music also aids the memory. A text that has been sung will be remembered long after one spoken. This mnemonic capacity of music is related not only to the corporate binding power of music, but to its value over time. Music helps the memory at the moment the worshiping community assembles, and it is one of the primary vehicles for remembering across time, from gathering to gathering, and between gatherings. The sounds of a given hymn, sung weeks or months apart, are ways to remember and live different parts of the story. The sounds of Christmas are different from the sounds of Easter or Pentecost. And sound is part of our individual stories, from birth to death. At old age and death we remember sounds from childhood and youth, which is why it is so important to have sounds we can grow into rather than out of.

“Joy inevitably breaks into song. Speech alone cannot carry its hilarity. The physical equipment we used to laugh is the physical equipment we use to sing. From laughter to song is a small step. To praise God, the highest form of joy, is to make music. Song cannot be avoided. The language of joy and praise is the language of song. The repeated Alleluia, “Praise Yah,” which frames each of Psalms 146-150 at the end of the Psalter is inherently musical.

“The same can be said for sorrow, the opposite of joy. Sorrow also inevitably breaks into song. Speech alone cannot carry its moan. The physical equipment we used to cry is also the physical equipment we use to sing. From mourning to song is but a small step. To cry out to God in lament, the deepest form of sorrow, is to make music. The language of sorrow and lament is the language of song. The cry “Miserere” of Psalm 51 is inherently musical.

“Music is also the means to interpret a text. At one level interpretation gives rise to sing-song formulas like the call of a horse race or the call of the auctioneer, which increase in pitch level and melody, in tempo, and in dynamic and rhythmic intensity as the excitement grows. At a much more profound level this gives rise to the cantillation of readings by a Jewish cantor and the ecstatic cries of an African-American preacher–which also increase as the excitement grows. In these latter examples the call of God to proclaim and interpret the word is at work. Call-response patterns inevitably arise from this: the call of the cantor and the preacher cannot be imagined without the responses of their congregations. These call-response patterns are inherently musical. They are virtual certainties in any worshiping community, unless, of course, they are artificially blocked.

“All the elements we have noted–binding together, memory, joy, lament, and proclamation–find their locus and make sense in the context of a worshiping community. Memory, joy, and lament can, of course, be imagined individually, but apart from a group of persons in the worshiping matrix they quickly lose their meaning, which does not mean that there are no individual singers in worship. Individuals and groups each sing alone, the whole community sings together, and dialogues take place between individuals and the whole community or between groups, depending on the nature of the song to be sung.”

Paul Westermeyer, Te Deum: The Church and Music, pp. 27-29.