SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING: G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis, thinkers alike

The late G.K. Chesterton is one of the most significant writers in the past 100 years.

His “friendly enemy” George Bernard Shaw called him a colossal genius. Chesterton wrote many biographies, including those of Robert Louis Stevenson, William Chaucer, St. Benedict and St. Francis of Assisi. Chesterton’s biography on St. Francis told us as much about Chesterton as about St. Francis. They had remarkable things in common. Both Chesterton and Francis had a grateful appreciation of the gift of God’s creation. Rather than exploit nature, they both cared for it as faithful stewards.

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Who can forget the classic movie Brother Sun Sister Moon with its message of peace so loved by the hippies of San Francisco (Spanish for Saint Francis)? As Chesterton noted: “St. Francis was so fiery and even fidgety that the church officials, before he appeared quite suddenly, thought he was a madman.” To renounce his wealthy father’s materialism did not make any initial sense to most people in his hometown of Assisi. Both Francis and Chesterton were spontaneously generous to the poor and hurting. Everything they did for others was out of gratitude for Jesus’ sacrificial love on the cross.

There was a playful laughter with both men that has won the hearts of millions. Both used humorous drama to awaken the world from its cynical slumber. Chesterton was called the Angelic Jester. There is in both Chesterton and Francis an endearing innocence that draws people to Christ. Joseph Pearce, a Chesterton biographer, noted that “…the paradox of innocent wisdom was a fertile ground for Chesterton’s imagination.”  

The famous Oxford atheist CS Lewis came to faith after reading Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man. It has been said that Chesterton, as one of the deepest thinkers who ever existed, made up for being deep by being witty. Both Chesterton and Francis not only made you think but also made you laugh. In a very Franciscan way, Chesterton taught that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility. Only grateful people are humble enough to laugh at themselves.

Both Chesterton and Francis were romantic troubadours of hope calling people away from fashionable despair and cynicism. As self-described jugglers and jesters of God, they passionately romanced our hearts. At the heart of this romance was the key idea of taking things with gratitude and not taking things for granted. Without gratitude, said Chesterton, all we are left with is the emptiness of “bread and circuses.”

Gratitude to God enables us, with Francis and Chesterton, to enjoy the gifts that are all around us. Chesterton commented about the joy of seeing a dandelion after temporary blindness, and how true pessimists can’t even notice the sunset. My prayer for the Seymour/Deep Cove community is that we, like Chesterton and Francis, will notice the dandelions and sunsets with new gratitude.

Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver, Anglican Mission in Canada

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