Homesick at Home: A Chestertonian Thanksgiving

 

“Frances! Come here! Come here at once!”

Frances Chesterton started and flew from her half-prepared afternoon tea to the study where she had left her husband reading. With flapping apron and flitting heart, she rushed to see what he could possibly be bellowing about so urgently. His voice had not ceased to call for her when she burst into the study.

“Good heavens, Gilbert, what on earth is the matter?”

Little did she know, it really was a matter of heaven and earth.

The chair Mr. Chesterton had been occupying was toppled over on its back. The book Mr. Chesterton had been reading was splayed out on its pages. As for Mr. Chesterton, he was at thse window as though he had been flung against it, his palms pressed to the pane, his hair leaping in the sunlight. What manner of vision had occurred to excite Mr. Chesterton so, Mrs. Chesterton could not imagine.

“Gilbert,” said she, “what is it?”

“Frances,” said he, staring wide-eyed at the lawn, “the grass… It is green.”

This is a story of a great man’s strange and sudden thanksgiving; and it was born of a strange and sudden moment when the ordinary was recognized as extraordinary. On that quiet afternoon, Gilbert Keith Chesterton saw the color of grass not as a plain fact of pigment, but rather as an artistic decision of creation. He witnessed the accidental become rudimental. He beheld the green mantle of the world as the miracle it is. He saw the grass again for the first time. And he gave thanks.

Giving thanks is one of the highest acts of humanity. At the same time, and unfortunately, the highest challenge for human beings is being human—and by “human” is meant a thinking, feeling being moved by the power of awareness. Though every person is graced with the mind of an angel, it is all too easy to lose one’s head. Though every person is equipped with eyes that can see creations so impossible they must be true, it is all too easy to direct one’s vision to the mystique in the mirror rather than the wonder outside the window. Though every person is blessed with an imagination, it is all too easy to misinterpret the action of the imagination as an escape from reality rather than an extension of reality. Springing from these shortcomings of fallen nature is the pitfall of ingratitude—a trap that cripples the ability of thanksgiving.

However, things lovable must be lost and lamented if they are ever to be found again with joy, and one of the champions who bring the human race back to the miracle of the mundane, returning them as on a holiday, is G. K. Chesterton. As in the curious story of his discovery of the coloring of grass, the man and his writings have a way of turning the familiar upside-down so that it is seen all at once as unfamiliar, wondrous, and evocative of a genuine thanksgiving. One of his lesser known stories that performs this feat both beautifully and breathlessly is Homesick at Home. Though brief in the telling, it is able to change the wide world—for it is in itself a worldview—while opening the human heart to all that should inspire a happy and holy thanksgiving.

American Thanksgiving is an occasion to remember those things to give thanks for, and often the fog of forgetfulness must first be shaken off. Homesick at Home is a tale of such a remembrance, such a return, for it begins with a cataclysmic forgetting. It tells the beginning and end of the untold adventures of White Wynd, the father of a family in the White Farmhouse by the river. Though White Wynd’s life was healthy and whole, it grew stale and stiff in the same measure as he grew distant and despondent. He seemed to walk in a mere dream until the morning he looked at his wife, children, and home and knew them no longer. “At last something occurred in his heart: a volcano; an earthquake; an eclipse; a daybreak; a deluge; an apocalypse.”

White Wynd arose, seized his hat and staff from the wall, and burst out on a journey home from home; an epic walk from one place to the very same place by the shortest route possible: a straight line. And here is where Chesterton offers his cosmic logic. A line from one point on the earth to the same point is a circle that girdles the globe. And this is the path White Wynd trod—going around the world from his house to find his home. The pilgrimage of White Wynd is left to the imaginations of readers, but whatever it was, it was a wild and wonderful one—and one that was alive with thanksgiving as White Wynd became alive once again, making his long way home, praising God as he went for all the things he saw with renewed luster.

Oh God, who has made me and all things, hear four songs of praise. One for my feet that Thou hast made strong and light upon Thy daisies. One for my head, which Thou hast lifted and crowned above the four corners of Thy heaven. One for my heart, which Thou hast made a heaven of angels singing Thy glory. And one for that pearl-tinted cloudlet far away above the stone pines on the hill. 

Thanksgiving is a time to shake off the slumber of familiarity and give thanks like a man at dawn for the good gifts of God that most forget they have. Thanksgiving calls human beings to see beyond the dullness of luxury and the blinders of fast-lane-life, and rediscover with rejoicing those essential elements that bring real happiness and real fulfillment. Thanksgiving should be a homecoming of the heart to the heart of things. But any true thanksgiving, any true return to the riches at hand, must first undertake that epiphany, that Chestertonian gymnastic of seeing that the grass is green; that this woman is a wife; that these children are a blessing; that these people are a family; that this house is a home; and that this world is a wonder of grace.

O God, who hast made me and all things, hear four songs of praise. One for my feet, because they are sore and slow, now that they draw near the door. One for my head, because it is bowed and hoary, now that Thou crownest it with the sun. One for my heart, because Thou hast taught it in sorrow and hope deferred that it is the road that makes the home. And one for that daisy at my feet.      

Give thanks.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Crisis Magazine.
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