The Miracle of Humanity (and Fairy Tales for Grown Ups)

She assumed a humble expression, but the look in her eyes said plenty.
This was a great accomplishment.
A moment.
She held my gaze, and then allowed the smile in her blue eyes to spread to her entire face as she did it again:
My granddaughter stood up in my lap.

In Chapter 4 of Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton matches me awe for awe with his vivid “sense of the miracle of humanity.” He would be amazed–not merely that my granddaughter stood up, but that she has legs! He would be transfixed not merely by her adorable pug nose, but with the wonder that any of us has a nose at all.

“The mere man [or blue-eyed granddaughter] on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heart breaking than any music and more startling than any caricature.” (72)

Chesterton sees more wonder in one ordinary encounter with creation than most of us would see in a lifetime of miracles. Even the sunrise, by his reckoning, is not merely a happy confluence of planet-tilt and celestial orbit, but rather a delighted God proclaiming, “Do it again!

The More You Were Made For

We are part of that much-loved creation, and without diminishing His dignity one iota, God is positively smitten with us — with you! He waits to be gracious to you. He rejoices over you with singing.

Chesterton’s Path to Orthodoxy

In his pre-Christian life, Chesterton worked to frame a personal philosophy or a “natural religion” (75) that would express his thinking about some of the fundamentals of life.

Imagine his surprise in finding that (1) the essence of all he had “discovered” was already embedded in Christianity; (2) his thinking about the world had been shaped by his reading of fairy tales.

C.S. Lewis would have whole-heartedly agreed, pronouncing:

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

According to Lewis, fairy tales, “say best what needs to be said,” and awaken the desire for “something beyond,” a something that heightens appreciation of the real world and gives it new depth. “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

Delighting in the enchanted woods of “Elfland,” Chesterton gained “a certain way of looking at life” through reading fairy tales, but then learned that the perceptions gained through his reading were actually confirmed by his observations of real life. He invites his readers to delight in the imaginative cause and effect of “blow the horn and the ogre’s castle will fall.” (79) No fairy tale character would call this a “law,” but a scientific explanation of the process of metamorphosis (and even of the beginning of human life) reads more like magic and miracle than pure science.

The Astonishment of Real Life

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”  ~C.S. Lewis

As much as Chesterton enjoyed “astonishing tales,” (82) he noted that very young children do not need to be astonished in order to enjoy a story.

“A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door.”

I experimented with this notion, because all the home spun tales I told my own kids involved heroism and pirate ships and the continuing saga of their ventriloquist dummies on a crazy, impulsive road trip. Sure enough, when I told my grandson a story that featured his brown fuzzy slippers, his dog Ruby, and a glass of juice for breakfast, his response was, “Again!” along with a big smile. Because he was three, every day life was astonishing enough.

The Purpose and Plan of the Storyteller

We are made to love and to respond to story, and Chesterton began to perceive, through story, “that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.” (93)

Before Chesterton had “even thought of Christian theology,” he had laid down five “ultimate attitudes toward life”:

  1. This world does not explain itself.
  2. The magic of the universe must have meaning, and “meaning must have someone to mean it.” (98)
  3. The design is both purposeful and beautiful (in spite of the dragons).
  4. The right response to this beauty is “humility and restraint” (99) in our use of it, along with obedience to its maker.
  5. All that we see that is good is a “remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin.”

Clearly, Chesterton’s ponderings set him on a course of rescue, and this encourages me as a parent and as a teacher. When we share stories with our children, we are seeding in them the ability to find and appreciate bigger truths than the entertaining plots we all enjoy on the surface.

Too, in God’s rejoicing over us and in His waiting to extend grace, there are cords of love, drawing us ever closer to the Truth of His existence and His right to rule over His creation.

How does this land on your heart today?

If you are praying for a prodigal, I would be privileged to pray along with you. If you are a tired mum, reading the same story book for the tenth time this week, kick it surreptitiously under the couch and spin a tale for your tiny person in which he is the main character who eats toast for breakfast and then goes outside to play in the sunshine.

How has God led you in your path toward Orthodoxy?

I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below, and, as ever, thank you for your eyes here and for your faithful encouragement,


Oh, and one more thing:  My persevering friend Linda has written an insightful post about this chapter of Orthodoxy as well, and I invite you to click on over to her place for more thoughts on Chesterton’s Elfland.

Photo in the featured image by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

74 thoughts on “The Miracle of Humanity (and Fairy Tales for Grown Ups)”

  1. Thank you Michele. You always leave me inspired and in a quest to keep learning. I have found with my numerous grandchildren, those tales I tell them – they hang on every word. It doesn’t come easily to me as it does to others, but they look at me waiting in anticipation for the next line. I never thought of toast and sunshine. New material right there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating, Michele! At the cusp of this day, I stand and ask God to “Do it again!” Lord, never let me lose my awe of You, increase it day by day! Blessings, friend! I think this book is already on my board, but maybe it needs to be there more than one!

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  3. I am so glad I found your corner of the internet! You are a great story teller. I have read most of Lewis’s works (love some of it and am ambivalent about some), but was not as familiar with Chesterton’s. I will have to correct that ASAP. I especially appreciated your description of the joy with which children greet even the smallest occurrences (I have 3 small grandsons, and see this in them). It is my goal to cultivate this child-like joy.

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    1. I’m fairly certain you’ll find at least one edition of Orthodoxy free for Kindle on Amazon if you’re interested in taking the plunge. I’m finding him to be waaaaaay more challenging than Lewis, at least with this book, and some of that lies in his contextualizing so much of what he writes to his present day issues and English geography.
      I’m so happy to meet up with you here! I’m heading over to check out your place now.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah … the joys, the awe of grandchildren.

    Even after 14 years of this grandmothering, I still can’t quite grasp the adoration I have for these, my daughters’ precious children.

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  5. Hi Michele, Loved this review – you, too, are a wonderful story-teller! I needed this reminder to slow down and notice the enchantment and wonder like he does. I also loved this: “Imagine his surprise in finding that the essence of all he had ‘discovered’ was already embedded in Christianity.” Yes!

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    1. I loved that too, Alyson! He went on an earnest search for meaning and found it, I imagine, in the place were he least expected it!
      Thanks for reading and for your kind encouragement.

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  6. I’m ALWAYS inspired by your reviews! I want to share that I’ve found parenting to be quite enlightening in regards to these thoughts. I now stop to look at the intricacies of a flower or wonder at God’s hand in science, math, and nature. Homeschooling has also helped me move more toward looking at the world like a child. I “get” that becoming childlike is, in some ways, maybe the most mature way of looking at the world!

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    1. Amy, there are skid marks all over the place here where I’ve had to SLOW DOWN and pay attention. The only way we can expect our children to love nature or the Bible (or anything really) at an early age is if we model a love for it ourselves. We can’t do that at 100 miles an hour or from 30,000 feet. Even though my kids are all older now, one of the gifts of those early years is that I still have a heightened appreciation for nature and for truth and for beauty because I was forced to slow down and share it with them.

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  7. What a beautiful way to look at all we take for granted — to see in it the miraculous and to cry, “Do it again!” I love how fairytales have made my nature walks enchanted. Imagining what could be there just beyond what the eyes can see. Thank you for this, Michele!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the thought that each new day is God cheering us on to “do it again”. Everything about your post is lyrical and beautiful and draws me to God. Thank you for sharing your talent. Visiting today from the Destination Inspiration linkup. laurensparks.net

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  9. It’s so fun to see that here, practically in May, you’re still focused on and learning from your 2018-Word, Michele. Your word is so unique that I’m really enjoying your musings as you go through the year. This looks like a book chocked with wisdom, too. Thank you for sharing, friend. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for remembering that it is also my word. It’s become such a reading obsession for me that I have to hold both thoughts in my head at once (and sometimes it gets crowded in there!)

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  10. The astonishment of ordinary life is something lost on us most of the time, isn’t it? I so appreciate your sifting of Chesterton here, Michele, I’ve been gleaning so much! This post strikes a cord for me right now, too, as this new season has me still astonished by things that I know in time will just be ordinary. May we chose a childlike sense of wonder at God’s work and creation! : )

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    1. It’s really been my kids (and now my grandkids) who are keeping me grounded in the wow. Chesterton was not a parent, but he seemed to have that tendency ingrained within his DNA. Wonderful how God works with a different chisel on each of us.
      It’s so good to hear that you are reveling in the new that surrounds you right now. That’s a great sign that you are right where you should be!

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  11. I love his “ultimate attitudes toward life,” and the fact that he found them within Christianity. I love what you shared here about fairy tales, too. I much enjoyed Lewis’s essays on story. I may just have to check out this book some time. 🙂 And the wonder of everyday life – I remember as a child marveling over having eyes. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder to cultivate that childlike awe over God’s gifts. Yes, a prodigal and some who I am not sure yet about their relationship with the Lord are on my heart, and I pray they may see His hand in wonder and know His love for them.

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    1. Yes, I just had to share those, even those this post was a bit longer than “the experts”would probably recommend.
      Praying with you right now for your prodigal, Barbara. And also for the not sure. It must be hard for a mum to know how to address such a crucial topic with kids, not knowing how they’ll respond, and fearful that you’ll drive them away. Yes, may they see His hand in wonder, and remember the stories . . .

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  12. I have finished Orthodoxy and love reading your thoughts about chapter 4. I wish I could have read it in a book or study group, as I know I would absorb more and get more from it. Chesterton is harder to read than Lewis but oh, so worth it. There were times when I had to force myself away from the book to get anything done – could have sat all day reading it. His perspective is fascinating and even more so that he was not a Christian before he started his quest for truth. I am now reading The Everlasting Man, which is equally fascinating and difficult! Thank you for introducing me to Chesterton, Michele.

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    1. I think you’ve got the right idea on Chesterton. I’ve got to hammer down and just finish the book, and then come back each month to review a chapter for my post. I’m LOVING chapter 5 right now. I hope you’ll share some insights from Everlasting Man. I’ve heard good things about his Father Brown series, too. This has been such a fun project with friends along for the journey.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Everlasting Man has some interesting observations about evolution and prehistoric man. I’ve never gotten too wound up about evolution as I don’t believe God is limited in how he would handle creation. But after reading this I am positive evolution is not possible and I have a new viewpoint about the caveman.

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      2. I think the first Chesterton book I read was The Man Who Was Thursday, and I’ve read it probably 3 times, once with my girls, once on my own and once with my boys. I couldn’t tell you the point of it right now, but it was very interesting. His fiction books are a way he uses story to bring out truth.

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      3. Yes, I’m really eager to check out some of his fiction. Yesterday, I got half way through the next to the last chapter of Orthodoxy, so it looks as if I’m really going to finish the book at long last!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I love the quote from C.S. Lewis about putting childish things away, including the fear of being perceived as childish. How cool is that! This was a great post! I’m visiting today from A Fireman’s Wife.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He just had a way, didn’t he?
      I’m reading Lewis on the Christian Life right now, so my mind is full of Lewis quotes, and I’m sort of antsy to pick up my copy of Weight of Glory, one of his books I’ve not yet read! It’s waiting on my bookcase . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great review! My favorite part of the post was the quote by C.S. Lewis “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown. I don’t have any grandkids to read to, but you have inspired me to read a few fairytales.

    Thank you for linking up with Grace & Truth. I love seeing your posts each week.

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    1. Isn’t it wonderful that folks with great minds like Lewis and Chesterton have given us “permission” to delight in those lovely tales without fear?
      I enjoyed discovering how profound a role they played in Chesterton’s journey toward Orthodoxy.

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  15. Such encouragement as I’m about to become a grandparent for the first time in a little over week! Thanks Michele for sharing at The Blogger’s Pit Stop! Looking forward to seeing what you link up next week! Roseann from This Autoimmune Life

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  16. I want to be as wowed by the world as Chesterton. Sometimes I am. More often I am not. The kids help…they really are astonished by everything. Did I tell you I once taught a class on fairytales? It covered the classics and the modern retellings. It was lovely.

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  17. Dear Michele, your post and references resonate as my school tiptoes into the new instructional direction I wrote you about. Your words are calming and reassuring. Thanks and blessings for only sharing the best!

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  18. Michele, you never cease to amaze me! I love those 5 attitudes towards life and the world. And as for fairy tales, I myself thoroughly enjoyed Narnia as an adult, reading them to my kids. As a pre-teen, not as much! But it must have been a fluke that I didn’t like them. My kids loved them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t find my way into the Wardrobe until I was a college student, so it was a special joy to introduce that world to my kids when they were small.
      C.S.Lewis changed the way I think about my faith, and I’m learning a lot from Chesterton as well.
      Thanks so much for reading, Betsy!

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  19. Fully appreciating the awe of all the little moments makes life so much better! Actively searching for God amidst the chaos and challenges of the everyday is what kept my joy alive in the toughest of times and is actually what first motivated me to blog! Life is in the moments and God is in every single one of those if we choose to look ♥

    Thanks so much, Michele, for all sharing your wisdom and gift for weaving beautiful stories!

    Blessings and smiles,
    Lori

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Annie Dillard reminded people in her writing to get outside and enjoy it all, “so that creation need not play to an empty house.” I’m afraid that God plays to an empty house so often as He pours out grace and blessing, and we receive it with a ho hum as if it were our due.
      Reading Chesterton does make me want to ramp up my awe factor!

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  20. This made me think back to when I was a kid. My little brother had a tiny Raggedy Andy that he nicknamed “Shrimpo.” I entertained by little brother for hours spinning all sorts of tales using Shrimpo as the main character doing seemingly ordinary things – even made up a song about him. My little brother loved it, and we both still remember the song. I especially love Chesterton’s first attitude – the world does not explain itself.

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  21. I love the ‘Do It Again’ and he does every day. As I age, retirement has allowed me to more appreciate the sunrises, sunsets, grasses green or white, white snow. His doing each day. Your post reminded me that I’d forgotten so many puppet stories that use to pop up at the foot of the bed to entertain the children and then grandchildren. Loved the giggles. Such a lovely sharing. Thanks also for visiting and linking. Have a great week.
    Peabea from Peabea Scribbles

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  22. It is lovely to look through the eyes of a littlely! Such wonder to behold that sadly as we grow get used too & don’t see it any longer!

    I love the C.S. Lewis quotes, I too have written stories for my grandchildren, they loved them & we often love to watch the fairy tale story movies together.

    God is an amazing Creator of the very large & the very small, we can meet Him in both. Him meeting me & me meeting Him is my awe of orthodoxy…
    Jennifer

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  23. I had heard the name G.K. Chesterson, but I didn’t know anything about him. Your post has enlightened me to the man G.K. Chesterson and now I very much want to read his works. The one you shared here sounds wonderful!

    Thanks for another great review!

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    1. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy sat on my Kindle for a couple of years. I’d start it, get overwhelmed and then bail. So . . . at the end of 2017 when I was pondering my One Word for 2018, I took myself by the scruff of the neck and decided 2018 would be the year of Orthodoxy. God is faithful!

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  24. This is wonderful, Michele. I’ve always loved fairy tales (I think I would live in Narnia if I could) and it’s been fun to watch imagination bloom in my girls, especially my younger Molly. As I’m thinking about this, I also recall how much big sister Lilly loved fables when she was younger … the stories drew her in but she was also able to understand the “bigger truths,” as you say. Also, the quotes by Lewis that you shared remind me of what Madeleine L’Engle said about writing for children in “Walking on Water.” 🙂

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  25. This is so rich Michele – like all your writings! I love to teach from stories. It makes learning a lesson so much more palatable and interesting than another lecture. There is so much to learn the depth of a tale is a wonderful lesson!

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    1. Yes, and Jesus set the example in this. Sometimes we have to work a little harder, be a little more vulnerable in our teaching when we share stories, but it’s a much greater benefit to our learners.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Loved learning this about Chesterton. He wrote some lovely and funny stories full of mayhem. Don’t know to much else about him. So enjoyed this. I think the older I get (and the more I know about life and see its sadness and unfairness), the more I want a good old story with a happy ending. Perhaps a fairy tale.

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    1. I’ve only looked at a few of his works of fiction. His sense of humor really comes through in his writing. And yes, we never outgrow story, and I agree with you. We many need them more as we grow older. Just in time to be the story tellers!

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  27. I love what was said about the woods. “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.” I never thought of it this way before but reading that really resonated with me because I do love the woods. I love going on hikes in wooded areas because they rejuvenate me. They inspire me and they help me clear my head. That in itself is a miracle when you really think about it because I do tend to look at the woods as an enchanting place. I really love that reference:) #globalblogging

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  28. Michele, I really love this post! Being a fan of both Lewis and Chesterton, it resonated with me. I love how they encourage our sense of wonder. I think George MacDonald did that, too, with his writings. I think our sense of wonder is one way we can “become like little children” and be in awe of God and His creation and really be more able to worship Him. Blessings to you! Thanks for linking up at the #LMMLinkup! I’ve chosen this post as my favorite this week, so I will be featuring it on my blog tomorrow.

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    1. That makes me so happy, Gayl!
      I realize that this kind of post is going to appeal to a fairly narrow bandwidth of readers, so I’m glad to know you’re part of that crew! This intro to Chesterton for me has definitely made me eager to read some of his fiction!

      Liked by 1 person

  29. I’m looking forward to a summer of storytelling with our grandson :). He might be quite old enough (not yet two), to really appreciate the stories, but it’s the connection, the voice, and the enthusiasm that will sow seeds for later!

    Like

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