The Heart of the World

“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”
“Can’t I?”
“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”
“Oh yes. I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”
“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”
“But I do. That’s how I believe.”1

One of my favorite things about being a Christian is the fact that there’s no such thing as “too good to be true.” The phrase is a contradiction: being Christian means knowing that the good and the true are the same. The truer a thing is, the more good it is, and vice versa.

I know the Brideshead quotation sounds like pure naïveté. In one sense it is. Anybody who lives in the world knows that true things, facts, are very often not good and not beautiful. You just have to read the news. Forget that, you just have to walk down the street: every time I walk out of the Y, the same junkies are sitting on the curb, too drugged out even to know how miserable they are.2

Forget even walking down the street, you just have to grow up in the 21st century, in your own family. I don’t care how wonderful your family is; whenever you get any group of people together there will be bitterness, misunderstanding, and even cruelty. That’s not what people are at heart, but it’s what sin does to the world.

Christianity doesn’t deny any of those things. On the contrary, I don’t know of any system of thought that takes suffering more seriously: even after Jesus rose from the dead in glory, there were still nail wounds in his hands.

Christianity doesn’t even say, “Yes, the world’s dreadful but if you just wait long enough you’ll die and then you’ll get to be happy!” To be Christian isn’t to ignore suffering or to wait for it to be over, but to “accept and use suffering as Christ did: that is, as a creative, redemptive act.”3 To make suffering the tool of love.

Christianity says this: the best things are also the truest things, and the most beautiful. Beautiful things are beautiful because they are true. That’s what beauty is: it is what truth does to us. We are built to be drawn to truth, to love it like a mole loves dirt, like meat loves salt.4

Being a Christian means never having to decide between what’s true and what you love. It’s just that figuring out what you love, and what love is, takes time, and learning how to strip away everything else.

1 From Brideshead Revisited.
2 Okay, so I’m trying to make the place I live sound a little more badass than it is. Mainly it’s just Main Street that’s like that.
3 Archbishop Chaput’s Render Unto Caesar, p. 47.
4 I forget whether the meat-and-salt thing is from King Lear or Cap-o’-Rushes, maybe both. But about that: I was at the beach recently with my older sister. Her kids found these strange little crab-things that live just under the surface, where the waves meet the beach. When you dig them up, they burrow back into the sand so quickly it’s like they’re moving through melted butter. My sister said, It’s like that story about the Zen disciple who wanted to see God: that’s how they must feel, they want to get into that sand so bad. I have a cool sister.

6 Comments on “The Heart of the World”

  1. Greg Rowles says:

    Reminds me of St. Thomas, in his exposition of Dionysius, holds that both God and creatures are beautiful. Since God, the supreme Beauty, is his own existence, ipsum esse subsistens, and all things have being by participating in his existence, beauty can be found in all existing beings. He [Dionysius] shows how God is the Cause of brilliance, when he adds that God with a flash sends down to all creatures a share of His luminous ray, and it is the source of all light.

  2. Nathaniel says:

    Love the Waugh quote. I just got done reading The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy and although they are completely different in mood and style (Waugh was English, Percy was Southern) they had that same sort of Catholic culture that imbibes much of 20th century catholic authors. It reminded me a lot of Men at Arms which i also just recently read.

    1. Oh boy, do I love Walker Percy. Have you read his others? I’ve just picked up Lost In the Cosmos for the umpteenth time.

  3. Rachael says:

    I love this so much. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Cletus says:

    “Being a Christian means never having to decide between what’s true and what you love. It’s just that figuring out what you love, and what love is, takes time, and learning how to strip away everything else.”

    Hi Steve. Thank you for this. Been reading your blog for about a month now. A friend of mine referred me here and your blog is a blessing. There’s been so many posts I’ve wanted to comment on, but this blurb hit home when I needed to hear it. (I first read all of 2012 and decided to start from the beginning).

    Our stories are similar in a few ways and different in a lot of others. Suffice it to say that your blog has been tremendously helpful to me and opened up my mind and spirit to possibilities I hadn’t considered in my life. I plan to write you via email one day soon as I am learning to believe that opening up to others is the best way to keep the “wolves” at bay.

    God Bless you and thank you so much for sharing your story.

    P.S. I’d been racking my brain to choose a pseudonym for this comment and Cletus popped into my head because it makes me laugh. (Think Eddie Murphy caricature). Sorry I couldn’t come up with something more profound. 🙂

    1. Great to hear, “Cletus”. Drop me a line via email any time.

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