In the introduction to his book, Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton tells of a British yachtsman who sets out from England to sail across the sea and discover a new world. However, through some unknown navigational error, he sails in a circle until he lands, “armed to the teeth and talking by signs,” to plant the British flag…in Britain. Chesterton says, that though the man would admit looking the fool, he would actually have committed an honest and enviable mistake that resulted in what he would consider the best of all situations.
Asks Chesterton, “What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the human security of coming home again?” He then goes on to say that this is the struggle of philosophy or theology, or I would add the spiritual life in general. “How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?”
This “romantic adventure” as Chesterton calls is the at the heart of the western ideal of life. We want a “practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome.”
Wonder and welcome, strangeness and security, going abroad and being at home. This double-need, says Chesterton is exactly what a Christian spiritual journey provides. We travel far and wide through many “dangers, toils and snares,” only to arrive back at our Maker’s side, our spiritual home. We seek to discover a new unspoiled pool in a jungle, only to find that is the Garden of Eden we left so long ago.
Over the next few posts I will take up the idea of Christianity as a “practical romance” as a way of looking at spiritual seeking, “emergent” movements of Christian faith, and the kind of homecoming that the church needs to provide each person who shows up “armed to the teeth and talking by signs.”
On this Epiphany day, the last day of Christmas, the day we celebrate the first spiritual seekers, let us acknowledge that Christianity is meant to be a slightly foolish adventure. It is meant to be and remains a journey of discovery but ultimately it is not about anything new, unique or original. Ultimately we are on the right path if we live in with both the foolishness and relief of “rediscovering our true home.”