The Bridge Between Men And Women

by Dale Ahlquist

Most of the popular songs from the last hundred years or so are love songs. But in spite of being love songs, most of them are not so much about love as about the loss of love. Or longing for a love that isn’t. Very few of them are actually about actual love.

Love is basic, even if it seems to be basically missing from the world.

So why are all those songs we have to listen to so miserable? What is the problem with modern love? We seem to be aware of the great joy that love brings, which is why we want it, but why can’t we hang on to it?

Well, it has something to do with the place that love naturally takes us. Love wants to take us to the altar. But the altar is a place of sacrifice. The altar is the place where the temporary and the physical touch the eternal and the spiritual. The Catholic Church has a word for it when that happens. It is called a sacrament. G.K. Chesterton describes the nature of a sacrament when he says that great joy has in it the sense of immortality. All lovers think of their love as something that cannot end. He describes this experience as “moments filled with eternity”. He says, “These moments are joyful because they do not seem momentary.”

But the modern world has avoided the sacrament. The modern world has tried an impossible experiment it calls “free love”. But as Chesterton says, there is no such thing as “free love”. It is the very nature of love that it wants to bind itself. it binds itself with a vow. It glories in being put to the test. The result is either the triumph of true love or the tragedy of false love.

“The man who makes a vow”, says Chesterton, “makes an appointment with himself at some distant time or place. The danger of it is that he should not keep the appointment.” For the greater part of human history, the institution of marriage, he says, “merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.” But in the modern world, we are apparently in terror of ourselves, of our weaknesses and our changeability, so that we have tried to win love without giving the vow. We want this back door, this way of escape always available to us. And this, says Chesterton, is “the sterilizing spirit in modern pleasure. Everywhere there is the persistent and insane attempt to obtain pleasure without paying for it.

The free-lovers say: “Let us have the splendour of offering ourselves without the peril of committing ourselves; let us see whether one cannot commit suicide an unlimited number of times.” Emphatically it will not work.

Chesterton makes it very clear that love involves commitment. Just as the institution of religion helps us survive our moods about divine love, so the institution of marriage is there to get us through our moods about earthly love. And, of course, there is a connection between divine love and earthly love, seen in those “moments filled with eternity”. That connection, as we said, is what is known as a sacrament. True romance has something to do with Rome, as in the Church of Rome. There is nothing more romantic, and nothing more Roman, than the vow. The pledge to be faithful . . . forever.

In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor. It is then that the Institution upholds a man and helps him on to the firmer ground ahead. This [is a] solid fact of human nature. . . . It is amply sufficient to justify the general human feeling of marriage as a fixed thing. . . . The essential element is not so much duration as security. Two people must be tied together in order to do themselves justice; for twenty minutes at a dance, or for twenty years in a marriage. In both cases the point is, that if a man is bored in the first five minutes he must go on and force himself to be happy. Coercion is a kind of encouragement; and anarchy (or what some call liberty) is essentially oppressive, because it is essentially discouraging. If we all floated in the air like bubbles, free to drift anywhere at any instant, the practical result would be that no one would have the courage to begin a conversation. It would be so embarrassing to start a sentence in a friendly whisper, and then have to shout the last half of it because the other party was floating away into the free and formless ether. The two must hold each other to do justice to each other. If Americans can be divorced for “incompatibility of temper” I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.

The fact that marriage brings together these two incompatible beings–man and woman–is another reason it is a sacramental mystery, just as it brings together the physical and the spiritual. Chesterton says that the greatest feat of engineering in human history is the bridge that has been built between man and woman.

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Stop The Pursuit, and BE Happy

by Dale Ahlquist

We put so much emphasis on the pursuit of happiness rather than on the happiness itself. All the things that we need to make us reasonably happy lie within our grasp. if we pause in our frantic pusuit of happiness, if we stop and try to picture happiness, it is something different from the fuss and frustration that fills our pursuit. Happiness is something simple and basic. And everyone knows this, if they would only stop and consider it. It is common sense.

Men rush towards complexity, but they yearn towards simplicity. They try to be kings; but they dream of being shepherds.

If we will neglect the basic pleasures, the reasonable happiness that is already available to us, we will chase after an unreasonable sort of happiness: the impossible or the forbidden or what we never can have or never should have. “That sort of divine discontent is not the pursuit of happiness, but rather the pursuit of unhappiness.”

The point of the story of Satan is not that he revolted against being in hell, but that he revolted against being in heaven. The point about Adam is not that he was discontented with the conditions of the earth, but that he was discontented with the conditions of the earthly paradise.

This discontent leads to the loss of wonder. The world becomes stale, and all other problems follow.

The effect of this staleness is the same everywhere; it is seen in all drug-taking and dram-drinking and every form of the tendency to increase the dose. Men seek stranger sins or more startling obsceneities as stimulants to their jaded sense. They seek after mad oriental religions for the same reason. They try to stab their nerves to life. . . . They are walking in their sleep and try to wake themselves up with nightmares.

There is a clarity in contentment. And it is something that we can control, something we can choose. It is a happiness that we can choose. The misery of discontent is passive. It is muddled and it muddles. It is cynical and suspicious and short. it is hopeless. But wonder is active. It shimmers. it is full of faith and hope. And it is eternal.

Wonder

by Dale Alquist

There is no excuse for being bored. The world is overflowing with more than enough beauties and fascinations and mysteries to fill several lifetimes. There are always more books to be read, and, amazingly enough, still more books to be written. There are more problems to be solved, and more solutions to be celebrated. And there are endless games to be played. And yet the modern world is bored. Modern art reflects the boredom. So do the people who patronize it. No great literature is being produced. And, if it is, certainly no one is reading it. On the social front, most of the genuine injustices are being fought by only a few lonely voices, while the rest of us languidly turn our heads. And games are something we hire professionals to play for us, while we merely watch. Our entertainment grows louder, flashier, and more bizarre in ever more desperate attempts just to keep our attention.

As G.K. Chesterton proclaims: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” There are no dreary sights, he declares, only dreary sightseers. He claims that there were two things he never encountered in his whole life: an uninteresting subject or an uninteresting person. But he did find many uninterested persons. The Bored. The Cagey. The people who think the excitement is elsewhere, never here. These were the people he was trying to convice of a very important lesson in life: that the richest discoveries are the things close by, the things overlooked. “We may scale the heavens and find new stars innumerable, but there is still the new star we have not found–that one on which we were born.”

For Chesterton, everything is a source of fascination. As a young man, he realized that no one else seemed to take such “a fierce pleasure in things being themselves” as he did: he says he was startled and excited by “the wetness of water, the fieriness of fire, the steeliness of steel, the unutterable muddiness of mud”. This led him to understand that when we call a man “manly” or a woman “womanly” we touch the deepest philosophy. It also led him to understand his own vocation as a writer and a literary artist. He was not selfish with his gift of being able to see the world in all its fullness. He tried to give us his eyes to see the world as he saw it, to reawaken in us a sense of wonder.

The whole object of real art, of real romance–and, above all, of real religion–is to prevent people from losing the humility and gratitude which are thankful for daylight and daily bread; to prevent them from regarding daily life as dull or domestic life as narrow; to teach them to feel in the sunlight the song of Apollo and in the bread the epic of the plough. What is now needed most is intensive imagination. I mean the power to turn our imaginations inwards, on the things we already have, and to make those things live. It is not merely seeking new experiences, which rapidly become old experiences. It is really learning how to experience our experiences. It is learning how to enjoy our enjoyments.

Our first act each day should be an act of thanksgiving. We should begin by being grateful to have been created. We should regard life as an ecstasy, a mercy, an unbelievable privilege. And yet, it is the hardest of all earthly tasks to turn back and wonder at the simplicities we have come to ignore. For some strange reason the most unpopular of all doctrines is the doctrine that declares the common life divine. Though we praise democracy, it turns out that there is nothing that so terrifies men as the decree that they are all kings. And Christianity, oddly enough, is the hardest of gospels; for there is nothing that so strikes men with fear as the saying that they are all the sons of God.

I have an insatiable curiosity to discover joy in everything.

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