The Corner

What It’s Like to Be in Love

On the subway, I was reading one of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, “The Flying Stars,” and ran across one of those passages that make Chesterton worth the attention even of those who do not share his key theological or political views. The setting is an impromptu theatrical at a Boxing Day house party, and the boyfriend of the family’s daughter has taken charge of the entertainment:

He was supposed to be the clown, but he was really almost everything else, the author (so far as there was an author), the prompter, the scene-painter, the scene-shifter, and, above all, the orchestra. . . . Commonly he was a clever man, and he was inspired tonight with a wild omniscience, a folly wiser than the world, that which comes to a young man who has seen for an instant a particular expression on a particular face.

Honestly, this passage brought tears to my eyes, even though I had read the story more than once before — simply because it made real, emotionally, the way being in love transforms not only one’s view of the love-object, but also of oneself and of the whole world. To the person in love, the whole world seems to come into a brighter and clearer focus, and inspires a sense of omni-competence: Anything I didn’t do before, out of laziness or lack of motivation, I am now able to do, and want to do.

Chesterton does not theologize this passage, but I can’t help myself. St. John tells us that “God is love” — and is there not, in His attitude toward His creatures, the same sort of amour fou that the young man is possessed by in the story? And isn’t mysticism nothing but a glimpse, an inkling, a reflection, of precisely that sort of love? The perspective love brings is more powerful than that of pure reason. This is why many people over the past couple of centuries have objected to the word “Logos” to characterize God, and sought to de-Hellenize theology — purify it of Greek philosophical concepts — to get rid of the word. They intuit, correctly, that God is not “Word” in the sense of Professor Dryasdust and the cold syllogisms of purely human reason; they get the sense, in reading the works of too many theologians, that the latter have set many all-too-human limits on God. (This can be expressed as: “God is capable of more things than the volumes of Aquinas, Calvin, Barth, and the canon lawyers of various denominations might be willing to permit Him.” But who could put it better than Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth . . . than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”)

But “Logos” is quite appropriate if it’s understood in a broader way, to mean a reason deeper than ours, a reason not limited to the rules elaborated by our thinkers — a reason like that of the man in the story, with his “folly wiser than the world.” What looks like “folly to the Greeks,” a stumbling block to human reason, is, many of us believe, the Deepest Reason of all.


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