[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1621380270″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41v7LLVuR7L.jpg” width=”213″ alt=”Robert Wild” ]Establishing Chesterton’s Mysticism
A Feature Review of
The Tumbler of God: Chesterton as Mystic
Paperback: Angelico Press, 2013
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Reviewed by Katelyn Oprondek
Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, introduces G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) as a man who “was very good at expressing himself, but more importantly, he had something very good to express.” Robert Wild, the author of The Tumbler of God: Chesterton as Mystic would agree. Wild goes even further in his book to demonstrate that Chesterton is not only a worthwhile writer, but a mystic as well.
What is mysticism? That was my first question when I opened the book. In the beginning of his book, Wild describes the type of mysticism he is referring to, rather than another definition of this often-abstract concept. He gives the reader an exact explanation of what he means when he uses the term ‘mystic’ by giving a clear and specific picture of mysticism throughout his book. He says that “Mysticism describes a rather permanent state in which an unusual touch of God breaks into consciousness and remains in a regular or even permanent fashion” (38). He goes on to explain that many people who have rejected Chesterton as a mystic did not use this definition. The term “mysticism” is a sort of abstract concept that can mean different things, but regarding Chesterton, Wild believes that the term “lay mysticism” is an accurate way to describe Chesterton’s permanent ability to see God anywhere he looked (11). With this frame in mind, Wild attempts to show Chesterton’s mysticism through different methods.
Wild uses many examples from Chesterton’s own writing to illustrate what he believes to be Chesterton’s divine outlook on life received through God’s grace. Wild makes it clear though, that Chesterton would not have considered himself a mystic. He uses Chesterton’s writings in a psychoanalytic fashion to prove the mystic qualities of his mind. He also discusses the various influences on G.K. Chesterton’s life and spirituality. Robert Wild includes excerpts from Chesterton’s writings about St. Frances, St. Thomas, and George MacDonald to illustrate some of his mystical theories and beliefs.
In the middle of the book, we find the explanation for the title, Tumbler of God. Wild includes a quotation where Chesterton describes the mystical touch “like the reversal of a complete somersault, in that by coming full circle it…apparently came back to the same normal posture…But in the inward sense it was a profound spiritual revolution” (93). Wild applies this idea to Chesterton’s worldview, claiming that “the metaphor of tumbling could be applied to all genuine mystical experiences, [Chesterton’s] own included” (92). Here we find the true meaning of the title; Chesterton tumbled into mysticism, and his worldview was changed when he landed on his feet again.
Wild then moves into a part of the book that laments over mystics who have “tumbled” into mysticism, but were unable to find their feet again. Wild illustrates mystics whom Chesterton believed had “landed on their heads” (159) while tumbling: Blake, Tolstoy, The Fraticelli, and Huxley. These writers are examples of mystics “who are catapulted into the supernatural world without the guidance of the Church” (137). Without anywhere to direct their divine revelation, they had a confused and tragic relationship with the aesthetic beauty of mysticism. Wild uses quotations from Chesterton’s studies on these writers to give the reader a sense of the great loss suffered when these mystics were unable to find a way to express their visions.