The Great Joke

G. K. Chesterton in his study. (public domain)

G.K. Chesterton has intrigued me since my youth minister first introduced me to the big man’s writing in ninth grade. I tend toward melancholy, and there is a powerful current of joy running through all of Chesterton’s work that has since mystified and captivated me, even as I’ve struggled to believe in it at all. A recurring concept in Chesterton’s writings is that only those who take something very seriously can really take it lightly. Chesterton is known as the Prince of Paradox, and this one has stumped me for many years. I might say it has haunted me. It didn’t make any sense, but still I sensed it to be true.

Joy has been elusive to me. At one point, I called myself a ‘detrimentalist’, and wondered why, since I seemed to take everything so seriously, I wasn’t able to break through to Chesterton’s way of taking things lightly. The only kind of lightness I really knew how to do was, in reality, flippancy, which is a fear-filled unwillingness to take a serious look at anything. Joy was hidden from me. I would arrive as the thread of smoke straggled from a just-extinguished candle, or feel the lingering warmth of the brass door knob as I entered the room, coldness billowing through the open window where some fiery angel had only just vacated the place. There was some Presence I simply couldn’t find my way to.

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Oh wild wayside pilgrims, whose duty is pleasure—
Your faces all gleaming and grinning, they sing!
Royally fitted with robes and with rings,
      Light-spun along hillsides in draped rivulets,
      your petals sway gem-like in meek coronets.

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Material Limitations

potters wheel

He centers the clay with a Thwack!
Now the gritty hum of a potter’s wheel
Sends a sheen of slick mud orbiting.

My brother has spent sixteen years
Getting to know this foreign terrain,
Learning the language to make signs
With subtleties of palm, wrist, and thumbs.

He sponges water across the face,
Leaning his body forward, bearing up
Indigenous architectures in limber clay.
Pulling vessels from mire,
Carving breath along the materials,
Pulsing fluency into earth.

He co-operates within its given
Cosmos: diction’s  imprint blesses,
‘Let there be listening ‘ discovering
What forms can be uncovered—
He takes hold to unfold and free
What dust never imagined it could be .

My brother Sam is a ceramic artist. For nearly four years now, we’ve been housemates and have spent countless hours discussing what it means to make a living as full-time artists. The two car garage has never had a car in it since Sam has lived in this house; upon moving here, he immediately converted it into his pottery and sculpture studio. Some kind of wonder comes over me when I watch Sam slap a mopey lump of gray clay onto his wheel, press it down with his body weight, and slowly raise the material up until it is transformed into a beautiful vessel.

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