When I agreed to join the Chesterton and Friends team, I was told I would be responsible for a day.
The day turned out to be Thursday.
I laughed when I received the e-mail telling me this.
I am the man who is Thursday.
There’s a certain irony in this.
The Man Who Was Thursday was the first of Chesterton’s novels that I read.
The novel resonated with me when I read it some 30 years ago, and particularly the main character, Gabriel Syme. He is a poet working as a detective posing as a poet pretending to be an anarchist. He is given the name Thursday on a council of anarchists whose names are the days of the week and whose leader is Sunday.
If that seems convoluted, remember that Chesterton’s subtitle is, “A Nightmare.”
But this is a Chestertonian nightmare, so we are treated to a merry quest complete with twists and turns, philosophizing, battles, revelations, and verbal sparks. As we are swept along, Chesterton reveals the truth beneath the characters’ disguises, and then ultimately reveals who Sunday is.
God, of course.
(Sorry if I reveal too much. But then, when we read a fairy tale, we often already know the end - though we may be unclear on some of the details. The pleasure comes from discovering how we get to that end, the wonders we encounter along the way, and the satisfaction of discovering that what we sensed would happen does indeed happen. The pleasure of Chesterton often comes from the simple act of reading how he gets where we know he is going.)
In her biography of Chesterton, Maisie Ward quotes a Chesterton interview about the novel.
“In an ordinary detective tale the investigator discovers that some amiable-looking fellow who subscribes to all the charities, and is fond of animals, has murdered his grandmother, or is a trigamist. I thought it would be fun to make the tearing away of menacing masks reveal benevolence.
“Associated with that merely fantastic notion was the one that there is actually a lot of good to be discovered in unlikely places, and that we who are fighting each other may be all fighting on the right side. …
“There is a phrase at the end, spoke by Sunday. `Can ye drink from the cup that I drink of?’ which seems to mean that Sunday is God. That is the only serious note in the book, the face of Sunday changes, you tear off the mask of Nature and you find God.”
My first encounter with this book was during the time of social chaos in the mid 1970s. The Vietnam War had ended in a debacle. Nixon’s Presidency had ended in disgrace. Assassins still targeted Presidents and Presidential candidates. The economy was unstable. The Catholic Church was stumbling along as it continued to try to implement Vatican II.
Anarchists – under the more contemporary names of radicals and revolutionaries - were more than just fictional characters at that time.
Then, as now, I thought of myself as a poet (I let others judge how good a one!) and a journalist, a profession I ultimately pursued professionally. A journalist is in many ways a detective. The honest journalist is, of course, engaged in a quest to discover the truth.
Like Syme, while I played at being a rebel, I was really more in “rebellion against rebellion.” Even as I took part in many of the social/political movements of the time, I found that while they had ideas, they lacked soul. Consequently, I was always on the edge, watching and critiquing, aware that there should be something more.
I found the ultimate way to rebel against rebellion was to become more active in the most revolutionary movement in the world: Christianity (and, for me, The Catholic Church).
At the time that he wrote the novel, Chesterton was himself on the road to Rome.
And, in line with Chesterton’s comment above, I often find God through Nature. Indeed, at the time I first read this book, most of my discernable experiences of God came through Nature.
So Thursday is an apt day for me.
The book was not the first of Chesterton’s that I read – his biography of St. Francis takes that honor – but it was a major step in developing my devotion to his writings, and those writings played a vital role in helping me to rediscover and strengthen my faith.
This blog enables me to share that devotion, and to offer a little payback for lessons learned, which, I hope I will offer “with the great unconscious gravity” of a child of God “in possession of some impossible good news.”
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