Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ash Wednesday Thursday

Lent is underway. Even though the ashes on my forehead were washed away last night, I am still thinking of Ash Wednesday - and, oddly (or perhaps not so oddly), of Chesterton.

Dale Ahquist, in his essay, "Echoes: When G.K. came to Notre Dame," published in Notre Dame Magazine (Winter 2010-11), recounted incidents during Chesterton's 1930 visit to Notre Dame. One of them concerns T.S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday."

A long-time Notre Dame English professor, Rufus William Rauch, was only 26 when Chesterton came to campus. One night, Rauch brought a few students with him to discuss modern poetry with Chesterton at the home where the author was staying. Was Mr. Chesterton familiar with T.S. Eliot? the young instructor asked timidly. Chesterton proceeded to quote the long opening passage from “Ash Wednesday,” which had just been published. “Quite dizzying. I suppose that’s one way to conversion,” he mused.

Stumbling across that account, I sought out Eliot's poem, which I haven't read in years.

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn ...

And so on and so on. More of Eliot's dark ruminations, tinged with faith, but a faith that likely was strange to Chesterton's more joy-filled sensibilities - hence his comment about conversion. I imagine if Eliot and Chesterton were somehow thrown together chatting over matters of faith and literature, and were both presented with lemons, Eliot would suck his lemon and pucker out some observations, while Chesterton would make lemonade, likely spilling some and laughing.

Sorry if I offend any Eliot fans out there. But I think he would focus on the harsh reality of the suffering on the cross, while Chesterton would celebrate the salvation that suffering brought.

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