Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Here's A Pregnant Thought
As We Begin a New Month

'True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare.'
--the immortal British man of letters, moral philosopher and proud Catholic, G.K. Chesterton. An impressive portion of his vast papers are archived at John Carroll University, and local Chesterton societies exist in dozens, if not hundreds, of locations around the world. Despite his low name recognition in many quarters, some have called him the greatest writer of the 20th century (we think that mantle actually belongs to his contemporary, George Orwell). In any case, thanks to a longtime friend, WWW reader and soon-to-be grandma for sharing this quote. Today also happens to be the 70th anniversary of the commencement of World War II. He had died three years earlier.


At 10:58 AM, Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Contentment. As with many words, the word itself suggests a definition. It is all to do with content, what we fill our lives with. It is a qualitative term rather than quantitative.

At 1:02 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Nicely said, Jim. I'll second that. To expand the point, so many people try to be happy or content by looking inward, but it's usually by going outside yourself and engaging with the world (and others) that we find our real contentment. Of course, that can also happen in the writing exchange that takes place quietly, from one mind to another (the writer's to the reader's).

I'm wondering, though, how much Chesterton still resonates in Scotland? Can you speak to that (not that I expect you to speak for all your countrymen, but of course you can generally characterize it better than we ever could).

At 7:33 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I find that one kind of contentment does come from helping others, which does take me out of my own problems, at least for awhile, and help me focus elsewhere.

Another kind of contentment, or serenity, comes for me, at times during my photo roadtrips. I get a lot of my best thinking done on the road, as you know. Sometimes that leads to a crisis, but it also leads to a resolution. It always has, so far. (Sometimes I just need to push at the walls a bit.)

Chesterton was never someone I felt that connected to. I certainly respect many of his writings, but there was never a deep connection that pulled me in very far. As opposed to Charles Williams, who still really gets me going.

I think he's right that contentment is an ACTIVE principle, rather than a passive one. I think people think that contentment and happiness are passive states that consist of nothing but the temporary absence of bad things. On the contrary, I think happiness and contentment are like joy: states that can come on, for no reason, but which are also tied to activity and an active life, rather than a passive one.

At 9:41 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Isn't "serenity" a splendid word? Way, way better than contentment. Heck, I feel serene just reading that word. So thanks for your careful word choice, Art. And since I not only don't know Charles Williams' work, but can't say I've ever even heard that name, perhaps you can point us to some of his best stuff (including perhaps what you've written about him).

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I'm afraid Chesterton isn't known very well these days. I've really only ever known the name to be honest.

At 2:08 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Interesting. Thanks, Jim. By the way, we've come to think of you as the unofficial Scotland bureau chief for Working With Words. We can make the formal announcement any time you say the word. And of course we'll be happy to reciprocate.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Charles Williams was one of the Inklings, along with Tolkein and Lewis. Williams wrote what he called "Supernatural fictions," which I have are among the best supernatural thriller novels I've ever read. EVER. Start with "All Hallow's Eve" or "Descent Into Hell" and you'll see what I mean.

Here's the official society page:


I've written about Williams here:


Williams also wrote an extensive poetic version of the Arthurian cycle, which is less well-known, but a completely captivating and unique version of those tales.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Art. I'll check this out over the holiday weekend, on those few moments when I'm not out on the hammock in the back yard.

At 3:38 AM, Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Could I not just be the team mascot, John?

At 7:34 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

No, Jim, being the team mascot would hardly suit you.


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