“These people professed that the universe was one coherent thing; but they were not fond of the universe. But I was frightfully fond of the universe and wanted to address it by a diminutive. I often did so; and it never seemed to mind. Actually and in truth I did feel that these dim dogmas of vitality were better expressed by calling the world small than by calling it large. For about infinity there was a sort of carelessness which was the reverse of the fierce and pious care which I felt touching the pricelessness and the peril of life. They showed only a dreary waste; but I felt a sort of sacred thrift. For economy is far more romantic than extravagance. To them stars were an unending income of halfpence; but I felt about the golden sun and the silver moon as a schoolboy feels if he has one sovereign and one shilling.”
-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
“The Ethics of Elfland” is my favorite single chapter of any book I’ve read, and I always think I remember it. I do remember much of the first half, but I am always surprised at the words above when I reach the end of the chapter. The great perspective he had was—and is—so uncommon, but I do not feel quite the same way about the universe as Mister Chesterton did. I would place my own outlook on the sum of all things somewhere between his idea and marveling at the wonder of it all. I am inclined to stand in amazement and wax poetic both while regarding the brilliant boundlessness of the firmament and while mulling over the detail in every microcosm within it. I am spellbound when I observe the refulgent splendor of the precious, glittering jewels filling the heavens. I am infatuated with luxurious pine trees, craggy mountains, and the thinner air of higher elevations. Considering the size of the celestial expanse, it is absolutely breathtaking how our Creator orchestrated every nanometer with so much care, even down to the atomic and quantum levels. I have a tendency compare creation to masterful art, but I know artists don’t do that. Either they paint a relatively small subject with great detail, or a grand scene with less. A great landscape will not feature detailed leaves or blades of grass, and yet this creation is intricate and ornate on every observable scale. To me such thorough detailing and adornment seem to convey a sense of gravity and significance regarding even the smallest things, which suggests that they are, despite the extravagance, prized and valued. While the men to whom Chesterton referred did not think much on the cosmos except to call it large, I look upon it as immeasurable and nevertheless wish to describe it with terms of endearment. I am certainly fond of it, this beautiful life and universe, which is always, always moving and expanding and changing. Sometimes deceptively quiet and still, sometimes ferociously loud and nauseating, it is always glorious and precious.
True, some moments (or weeks or months or years) are wearisome. But I would argue that it is not the extravagance of life that exhausts us; it is focusing on a too-small aspect through too great a magnification. Over-attention to featureless details distracts us from the big picture. My days, when viewed through a microscope, often seem monotonous, and as the same author remarked a few pages previously, “grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.” But when focusing outward, we can better see the grandness of the design and, as a result, the variation. Newness catches our attention, and the intricacies mesmerize us. It is often in understanding grander schemes that we can best delight in life and in creation.
I think I can consider our dear little world immeasurable and yet maintain G.K.’s affection because I try to imagine it through the eyes of God. To him it is small. To him, it is diminutive. All of time and space, the history and expanse of the universe, likely do not seem great to one on whom time and space have no bearing. The numbers of people, of species of plants, of stars, of grains of sand; the size of our relatively insignificant galaxy; the space that “space” fills—these immeasurable measurements are surely inconsequential. Being finite, I cannot conceive of it all; I cannot imagine conceiving of it all. But the Creator does, and continues to create. Our universe is continually expanding; new life is always coming into being. And yet to God it is all quite precious, so that he knows every star and every person so intimately as to call them by name. For this reason, I can acknowledge infinity in this vast but singular creation without becoming blasé about it. It is both sublime and endearing.