The Eternal Horizon of Chesterton’s Acrobat

In his article “A Word on Behalf of Adulthood” from the December/January issue of Gilbert Magazine, David Fagerberg brings to light a startling image from English poet, philosopher, writer and theologian G.K. Chesterton’s book on St. Francis of Assisi:

Chesterton said that St. Francis came out of the cave like an acrobat, walking on his hands, which gave him a unique perspective on the world. He saw Assisi upside down, and its massive stone foundations now looked perilous instead of permanent, because it threatened to fall if God did not hold it steadfast. “The very word dependence only means hanging.”

Chesterton’s writing is filled with thought-provoking images like this. His Francis discovers the impermanent fragility of life by literally looking at the world upside down. We are as dependent as the massive stone foundations that Francis saw suspended from the earth.

We can learn this without having to stand on our hands. Fagerberg continues:

But you do not have to upend like an acrobat, or become helpless like a child, in order to appreciate that the temporal is temporary. You can appreciate it by growing up, by taking the measure of things, and discovering how small – even if delightful – the things of this world are when placed against an eternal horizon. Regrettably, most of our world is unconscious of that horizon and so rather childish in their responses to life.

Maturity is understanding that life is placed against the eternal horizon. Pleasure isn’t evil and neither is the physical world. They both, in their proper context at least, can be holy, are made to be holy. But that temporal and temporary have the same root is not a coincidence. Becoming conscious of the eternal horizon is a necessary part of growing up.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He writes frequent Daily Rambles and Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.


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