Tuesday, November 27, 2012


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) once famously observed, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Scott was deep into the booze, and though I find much to admire in his work, it seems to me that the real test of a first-rate intelligence would be to ponder which of the two opposed ideas is true--for example, "God is dead" versus "And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world" [Mt. 28:20]--and then to act on and live by it.

What interests me more than a first-rate intelligence is a first-rate heart (which, by my definition of heart, incorporates the full depth and height and breadth of intelligence), the test of which is to be constantly seeking and seeing the connections between two ideas that, while not necessarily opposed, are seemingly unrelated.

For instance, these two quotes from Caryll Houselander (1901-1954), aka The Divine Eccentric. Caryll was a convert who endured a nightmarish childhood and ever after had an especially deep and tender bond with traumatized children.

"I am sure, as never before, that the Russian idea of Christ, humble, suffering, and crowned with thorns is the only true one; that it is impossible to be a Christian unless the humility of poverty of Christ is taken literally and all that tends towards power, grandeur, success and so on, is avoided and despised."


"I think all teddy bears need knitted suits."


  1. I've been more or less immersed in Caryll Houselander for the past year. It's funny, but I've read Rocking Horse Catholic and Maisie Ward's biography, and while I know there were nightmarish aspects of Caryll's childhood, her neurotic illness (which reminds me so much of St. Therese) and the devastating effects of her parents' divorce, and while I'm sure this informed her concern for and her ability to help heal broken children, I don't think of her childhood as a whole as being wholly nightmarish. It's been several months since I read these books, but I remember some very lovely things from her childhood: her friendship with Smoky, her description of going to her father's garden, and I think her time in the French convent was a blessing to her. Well, I just realized I'm talking about two ideas that are, in a way, opposed, but it's the tension between those two Carylls that made her the gift that she is.

    There are a lot of seemingly opposed things in the Faith, though, God/Man, Virgin birth, three persons/one God. Ha, sounds like Owen's blog.


  2. Oops,

    Here's the Barron link:



  3. Heather,

    You're spot on about Houselander -- the living heart of paradox par excellence.

    Thanks so much for your post.

    You might get a kick out of curious connection Fr. Robert Barron recently made between Houselander and the original James Bond. In his movie review of Skyfall, Fr. B reveals that Houselander apparently dated the guy Ian Fleming modeled 007 on, and that it was through her that Fleming first met him, etc.

    Here's the link:




  4. Thanks, Joe, I did know that Caryll was deeply in love with the spy upon whom James Bond was based. Of course he married someone else...she felt the wound keenly for the remainder of her life...

    Thanks as well, Janet, for pointing out the possible distinction between traumatic and nightmarish.

  5. I fear that the answer to your riddle about the two Houselander quotes is too frightening to bear...

  6. Well, you've inched me a millimeter closer to understanding why it is that I love this blog so much. It is the exact quality you remark upon - the first-rate heart that is revealed, the intelligence that goes with it, and, which cannot be missed, the huge breadth, depth and range of seemingly unrelated ideas and phenomena and people that you (apparently effortlessly, but I know it is not effortless) bring together into one wonderful tapestry.

    All teddy bears should have knitted suits! That is so sweet, so humble, so kind and so daft. I have been turned onto GK Chesterton through this blog; next will be Carryl Houselander.

    I read this blog, and come away excited about the possibilities of living with God. Thank you so much Heather and all her friends.


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