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Friday
Sep252009

The Miracle of Moon Crescent

Etymology tells us that "miracle" is from what is to be gazed upon and wondered at – one might think of the Spanish mirar and the German Wunder as its bookends – but the most common understanding remains its theological significance.  To the layman a miracle is what he fears most: evidence that his materialistic smugness proves not the dullness of the universe but his own.  Perhaps the thought of a being of human shape gliding across a body of water has always brought a sneer to his crooked face; yet there is something that even the staunchest and most militant of non-believers will admit: that there exist indefinite occurrences that modern science has never been able to fathom.  The more arrogant among our godless will quickly aver that, in time, science will get to these points as one sees to a series of operose errands.  The irony of such proclamations is that these devotees of science await the advent of All-Knowledge in precisely the same way that those of faith imagine the Second Coming.  Actually, there is one rather important difference; and that difference explains the events in a story found in this collection.

One tends to overlook the authority of tales whose protagonist is a short, scruffy and almost ubiquitous priest, and the scene around Moon Crescent is no exception.  The person we first meet and one who "could be only be compared to a tidy whirlwind," is the appropriately named Warren Wynd. His entire appearance resembled that of a spark of flame: bright, wondrous, and ruthless in his decision-making.  His operations are as efficient and robust as he is frisky and small.  We first meet Wynd in deep negotiation with a shallow and pompous millionaire called Silas T. Vandam, a nonsensical name for a nonsensical person.  Vandam does not get the deal he wants, is dismissed by a bored Wynd, and departs the latter's office only to encounter another wealthy and irreverent figure, the "westerner" Art Alboin.  Alboin represents what Chesterton often thinks of Americans and their money, swagger and complete ignorance of what preceded the formation of their mighty state.  And although it is easy to ridicule those who only worship the present, some people are particularly worthy of our derision:

Nothing supernatural ... just the great natural fact behind all the supernatural fancies.  What did the Jews want with a God except to breathe into man's nostrils the breath of life?  We do the breathing into our own nostrils out in Oklahoma.  What's the meaning of the very word Spirit?  It's just the Greek for breathing exercises.  Life, progress, prophecy; it's all breath.

There is a tenderness in this statement that evinces a child's harmless worship of the wonder of simply being alive; on occasion, when our mind drifts from the perfunctory actions that compose a certain portion of our days and nights, we find it incredible that anything works at all.  If only man were inspired by oxygen alone, how simple would our lives be?  Vandam and Alboin are already convinced of its simplicity and have a faltering ally in Wynd's redheaded secretary Fenner, a bitter young man tired of catering to Wynd's every tyrannical whim.  That does not prevent him, however, from fulfilling his duty and denying entry to Wynd's office to both businessmen who plan on persuading the little spark that they should all become partners and make each other even richer.  Their petty debate ends with the appearance of a small priest and a fantastic claim: that Mr. Wynd, who has been alone in his office for all of ten minutes, has hanged himself.  Since no one saw anything or any one during this time this could not possibly have occurred, chant the three non-believers in cacophony.  Until, of course, they indulge the priest's petition and find the office completely empty.    

Even if you know little about Chesterton's oeuvre you will easily recognize the atheist humbug which he so casually destroys – or, I should say, allows to destroy itself.  But experienced Chestertonians will detect something more.  As the story of the whirlwind opens, we are presented with additional facts about our miniature cyclone that supposedly distinguish him from his peers.  Indeed, one trait seems to be unique to him:

All sorts of stories and even legends were told of the miraculous rapidity with which he could form a sound judgment, especially of human character.  It was said that he selected the wife who worked with him so long in so charitable a fashion, by picking her out of a whole regiment of women in uniform marching past at some official celebration, some said of the Girl Guides and some of the Women Police.  Another story was told of how three tramps, indistinguishable from each other in their community of filth and rags, had presented themselves before him asking for charity.  Without a moment's hesitation he had sent one of them to a particular hospital devoted to a certain nervous disorder, had recommended the second to the inebriates' home, and had engaged the third at a handsome salary as his own private servant, a position which he filled successfully for years afterwards.

Some may find it a coy measure to include the Girl Guides and Women Police; others may point to the adjective used in front of rapidity as a coincidence; still others might ask themselves whether moon crescent isn't redundant (as it were, luna crescens has been correct Latin since at least the first century).  Yet the most intuitive of readers will be drawn to the three equals set before another human being who deemed himself not their equal and master enough to divine their hidden truths "without a moment's hesitation."  Now that would require power well beyond our comprehension. 

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