Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Dean's Watch Review/Quotes

Sometimes you run into a book that has to be savored. The Dean's Watch, by Elizabeth Goudge, is such a book. I told my dad, on finishing it, that she must have been a person who deeply loved the beauty of creation. She loved it so much, that when she describes the world, you can feel the joy pulsing just beneath the skin of the words. Like all artists, the creation process is a deeply important part of her view of God, and is intrinsic to the theology of The Dean's Watch.

The setting is a remote mid-nineteenth-century town in England and its grand cathedral. The cathedral Dean, Adam Ayscough, holds a deep love for his parishioners and townspeople, but he is held captive by an irrational shyness and intimidating manner. The Dean and Isaac Peabody, an obscure watchmaker who does not think he or God have anything in common, strike up an unlikely friendship. This leads to an unusual spiritual awakening that touches the entire community.
Elizabeth Goudge's books are hard to find, but well worth the search. The book is, in essence, a small story, about small people, but is contrasted against the majestic looming symbol of the Cathedral which is the city which is faith itself. Goudge has great talent in taking the most unsavory characters and finding something likable - even lovable - about them, furthering the novel's primary theme: Christian charity, to love even the unlovely.

My only complaint about the book would be that it is slowly paced, and sometimes tedious. Pressed by work, I don't have the time to review more fully, but even better, I chose some of the choice quotes.

No one else would have seen anything except a confused jumble of mechanism, but Isaac saw his clock as it would be. He was the accomplished thing and knew that he would make it, and that it would be his masterpiece. Like all creators, he knew well that strange feeling of movement within the spirit, comparable only to the first movement of the child within the womb, which causes the victim to say perhaps with excitement, perhaps with exasperation or exhaustion, “There is a no poem, a new picture, a new symphony coming, heaven help me.”

He was a convinced but hard-working rationalist, always hard at it reconvincing himself of his convictions.
It was then that the central figure of the Gospels, a historical figure whom she deeply revered and sought to imitate, began at rare intervals to flash out at her like live lightning from their pages, frightening her, turning the grave blueprint into a dazzle of reflected fire. Gradually she learned to see that her fear was not of the lightning itself but what it showed her of the nature of love, for it dazzled behind the stark horror of Calvary....At some point along the way, she did not know where because the change came so slowly and gradually, she realized that He had got her and got everything. His love held and illumined every human being for whom she was concerned, and whom she served with the profound compassion which was their need and right, behind the Cathedral, the city, every flower and leaf and creature, giving it reality and beauty. She could not take her eyes from the incredible glory of his love. 

How much more friendly it is when you cannot see, thought Miss Montague, and how much closer we are to Him. Why should we always want a light? He chose darkness for us, darkness of the womb and of the stable, darkness in the garden, darkness on the cross and in the grave. Why do I demand certainty? That is not faith. Why do I want to understand? How can I understand this great web of sin and ugliness and love and suffering and joy and life and death when I don’t understand the little tangle of good and evil that is myself?

“When evil gets a grip on men it always drives them to destroy.”
“Evil has hard work to get its hands on what it really wants to destroy,” said the Dean. “Which has eternal value, this watch or the love that made it? The body or the soul?”….
There was a silence in which each spoke to the other though not in words. Love. The only indestructible thing. The only wealth and the only reality. The only survival. At the end of it all there was nothing else.
The silence of birds by the bridge, the drenching storm and the old mad king clutching at his chest, the celestial city at the end of the long green way, the riding lights of the ships and the hidden place where the living water welled up through the broken floor, and now this house of windy darkness. Who could have believed that they were there beneath the crust of things?....Until now life for him had meant the aridity of earthly duty and the dews of God. Now he was aware of something else, a world that was neither earth nor heaven, a heartbreaking, fabulous, lovely world where the conies take refuge in the rainbowed hills and in the deep valleys of the unicorns the songs are sung that men hear in dreams, the world that the poets know and the men who make music.
“Few grow up in this world,” agreed Miss Montague. “We should all like each other better if we could realize that.”

What harm unpurified and undisciplined human love could do. He believed it must pass through death before it could entirely bless.

“[N]othing stems and turns wickedness more certainly than the death of a good man. I have seen it happen again and again. Sometimes it seems to me that the only thing we really know about death is that it is creative.”


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