N.D. Wilson’s Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl is a great book, but I can’t begin to review it, let alone describe it in a way that would do it justice. It is fantastically written and utterly thought-provoking. I found myself reading quotation after quotation to my poor wife, who just smiled and nodded. The back cover, book trailer, and even the preface seemed a little weird to me, but the book itself is a work of art. If each page is taken by itself, it seems uneven, scatter-brained, and annoying. But taken as a whole, as each page fits into each chapter, and as each chapter fits into the whole work, it is evident that Wilson’s words are intentional. As one reviewer put it: “His writing evokes emotion like the best fiction, scratches the brain like the best philosophy, and stirs a love for Creator and creation like the best theology.” Notes is a modern work of art in the Lewis/Chesterton tradition.
Wilson’s thesis is that the world is a work of art with an Artist behind it – a divine play, novel, or painting. On the way, Wilson weaves together the problem of evil, God’s sovereignty, creation, Heaven, Hell, and the seasons to form his tapestry. I found myself laughing, crying, furrowing eyebrows, thinking, and staring throughout the book. I have been seesawing between sharing quotations and not sharing quotations, since they would be out of context, and I really just want you to read the book. But I compromised, and will only share a couple:
“I am a hypocrite. I grant it readily. I have read philosophers (not all of them, thank God). I’ve been tested on the philosophers. I’ll talk about the philosophers, but watch my lip. It curls when I do. I hope I’m untainted. Every four years I’ll watch figure skating, but I’m no closer to buying myself tights. Marx called religion an opiate, and all too often it is. But philosophy is an anesthetic, a shot to keep the wonder away.” (p. 15)
“I love the story. I love being in the story because there are beetles and my wife and my children with wide eyes and ticklish ribs and dirt that smells and hands that blister and wasps and moths and every-flavored wind. I love seeing the story because it shows me who I am and how far I need to go. Because it knocks me down and waits to see if I’ll get up…Scene after scene is given to you and the teeming universe in the audience waits for your reaction, for your line, waits to see if you’ll yell at the fat-faced child who spilled the milk, or of you’ll laugh and kiss a cheek…What will your character do when the petty things happen, when your car betrays you in the cold? When the pipes freeze? When God knowingly places ice on the sidewalk beneath your feet? When the sun sets beautifully while you needle your wife? Do you laugh at the jokes and love the lovely? Are you too important to be amused at your own finitude? Are you unaware that your bowels move daily? How lofty are you?” (p. 35)
“I see craft in the world. I cannot watch dust swirl on the sidewalk without seeing God drag his finger, or listen to spring rain running in the streets without hearing Him roll his Rs. For those who believe in ex nihilo creation, the world is inevitably art, and it is inevitably art from top to bottom, in every time and in every place. The world cannot exist apart from the voice of God. It is the voicings of God.” (p. 98)