N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl is certainly unlike any book I’ve read before. I pity the publicist whose job it is to provide a soundbite or snapshot from the book!
How would one describe it?
Wide-eyed, look-ma-no-hands exuberant enjoyment on this spinning tilt-a-whirl we call Earth as it passes through its four seasons?
In-your-face mockery of the atheists and their god called Boom?
Full-throated defense of a good and sovereign God in a world of pain and evil?
A poetic exploration of eucatastrophe?
A gospel tract for postmodern times?
All of the above.
If I had to summarize it in a word, I’d choose provocative—in the old-fashioned sense of provoking, prodding, stimulating, inciting. To do what? To see and to sense and to smell the glory all around us.
Wilson is one of those literalists—he takes Solomon and Jesus seriously when they say to “observe the ant” and to “consider the lilies of the field.” Wilson doesn’t stare at them for a few minutes or look them up on Wikipedia–he gathers the kids and gets dirt on his chin and engages in delightful, obedient study.
And then he does the same with topics like heaven and hell, gospel and grief, wonder and disbelief.
The result—for those of us willing to following the biblical paradox of being childlike without being childish—is that we feel like fish being pulled out of the water for a few moments, finally able to see with new eyes what we have long taken for granted.
Calvin wrote about how God’s powers are portrayed for us as in a painting, that we stand within and enjoy the theater of God’s glory, and that the created world is a mirror of God’s divinity. If you want a faithful and creative exploration of what this means, Notes from the Til-a-Whirl will help you greatly enjoy the ride!
Publisher’s Weekly recently gave it a nice review:
Hold your breath and throw your hands in the air! This theological ride thrills with a colorful whir of profound and profoundly amusing meditations on creation, existence and God. Influenced by his evangelical Christian faith, Wilson (Leepike Ridge) uses an engaging, casual style in this personal notebook of spiritual thought as he offers readers a peek into his world of unapologetic wonder. Spinning through the pages, reflections on philosophers, theologians, leeches and kittens offer dazzling new perspective on the bright lights and dark corners of our carnival-like existence. Wilson’s most striking achievement in all his whirling musings is an ever-present insistence on optimism. Even when contemplating death, he cheerfully concludes that he will then have admission to “go on the gnarly rides” of immortality. Indeed, Wilson excels in his elegantly intricate arguments for hope: even a naked mole rat matters. Yes, the prose often jolts and reels on its paper track. It can be an unsettling ride. But that is the poetry of a tilt-a-whirl—the poetry of living.
And this is Doug Wilson’s explanation for the book:
The conceit for the book is that the solar system is a ride at a carnival, with circular motions inside circular motion. Not only do we have the carnival-like motions, we have a carnival-like environment, gaudy colors and situations included. The book works through the four quadrants of one trip around the circumference, through the seasons of winter, spring, summer, autumn. Those who don’t get either thrilled or sick (or both) in the ride are those who, in the name of realism, resolutely ignore everything that is going on all around them, and they ignore it all day long.
As they are on display in this book, Nate’s gifts revolve around a very basic truth. He has the same ability that Chesterton had, that of making ordinary things seem extraordinary, and then with a start you realize that it is not a verbal trick — ordinary things are extraordinary. Why don’t we see that more often? I mean look at a walnut, for Pete’s sake.
A metaphor is a twisted and circuitous route that goes straight to the truth. Some metaphors are so convoluted that they get there right away. This book is just crammed with them.