Written by: Emma Baldwin
In Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, N. D. Wilson simply states in the book’s preface, “I’m grateful to God for the eyes in my head, and for the wildness of the spinning world these eyes see.” Wilson’s main focus within the book seems to be to comment on the utter insanity and beauty in the world, as well as to attribute its complexity to God and to share these beliefs with others. Wilson does not go about this task in a typical way, however. His writing style is a paradox of unique imagery and bluntness. He sees the world in a way entirely unique from the people around him and writes about it in complete honesty and elegance.
His wonder-filled view of the world and his ability to so uniquely and artfully portray it have made him sort of a modern-day G. K. Chesterton. In Notes, he discusses his discoveries of beauty and terror and confusion and complexity in the world and rejoices in these things, living life full of wonder and challenging others to do the same.
Something that Wilson emphasizes within Notes is the idea that God’s existence is manifested in His creation. We live in an orderly and purposeful world. As Wilson consistently states throughout the book, the creativity, insanity, and order of the world necessitates an orderly, beautiful, and caring Creator. The author depicts this idea throughout Notes, (arguably) making it the book’s main theme: “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 [H]is Rs.”
Wilson states in the text that God is author of the universe and therefore intentionally writes everyone and everything into existence. The author uses this argument to explain everything on the earth as purposeful and planned by God alone—even suffering. Wilson states that God speaks suffering into the earth—He is omnipotent—and, therefore, does not speak anything that He cannot stop.
Wilson argues this point by showing the reader what it would mean if this was not the case: “But if God is the creator God and He was somehow unaware of what He was starting, unaware that the Holocaust was going to happen, shocked when He first heard of Hitler’s plans, and embarrassed that He couldn’t stop him, then He still remains the first cause of all evil. He began a chain of events beyond His control.” According to Wilson then, God, though He allows suffering, is not the author of evil because when He allows suffering, He knows that no matter what He can stop it. God speaks suffering into His world intentionally, though we may not understand why. However, we can fully trust that He has a distinct purpose for it within His world and that He alone can save us from the suffering.
Wilson says that the world and everything in it make up the play that is authored by the greatest Author there is. Therefore, every moment of joy, every moment of sorrow, every great happening, every normal or abnormal day is written by the omniscient Playwright. Wilson challenges his reader to act in God’s play excellently with the role he or she is given, recognizing his or her own smallness and God’s control and artfulness in it all.
Wilson also emphasizes that God is still speaking: “God has the authority to shape a soul with His voice, bind it to matter, and send it into history. And He has the authority to sever my soul from my body and call it to another part of the stage. He has the authority to reuse the matter from my flesh in daffodils. I’m not worried. I’ll get more.”
God spoke the entire universe into existence. He speaks suffering into our lives with great purpose and a definite, though sometimes hidden, plan. He speaks joy into our lives too. He speaks beauty and waiting and harvest and loss and renewal and everything. And, as Wilson says, He will keep speaking. The Playwright hasn’t finished His play.
Wilson makes it his goal throughout the book to train the reader’s eye to see the complexity, order, and immense beauty of God’s creation. In attempting to show people the way he views the world, Wilson explains that these attributes manifest a Creator, meaning that they could not have occurred by chance, evolution, or anything else of the sort. Following the logic of the Teleological argument for the existence of God, Wilson emphasizes over and over again that the intricacies of the universe must have been created by a thoughtful, artistic, joyful Creator.
Another element of Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl that make it the unique and thoughtful book that it is Wilson’s argument for the fantastic and absurd within reality. We live in a world that elevates the need to be sensible, practical, realistic, level-headed, or any other term that makes us sound like adults that have any clue what we’re doing. However, Wilson portrays the presence of almost chaotic beauty within creation, treating it like the magical place it is. He constantly brings up unique things within reality that make life so interesting, arguing that the world is truly an absurd place and rejoicing in that, inviting the reader to rejoice with him.
Wilson introduces his book with this idea in the first chapter: “Just to be clear, I live on a near-perfect sphere hurtling through space at around 67,000 miles per hour, Mach 86 to pilots. Of course, this sphere of mine is also spinning while it hurtles, so tack on an extra 1,000 miles per hour at the fat parts. And it’s all tucked into this giant hurricane of stars. Yes, it can be freaky.”
Wilson makes a case for the magic of creation throughout the book and encourages others to actively seek and praise God for that magic. We live in a world with crocodiles and rain drops and twenty thousand-foot mountains and an omnipotent Creator who loves us enough to die and come back to life for us. This world is anything but normal. In Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, N. D. Wilson reminds his reader to look for these beautiful abnormalities in God’s creation and to genuinely find joy in them.
He writes, “Welcome to Carnival. Ride the wheel back down. Come out from the shadows and lopsided trailers. There’s a story to tell, a world of surprises and questions to explore, a personality often searched for to be unearthed and understood in the reality around us. And there’s someone behind it, uncomfortable answers to the hows and whys and whats.”