“One’s Own Fashions!”

The church has a culture and your feeling of “not being quite at home” is because you are trying to live independently and according to your own fashion. The church has a rhythm and a flow. It has patterns and practices and those who embrace them will feel cared for and safe. But those who remain aloof will not experience those blessings.

In Edith Wharton’s, The Age of Innocence, Newland Archer, the young man set in the ways of old New York, has a conversation with Countess Ellen Olenska, who has recently returned from Europe after leaving her wealthy husband for his many affairs. Olenska doesn’t fit into old New York for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is, she is unfamiliar with the customs of her new environment.

At one point, early in the novel, Archer and Ellen have a conversation. Archer speaks according to the form and fashion of the day while Ellen is free and full of candor.  At one point, Ellen does not understand why her house, situated on a respectable street, is not good enough, to which Archer replies, “It’s not fashionable.” This produces a striking and revealing reply from Ellen, “Fashionable! Do you all think so much of that? Why not make one’s own fashions? But I suppose I’ve lived too independently; at any rate, I want to do what you all do – I want to feel cared for and safe.”

I love the old literature for lines like these. Authors think deeply about the human condition and often draw insights that are pastoral in nature. For example, consider Ellen’s statement, “Why not make one’s own fashion?” In 1920 Wharton could only dream of what Sinatra would sing in 1969. “My Way” or “one’s own fashion” seems like the Adamic desire of the human heart. But even that desire understands that such a thing leads to loneliness and insecurity. In other words, fallen people want their independence so long as others are independent with them.

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