Enchantment in a Time of Crisis
Mark Twain’s novel “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” , the masterpiece of American literature that most people have never heard of, opens on a scene of Paris at the turn of the 15th century which is frightening but perhaps familiar. It is a time of lawlessness, social unrest, and plague. It is a time when wolves roam freely through the streets, consuming the victims of mob violence and disease, and funerals are held under cover of night to prevent spreading panic. In a word, it is a time when Paris—and indeed, all of France—is in crisis.
In our own age, we hear of this or that crisis every day: an economic crisis, a political crisis, a global health crisis. Increasingly, we also hear about a “crisis of meaning“, the realization that many in our society today are feeling untethered from the cultural and religious anchors that provided purpose and significance in the past, resulting in a surge of depression, suicide, and other social ills. Thought leaders like Jordan Peterson and Jonathan Pageau have recently helped raise my own awareness of this crisis and its epistemic origins.
Now as we settle into the third year of the current global crisis—and weary of competing narratives, social mandates, and political division—I am looking for a new perspective to orient my horizon of meaning. I am hearkening to the call of enchantment, an expectation grounded in openness and good will to discover transcendence and meaning outside myself. Instead of Descartes’ ruinous (some would say) pursuit of subjective certainty, I am inviting objective mystery into my life—which is to say, I am suspending my natural attitude of skepticism and opening my heart to possibility in all its manifold expressions of reality.
Mark Twain introduces us to the possibility of enchantment early in his novel about Joan of Arc. In its opening chapters, we learn of the legendary fairy tree in Joan’s village of Domremy where the children sang, played, and nurtured their friendship with the unseen creatures of the forest. We meet mysterious vagabonds and dangerous maniacs, whom Joan shows us to be more than their appearances. And we encounter Joan herself, not as mere legend or enigma, but as the “most noble life” across the ages who straddled worlds both ordinary and extraordinary in her mission to crown her King and save her nation.
To embark on this journey with Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc is to risk losing your heart to one of history’s greatest heroines…but also to discover it again. We hope you will come along with us at Heroic Hearts as we read through Twain’s great novel together, discover new horizons of enchantment and meaning, and learn to love this extraordinary saint! 💕
Artwork: Paul Cézanne, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons