I have been bingeing on Madeleine L’Engle. Perhaps it began when my granddaughter and I went to see the movie “A Wrinkle in Time.”
Anyway, since then I have re-read “Wrinkle,” as well as the other three books in the “Wrinkle” quartet. In the library, I found “A Circle of Quiet,” Madeleine’s journal from her country farmhouse in Connecticut. (Don’t you think “Madeleine” is so much more melodic than “L’Engle?” Anyway, I am going to refer to her as Madeleine.)
The library also offered “Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art.” After one reading, I had to own it. Now that I have my own copy, I am on my third re-reading. I gobble it up from start to finish and then go right back to the beginning. That must qualify as a binge!
The “Wrinkle in Time” quartet certainly gave me an appreciation—again—for Madeleine’s imagination. I wonder if J.K. Rowling might have been inspired by her. In “Walking on Water,” Madeleine reminds us again of the importance of fairy tales and fables for the young mind. Something is lost when we emphasize “real” life and lose the enchantment of imaginative stories.
One of my grandsons recently told me that all flamingos used to be green. I forget the fantastical explanation he gave me to explain how they became pink. But I do know my initial reaction was to say, “I don’t think that’s a true explanation.” Later, I sent him a text saying how much I loved his story and hoped he would write it down. I regretted my initial reaction.
As much as I admire Madeleine for her story-telling, what I really love about her is the way she articulates her feelings about being a “Christian writer.” She was known as such, and traveled the world speaking at Christian conferences.
She had very mixed feelings about these conferences. Imagine, as early as the 1980s she was concerned about the reputation of Christians. Let me quote her:
“In the world of literature, Christianity is no longer respectable. When I am referred to in an article or a review as a ‘practicing Christian’ it is seldom meant as a compliment, at least not in the secular press. It is perfectly all right, according to literary critics, to be Jewish or Buddhist or Sufi or a pre-Christian druid. It is not all right to be a Christian. And if we ask why, the answer is a sad one: Christians have given Christianity a bad name. They have let their lights flicker and grow dim. They have confused piosity with piety, smugness with joy.
“During the difficult period in which I was struggling with my “cloud of unknowing,” the largest thing which deterred me was that I saw so little clear light coming from those Christians who sought to bring me back into the fold.
“To be truly Christian means to see Christ everywhere, to know him as all in all.
“I don’t mean to water down my Christianity (Madeleine continues) into a vague kind of universalism, with Buddha and Mohammed all being more or less equal to Jesus—not at all! But neither do I want to tell God (or my friends) where he can and cannot be seen. We human beings far too often tend to codify God, to feel that we know where God is and where God is not, and this arrogance leads to such things as the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch burnings and has the result of further fragmenting an already broken Christendom.
“We live by revelation, which means we must be careful never to get set into rigid molds. The minute we begin to think we know all the answers, and forget the questions, we become smug like the Pharisee who listed all his considerable virtues and thanked God he was not like other men.”
I can’t rewrite the entire “Walking on Water” book, but I can say that Madeleine gives one permission to be both a believer and a doubter. She sees the sacred in the secular. To co-create with God is our human calling, whether through painting, writing, sculpting, or some other medium.
Because of her work, I have added “Evening Prayers” to my “Morning Prayers” schedule. She has validated to me that I do not have to be right; I just have to believe God is working in all people in many various and wonderful ways.
Have you been inspired by an author lately?