Madeleine L'Engle

My favorite author is Madeleine L'Engle.

Probably her most well-known book is "A Wrinkle in Time".  I enjoyed those books in that series, but it is her memoir writing that I think I enjoy the best.

She wrote a series of three books called the "Crosswicks Journals" that told the story of her and her husband Hugh Franklin moving to a big farmhouse in Connecticut, called Crosswicks, and living there.  It was a big move for a family who was used to living in Manhattan.  Hugh was an actor on the soap opera "All My Children".  He played Dr. Charles Tyler.

One of these books was called "The Summer of the Great Grandmother" and was about Madeleine's mother moving in with them, and how their family handled the fact she was going to die, and her death.  I always appreciated how she wrote about her mother's death, and how she made it seem a natural part of life.  I remember rereading this book when my dad was going to die, and it really helped me.

L'Engle is not only a favorite author of mine, but many of her writings helped form who I am today as a woman.  Her insights on life, her faith, and her Christian walk were quite a inspiration to me, and made a big impact on my Christian faith.

One of my favorite books of hers that I have read two or three times is called "Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art".    Here is what the description about the book says:

In this classic book, Madeleine L'Engle addresses the questions, What makes art Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian artist? What is the relationship between faith and art? Through L'Engle's beautiful and insightful essay, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one's own art.

Through reading this book, I had my first glimpse of what living a creative life was all about.  Here are some of the things she wrote about in this book.

“But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint of clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.”  


“In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, or God's glory with our own.”  


“The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver. In a very real sense the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command.

...I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, "Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me." And the artist either says, "My soul doth magnify the Lord," and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary.


As for Mary, she was little more than a child when the angel came to her; she had not lost her child's creative acceptance of the realities moving on the other side of the everyday world. We lose our ability to see angels as we grow older, and that is a tragic loss.”

“We live by revelation, as Christians, as artists, which means we must be careful never to get set into rigid molds. The minute we begin to think we know all the answers, we forget the questions, and we become smug like the Pharisee who listed all his considerable virtues, and thanked God that he was not like other men.

Unamuno might be describing the artist as well as the Christian as he writes, "Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”


“As Emmanuel, Cardinal Suhard says, "To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist.” 


“Creativity is a way of living life, no matter what our vocation, or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts...”  


“If the work comes to the artist and says, 'Here I am, serve me,' then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve. The amount of the artist's talent is not what it is about. Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the Paris Review, 'Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake'.”

The first time I visited New York City, one of the things we did was visit St. John the Divine Cathedral.  For many years, Madeleine L'Engle was the Writer in Residence at the Cathedral, and many of her young adult fiction books were written with the Cathedral as the setting.  It was wonderful to walk around the Cathedral, and the grounds, and catch a glimpse into L'Engle's world as that she created in her books.

Madeleine L'Engle's words make me want to serve the art....to not get in the way as I create a story.  Because that is the way living the creative life should be.....being obedient and humble about what is about to be created.

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