I have decided to make Madeleine L’Engle my summer reading project. Usually I wait to write about an author in this blog till I have read a majority of her work to make sure that I am expressing her writing as accurately as I can. You may remember Madeleine L’Engle from A Wrinkle in Time, a book you probably read as a child. She wrote 40 or so other books so it is unlikely I will read all those this summer. Instead, I have decided to remind you about Madeleine L’Engle now and maybe, as I read books, I will add to this post and maybe you will, too.
In any case, if you read A Wrinkle in Time as a child, you may wish to read it again. It is a book that the some of the many publishers who rejected it thought would be too hard for children to understand. It turned out that it was too hard for many adults to understand and many of them attacked it as spiritually dangerous, especially those who were, themselves, spiritually dangerous due to being spiritually ignorant and afraid for people to think deeply about such topics as the nature of evil and the importance of questioning authority when authority is wrong. It’s a great book for all ages.
Madeleine L’Engle’s other books include poetry, memoirs and books of essays on art, faith, life, and more. Many of my favorite books of hers discuss faith. She wrote from the perspective of Christianity but I find that what she has to say relates to universal aspects of faith that anyone who has struggled to understand the challenges, as well as joys of life, from a spiritual perspective will find meaningful. She also considered her mission in life to be writing, so she also wrote extensively about creativity. Both of these she connected to love, but not in an easy, bestseller kind of way — Divine love is not easily understandable by humans and involves the free will of humanity to do unspeakably horrible things to one another, but it is also an infinite and personal caring for each individual. Love’s impulse is to create, whether this means making human beings or paintings or poems or casseroles.
(I will just mention that she does refer to the Divine as “God,” but she also wrote in The Irrational Season, way back in 1977, “It takes both male and female to make the image of God. The proper understanding of mankind is that it is only a poor, broken thing if either male or female is excluded.” She discusses the importance of both female and male aspects of Divinity throughout the book, which is one thing that makes it fascinating to me.)
This is how I understand her writing, but you need to read what she says for yourself because she revels in the universe’s chaotic power, the complexity of faith and creativity and morality and the conundrum of how all these play out in our daily lives as if every morning we wake up to be the main character in the most dramatic and vitally important novel ever written. Her universe is too immense for one person’s subjective interpretation; you need to experience for yourself what she says and think about what it means to you. Two of the books you might like to get a small taste of Madeleine L’Engle’s writings on faith and art are Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, and The Irrational Season, which contains essays on various days and seasons in the Christian calendar and which has a lot to say about spirituality and faith no matter what your religious affiliation.
Ms. L’Engle’s daily life was the inspiration for a series of autobiographical books about her early life, her marriage, the loss of a beloved elderly relative and more. Some of these are A Circle of Quiet, The Summer of the Great-grandmother, and Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage. To her, daily life was important and much of what I love about her work is how she relates her beliefs and ideas to how we decide to live every day. Her own life included success and failure, great joy, tragedy and the sadness of loss, raising a family, and careers as an actress, author, general store keeper, teacher and lecturer, and librarian at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. She was a woman who could relate to almost all women in some way, she lived our challenges and brings us her honest insight as we make our way through our own lives.
As you wander through libraries and bookstores this summer, reach for some of Madeleine L’Engle’s books and see what she has to say to you. If you find favorites, comment about them here. I would love to know what you found especially meaningful as I create my own summer reading booklist.