Madeleine L’engle died September 6, 2007. I was at work, producing entertainment news, and came across the wire of her obituary with a shock that was a kick to my stomach. My nose swelled with the pressure of sudden tears. I made it to the bathroom and then called my sister Christina, my parents, and my best friend Caroline, the people who would understand that I felt I’d lost a dear friend.
Without her knowing it, Madeleine was like a god-mother to me, a spiritual and creative mentor. The ways she influenced my life are innumerable. Quotes come to mind of books I’ve read so many times that I’ve absorbed them into my being.
Being. Ontological – the word about being, as I learned from L’engle’s Crosswick journals. How important it is to remember our being, as opposed to all the doing we get caught up in.
Tesseract – the possibilities of traveling through time and space. Falling in love with Einsten, expanding my understanding of relativity of time. The creative wonder of Troubling A Star and the theory of the butterfly effect, the discovery that disaster literally means “separation from the stars.” That we are made of the same stuff as stars, and how beautiful that is, and enhances my understanding of being a part of creation.
The love of words. Words to capture the beauty and pain and chaos and meaning of life. To reclaim the word myth not as a lie or a made-up story, but as story that illuminates truth. The importance of words and language and story. “When language becomes exhausted, our freedom dwindles – we cannot think; we do not recognize danger; injustice strikes us as no more than ‘the way things are.’” (Walking on Water) Madeleine’s writing, both fiction and essay, opened her life to us, the connection I feel is from her willingness to bare her thoughts and soul on paper, to share with as many as were willing to take her in. To share her experience on art and marriage and family.
As a teen I found myself and felt understood in the character of Vicky Austin, struggling with death and beauty and adolescence and the singing of dolphins. Stories that expand my imagination as I learn to embrace the mystery of the cosmos and God. Kything – communication on a different plane than speaking.
Returning to Katherine Forrester’s world in The Small Rain when I need to both escape and go home. Living fully. “How many of us really want life, life more abundant, life which does not promise any fringe benefits or early retirement plans? Life which does not promise the absence of pain, or love which is not vulnerable and open to hurt?” (Walking On Water)
Madeleine told the truth, risking herself before her readers, sharing her life, her insights, her joys and weaknesses so that I felt I knew her as a friend and mentor.
“The ability to be aware of our tiny, yet significant part in the interdependence of all of God’s creation returns, and one’s mind naturally turns to cosmic question, rather than answers.
… But mortal time is part of cosmic time, and during that short walk we are given glimpses of eternity, eternity which was before time began, and will be after time ends. The Word who moved into time for us and lived with us, lives, as Christ, in eternity; so, when we live in Christ, when Christ lives in us we, too, are free from time and alive in eternity.”
- And It was Good – Reflections on Beginnings
“… whereas my Trinitarian God is frequently unreasonable and intellectually offensive – and yet speaks to the whole of me, mind and heart, intellect and intuition, and speaks most clearly to that element in me which accepts the incomprehensible beauty of love: married love, the loves of friendship, to that element in me which participates in music, poetry, painting.”
- The Irrational Season
“Perhaps the morning stars still sing together, only we have forgotten the language, as we have forgotten so much else, limiting Christianity to a mere two thousand years.”
- The Irrational Season
I started reading L’engle at the time I started sensing questions about life, faith, church, religion, friends and family. Rather than provide easy answers, her books reassured me that it was normal, yes, even good, to live with questions and doubts and ambiguities in faith. That God was big enough for my questions.
She introduced me to the mystery inherent in faith, to accept that I will not have all the answers, that much is beyond my human comprehension. Not only to accept that, but to live in it, to dwell in the mystery, dance and revel in the mystery. Acceptable and good to find God speaking in ways that the modern church does not teach – through our own work and creativity and stories, that, if we listen to the truth they try to teach us, will guide us back to creative order, to truth, to, above all else, love.
In Walking on Water L’engle introduced me to Francis Bacon’s idea that, “’If we begin with certainties, we will end in doubt. But if we begin with doubts and bear them patiently, we may end in certainty.’
… Love, not answers.”
That is the one word I can find to describe L’engle’s work: love.