The Wisdom of Madeleine L'Engle

33333.jpg

Madeleine L'Engle was both intellectual and mystic, advocate and contemplative. Her work and her life were layered with complexity and nuance. From her genre-bending young adult science fiction to her musings on God and art, L'Engle's legacy lingers in American culture. In all cases, her work was provocative; in some, controversial. And in honor of her recent birthday, FORMA presents a commonplace sampling of L'Engle's prolific and extraordinary body of work.

***

L'Engle on Writing

“I have advice for people who want to write. I don't care whether they're 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can't be a writer if you're not a reader. It's the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it's for only half an hour — write, write, write.”

- from Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life

“When we write and are published, we become naked before people. And that means we are open to criticism. That’s a risk you have to take. If you write a book that says something and it pleases everybody, you’ve failed . . . If you’re going to write and be published, you’ve got to expect to have a few arrows thrown at you. They’re going to hurt, and you’re going to bleed. You’re probably going to cry if you’re like me. But that’s just part of it and you have to learn.”

- from Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life


L'Engle on Faith

“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.”

“A winter ago I had an after-school seminar for high-school students and in one of the early sessions Una, a brilliant fifteen-year-old, a born writer who came to Harlem from Panama five years ago, and only then discovered the conflict between races, asked me, "Mrs. Franklin, do you really and truly believe in God with no doubts at all?"
"Oh, Una, I really and truly believe in God with all kinds of doubts. But I base my life on this belief.”

- from A Circle of Quiet

“Questions are disturbing, especially those which may threaten our traditions, our institutions, our security. But questions never threaten the living God, who is constantly calling us, and who affirms for us that love is stronger than hate, blessings stronger than cursing.”

-from Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts and Reflections


L'Engle on Art

“The journey homewards. Coming home. That's what it's all about. The journey to the coming of the Kingdom. That's probably the chief difference between the Christian and the secular artist--the purpose of the work, be it story or music or painting, is to further the coming of the kingdom, to make us aware of our status as children of God, and to turn our feet toward home.”

-from Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

“If our lives are truly "hid with Christ in God," the astounding thing is that this hiddenness is revealed in all that we do and say and write. What we are is going to be visible in our art, no matter how secular (on the surface) the subject may be.”

- from Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

“Basically there can be no categories such as 'religious' art and 'secular' art, because all true art is incarnational, and therefore 'religious.”

- from Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art


L'Engle on Imagination

“It is...through the world of the imagination which takes us beyond the restrictions of provable fact, that we touch the hem of truth.”

- from A Circle of Quiet

“Stories are able to help us to become more whole, to become Named. And Naming is one of the impulses behind all art; to give a name to the cosmos, we see despite all the chaos.”

- from Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

“And we're not alone, you know, children," came Mrs. Whatsit, the comforter. "All through the universe, it's being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it's a grand and exciting battle. I know it's hard for you to understand about size, how there's very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy. You think about that, and maybe it won't seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and it's a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be proud that it's done so well."

"Who have our fighters been? Calvin asked.

"Oh, you must know them, dear," Mrs. Whatsit said.

Mrs. Who's spectacles shone out at them triumphantly. "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

"Jesus!" Charles Wallace said. "Why of course, Jesus!"

"Of course!" Mrs. Whatsit said. "Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They've been lights for us to see by.”

- from A Wrinkle in Time


L'Engle on Christian Witness

“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

- from A Circle of Quiet

“Two people whose opinion I respect told me that the word "Christian" would turn people off. This certainly says something about the state of Christianity today. I wouldn't mind if to be a Christian were accepted as being the dangerous thing which it is; I wouldn't mind if, when a group of Christians meet for bread and wine, we might well be interrupted and jailed for subversive activities; I wouldn't mind if, once again, we were being thrown to the lions. I do mind, desperately, that the word "Christian" means for so many people smugness, and piosity, and holier-than-thouness. Who today can recognize a Christian because of "how those Christians love one another?”

- from A Circle of Quiet


L'Engle on Marriage

“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I've been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again — till next time. I've learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won't stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.”

- from Two Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

“Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take. It is indeed a fearful gamble. Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created, so that, together we become a new creature. To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take. If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation. It takes a lifetime to learn another person. When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling, and which implies such risk that it is often rejected.”

- from The Irrational Season


L'Engle on The Good Life

“'Aren't you sorry for people who don't laugh, Vicky?'

"Yes. And people who don't love music and books."

"And people," John said.

- from Meet the Austins