September 6 — Madeleine L’Engle

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Today’s Bible reading

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.1 Corinthians 2:6-13

More thoughts for mediation about Madeleine L’Engle (Nov. 29, 1918 – Sep. 6, 2007)

“If we are willing to live by Scripture, we must be willing to live by paradox and contradiction and surprise.” Madeleine L’Engle said it, and she certainly lived by it.

Formidable in personality and far-ranging in accomplishments, L’Engle wrote more than 60 books, including novels, poetry, memoir, essays, sermons, commentaries, and creative nonfiction. She is best known for A Wrinkle in Time, the first novel in the Time Quintet, but she may be best loved for Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, her breathtaking opus on the creative process. In it, she writes, “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.”

L’Engle refused to be “forced into either/or.” Her life and work reflects this: Icon and Iconoclast, Sacred and Secular, Truth and Story, Faith and Science, Religion and Art, Fact and Fiction. She showed a clear preference for risk over certainty, narrative over affirmation, and questions over answers.

L’Engle’s refusal to be pigeonholed had a tumultuous effect on her life and career. The mixed reception of A Wrinkle in Time is one example. Wrinkle is clearly, unequivocally Christian, enough to make non-religious readers squirm. Lois Lowry, a celebrated children’s author, has expressed doubt that the book would even be published today. “In the world of literature, Christianity is no longer respectable,” wrote L’Engle. “When I am referred to in an article or a review as a ‘practicing Christian,’ it is seldom meant as a compliment.”

But censorship of her work from Christian critics has been just as ferocious. A Wrinkle in Time has been labeled “spiritual poison” and banned by believers who accuse her of promoting witchcraft, goddess worship, divination, and a host of similar heresies. Similar criticism was aimed at C. S. Lewis. Both have been denounced by people of faith, scorned by the literati, and banned from libraries. Both worked as lay evangelists and apologists. Both reclaimed myth and championed the arts. Both wrote in multiple genres, and both remain notoriously difficult to categorize. One more comparison worth sharing: Both Lewis and L’Engle wrote in reaction to the prevailing assumptions of modernism. Biographer Sarah Arthur observes:

To combat [modernist assumptions], Lewis mined back into the riches of tradition—the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche for his novel Till We Have Faces, for instance, or from Plato and Aristotle’s universal moral law in The Abolition of Man—in order to glean insights about God and human nature that had been dismissed or forgotten. L’Engle, by contrast, pressed forward into the mysteries of scientific discovery. …She engaged science to show just how small, how relative, how limited our view of God has been in light of the wonders of an astonishing universe.

Although she once considered herself an atheist, after L’Engle became a Christian she had a daily practice of reading the Bible and praying. Her granddaughter said L’Engle’s coming to her faith was slower “acceptance of what she had always known to be true,” rather than a sudden conversion moment.“She was a Christian because she was deeply rooted in its traditions and language, and she was moved by and trusted in its stories,” Although L’Engle did not like denominational labels, she mostly attended Episcopal churches, serving for four decades as a librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.


  • “Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys,”—  Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.
  • The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.
  • You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.
  • Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.
  • Some things have to be believed to be seen.
  • I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.


Interesting PBS show on L’Engle [link]

A video (one of a set) on L’Engle talking about faith and doubt. [link]

Hollywood made sure there was little God and certainly no Jesus in the movie:

Suggestions for action

L’Engle loved the childlike qualities, still resident in all of us, that could be called upon to meet the wonder of being creatures of a loving God. We have often quoted her during Advent, even making art from the quote: This is the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild. / Had Mary been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the child.

As you explore her work, even the little snippets on this page, let yourself be full of the child, both child and Child. She spent her life meditating for us and provides a wonderful resource for our own deeper journey. Slow down with her and let yourself go deeper.

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