Madeleine L’ Engle (November 29, 1918-September 6, 2007)

I never finished Madeleine L’ Engle’s Wrinkle in Time. The first book of hers that I encountered was not even in that series: it was about a shy girl at a new school, and that drew me because you usually do not see shy people as the main characters of books or movies. But, overall, I had difficulty getting into her fiction.

But her Genesis Trilogy knocked my socks off. It was my spiritual food during my second and third years at Harvard. Basically, these three books were her ruminations on the Book of Genesis. But that was not all. She loved to go on tangents, talking about her day-to-day life, current events, her thoughts on God, and her late husband, who played a doctor on the soap All My Children. She was probably the most open author whom I have ever read. She shared her struggles to live a Christian life and to become a better person. Like many of us, she tried to love the unloveable and value everyone as God does. And, like me, she wrestled with shyness. I remember her story about her first lecture and how she literally grabbed the podium throughout her speech. But she eventually concluded that her shyness was a form of selfishness. I am not sure if I would totally apply that to myself, but I should think about the extent to which the shoe fits.

The first book of the Genesis Trilogy that I read was about the Joseph story. What intrigued me was that she tried to write from the perspective of the characters. There was Reuben, the neglected firstborn who had a romance with Jacob’s maidservant. There was Dinah, a woman drawn to paganism who did not understand her father’s male God. There was the priest of On, who worshipped the sun and yet was intrigued by the God whom Joseph served. And there was God, who was with the characters throughout the entire journey.

One part of the trilogy that often enters my mind is her comment on Gad. She was discussing the twelve sons of Jacob, and she came to Gad. She said that we do not know much about Gad, but we do know one thing: he had access to the divine logos that permeated the world. She was obviously grasping for straws–she had to say something about Gad–but she was revealing her theology: she viewed God as one who loves, binds, and has a plan for every human being, and even all creation. As her critics pointed out, she flirted with universalism, and I cannot accept such a doctrine as Scriptural. But I have problems with the conservative Christian view (or one CC view) that God is not lovingly involved in the non-Christian world.

She made me think about this issue. She related that she was talking to a group of Southern Baptists, who were grilling her on her universalism. She asked them if they were perfect, and she challenged them to make two columns: one that had Bible passages about God’s wrath, and another that had Bible passages about God’s love and mercy. She thought that the second list would outnumber the first. At the time, I was reading Ezekiel for my weekly quiet time, and my reaction to Madeleine was “Not so fast!” I think the wrath passages slightly outnumber the love passages.

Some day, I might give a Wrinkle in Time another shot. We like the books that speak to us where we are, and a book that I did not like a few years ago may speak to me in this stage of my life. But the Genesis Trilogy touched me during my Harvard years. For that, I’d like to say to Madeleine L’Engle, “Thank you.”

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
This entry was posted in Books, Current Events, Deaths, Madeleine L'Engle, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Madeleine L’ Engle (November 29, 1918-September 6, 2007)

  1. Esther says:

    Just ordered Genesis Trilogy on Amazon – thanks for the recommendation!

    I would recommend trying A Wrinkle in Time once more. I too identified with L’Engle’s shy, introspective, often insecure and not obviously attractive protagonists. There is a part in aWiT that resonated with me, that may resonate with you too. Before sending the children into grave danger on Camazotz, Mrs Whatsit gives them each a gift. Meg’s gift is her own faults. The things that Meg dislikes about herself and tries unsuccessfully to shed – her anger, impatience, and inability to fit in – turn out to be the very traits that enable her to resist ITs seductive pull.

    Just got back from Sea-Tac. Write you back tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Actually, I read the book in Christmas of that year (2007), along with the two sequels. You’re right—-the book SHOULD resonate with me. For some reason, though, I struggle with her fiction. I love her non-fiction, though. If you’re looking for more of that, I also recommend the Crosswicks Journals, which is a series that she wrote of her meanderings. Reading one of those passed the time while I was waiting in a train station after taking a comprehensive examination.

    Like

  3. Esther says:

    Interesting. I’ve read The Irrational Season and found her writing sensitive and insightful as always, but for some reason I prefer her fiction. I’m sure she’s happy, though, that there are readers who connect with her fiction AND her non-fiction!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Yeah, that is one of the Crosswicks Journals.

    Like

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