Madeleine L’Engle. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art. Preface by Sara Zarr. New York: Convergent Books, 2016. See here to buy the book.
Madeleine L’Engle is perhaps best known for her renowned children’s book, A Wrinkle in Time. It’s the novel that begins with the line, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
I have read some of L’Engle’s fiction, both from the Chronos series (which is more realistic) and the Kairos series (which has more fantasy and science fiction). I like those books, but the books by L’Engle that I especially love are the ones that have her musings—-about faith, life, family, and the world of writing. The Genesis Trilogy is like that, as is the series of books known as the Crosswicks Journals.
This book, Walking on Water, is in that genre. The book that I just read is a reprint of a book that was originally published in 1980. This 2016 reprint has a thoughtful preface by Sara Zarr, as well as a Reader’s Guide with discussion questions in the back.
Writing a review that does this book justice is difficult, for L’Engle has so many astute reflections and observations. In terms of the topics on which the book focuses, the subtitle is accurate when it says that they chiefly concern “faith and art.” L’Engle discusses such topics as what makes a book a children’s book or a Christian fiction book, how artists are faithful to a vision beyond themselves, and her experiences in reading the Bible as a story when she was a child.
Briefly in my reading of this book, I was plodding along, not fully identifying with L’Engle or what she was saying. She talked about her speaking engagements, and I thought, “Wow, it must be great to be famous!”
The turning point, for me, was when she compared old English liturgy with new English liturgy, finding the former to be much richer. For instance, she prefers the old “It is He who hath made us and not we ourselves” to the new “It is He who has made us and we belong to Him,” for the former highlights that we did not bring ourselves into being. When she talked about her loneliness as a child and how she took refuge in the world of story (both writing and reading), that endeared the book to me: “That’s the Madeleine L’Engle I love to read!”, I thought, “Honest, profound, and vulnerable!”
Some questions remain in my mind about her views on art. Is the art something separate from the artist—-a vision to which the artist must be faithful—-or does the artist’s creativity play some role in the formation of the art? She presents art as something that practically overtakes the artist, but she also talks about her experiences as a teacher and her attempts to encourage her students to write better fiction. Perhaps vision, creativity, and work all play a role in art, according to L’Engle.
My favorite line in the book is one that she quotes, from a man whose name was unknown to her: “God must be very great to have created a world which carries so many arguments against his existence.”
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Blogging for Books. My review is honest.