Saturday, September 08, 2007

More About Madeleine L'Engle

In looking for more reflections on Madeleine L'Engle's life and work, I found a web interview that Newsweek magazine did. It's from the three years ago. I include not the whole, but parts. For the whole interview, go to

What are you working on at the moment? A book about aging: enjoy it, you might as well. And it’s not all bad. I can say what I want, and I don’t get punished for it.

Such as? Such as I sometimes think God is a s--t—and he wouldn’t be worth it otherwise. He’s much more interesting when he’s a s--t.

So to you, faith is not a comfort? Good heavens, no. It’s a challenge: I dare you to believe in God. I dare you to think [our existence] wasn’t an accident. Many people see faith as anti-intellectual.Then they’re not very bright. It takes a lot of intellect to have faith, which is why so many people only have religiosity.

What are you against? Narrow-mindedness. I’m against people taking the Bible absolutely literally, rather than letting some of it be real fantasy, like Jonah. You know, the whole story of David is a novel … Faith is best expressed in story.

If the Bible is not literally true, does that mean we don’t need to take it seriously? Oh no, you do, because it’s truth, not fact, and you have to take truth seriously even when it expands beyond the facts.

So when you call the Bible a book of stories, you’re not diminishing it? Anything but. Right from the beginning, from the story of Eve. Eve has gone on to be considered far worse than she is in the direct Bible story—and David far better. I love the story of Jonah; I think it’s very funny. And I like the story of Esther, as long as you stop about a quarter of the way through, before she turns into a real bloody girl.

I always felt sorry for Vashti, though—the first Mrs. Ahasuerus. All she did was refuse to dance. Yes, she gets forgotten. But that was a very big thing she did, refuse to dance. Enormous.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Thank You Madeleine and God Bless You!

One of my very favorite authors died today, Madeleine L'Engle. In its obituary posted today, The New York Times wrote: "Her works — poetry, plays, autobiography and books on prayer — were deeply, quixotically personal. But it was in her vivid children’s characters that readers most clearly glimpsed her passionate search for the questions that mattered most."

I knew this day would come eventually. She was 88 years old. But I kept hoping she would be around to write just one more, maybe two more books.

I first discovered her books when I was a young teenager. My mother had purchased a subscription for hard covered "classics" for me and my two sisters. A Wrinkle in Time was among these treasured books that I read and reread.

When I reached young adulthood I still found in Madeleine's adolescent novels ideas that stirred my heart and stories that helped me dream. As I grew older I began reading her adult novels, her journals and nonfiction articles. Never was I disappointed by her writing. There was always something for me to glean.

One of my favorite books has always been A Ring of Endless Light. In The Washington Post in 1980, Carol Van Strum wrote: “The cosmic battle between light and darkness, good and evil, love and indifference, personified in the mythic fantasies of the ‘Wrinkle in Time’ series, here is waged compellingly in its rightful place: within ourselves."

In Seminary, I convinced the Dean of the Chapel to supervise an independent study of L'Engle's works. As I reread books and journals, as I looked for more information about this woman, I came to understand more and more how her writing had impacted my faith. She is always so clear in asking the important questions, in admitting her own lack of answers, and in sharing the insights that she has found.

I regret that there will be no more new books from Madeleine L'Engle, but I thank God for her faithful witness, her creative inspiration and the joy that her gifts have given me.

“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

On Overcoming...

The Friday Five from the Rev Gals is a bit more serious this week. From the author of the questions, I am preparing this Friday 5 just before I take Chris into hospital for a cardioversion, right now we are all a little apprehensive. But this whole thing has got me thinking, so many of us are overcomers in one way or another, so many have amazing stories to tell of God's faithfulness in adversity. And so I bring you this Friday Five.

Have you experienced God's faithfulness at a difficult time? Tell as much or as little as you like... Yes, but it was not a thunderbolt kind of thing. A dear friend died unexpectedly during my second year at seminary. Gunhild was a mentor, a care giver, an inspiration and a friend to me and she was also an unabashed athiest. Raised in the early part of the last century, her father had made sure she was baptized but as a child he taught her to think that church was probably a lot of bunk. There were a lot of things that happened in her life that made it hard for Gunhild to imagine that there really is/was a God who loved her and the rest of the world. One chief example being the Holocaust. Gunhild's husband escaped from Austria at the beginning of World War II. With the exception of an uncle and brother, the rest of his family died in Auschwitz. When she died, I really struggled with trying to understand what had happened to my bright, caring compassionate friend. A foolish classmate said that if she had rejected her baptism, God would reject her. For months I struggled to believe in a God who would do such a thing. I thought I had lost my faith. But through what seems to me like a very strange set of circumstances, I found myself at a conference on death and dying. The speaker that morning talked about the fact that many faithful people find it almost impossible to express anger at God when a loved one dies. And since they can't get angry with God, they begin to think that maybe there is no God. A light went off for me at that point. It wasn't that I didn't believe, I was just really pissed. God was faithful to me. God was faithful to Gunhild. And I am ever so grateful.

Have you experienced a dark night of the soul, if so what brought you through? In part the wonders of therapy and medicine. In truth, remaining within the community of the faithful even when I wanted to go hide under my bed or run away from home.

Share a Bible verse, song, poem that has brought you comfort? When I couldn't pray any other prayers, I could always pray, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless....."

Is "why suffering" a valid question? As we try to understand and grow within our relationship to God and other people I don't think there can be any invalid questions. We may not however, like the valid answers. I don't believe suffering is a punishment. It's simply part of the human condition. And God will not leave us alone in times of trouble.

And on a lighter note- you have reached the end of a dark and difficult time- how are you going to celebrate? The things that have been difficult have not usually had a finite ending where I could stop to celebrate. But I laugh more now than I did eight years ago. The "happy pills" are really helpful. ;-)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Blue air all around...

We went to a back yard barbeque today. And there were folks smoking. A pipe, two cigars and one guy with a little tupperware box rolling his own cigarettes. As a closet smoker, (I know it's really, really bad for me,) I was a little fascinated by the variety of smoke wafting through the air. The cross currents through the yard were really interesting. The hostess was a little peaved with her hubby- he brought out the cigars. And for some reason it made me think of a scene from "Agnes of God."

It is out in the back of the convent near the belltower. Mother Miriam and Martha are sitting there talking. Martha is smoking.

MARTHA Does my smoking bother you?

MOTHER MIRIAM No, it reminds me.
MARTHA Would you like one? Huh?

MOTHER MIRIAM I'd love one. Martha hands her a cigarette and lights it for her. Mother Miriam coughs a lot. Martha pats her on the back.

MOTHER MIRIAM I'm out of prac... (cough) ... practice. (cough)

MARTHA All right?
MOTHER MIRIAM Fine thanks...
MARTHA Do you suppose the saints would have smoked if tobacco had been popular back then?

MOTHER MIRIAM Undoubtedly. Not the ascetics of course but, well Saint Thomas More...

MARTHA (chuckles) Long, thin and filtered.

MOTHER MIRIAM Saint Ignatius would smoke cigars and stub them out on the soles of his bare feet. (they roar with laughter) And of course

MARTHA Hand rolled.

MOTHER MIRIAM Even Christ would partake socially.

MARTHA Saint Peter?


MARTHA Right...

MOTHER MIRIAM Mary Magdelen?

MARTHA (imitating) Oh, you've come a long way baby.

MOTHER MIRIAM And Saint John would chew tobacco.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Leaning to the Middle

It is almost Labor Day and I am thinking of my father-in-law. Labor Day was always a time when he fired up the grill making ribs or pork steaks. Christmas brought his famous fudge, chocolate chip cookies by the dozen and the best Chex mix on the planet. (He used the expensive mixed nuts and real butter!) We miss Dad but most often I miss him on these barbecue holidays. Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. So in his memory, some words from a Springtime sermon.

Two years ago, my father-in-law died of cancer. He had stubbornly stayed away from the doctor and by the time he started to feel really sick, it was too late to do anything.

He spent the last month of his life in the hospital. And my sister-in-law worried about him being by himself. And it was hard to imagine Dad in a lonely hospital room.

But she needn’t have worried. His pastor came to visit every day. His buddies from the church bowling team came by. Old friends and family sent cards and letters. Customers from his handy man business, called my mother-in-law to check on her and Dad.

There were times when he was alone in his room, but he wasn’t lost or forlorn. Dad knew that his family, his friends and his church loved him dearly. He had their prayers and their support.

A friend of mine used to say that when times are tough, we need to lean to the middle. That way we prop each other up even when we are our most weary selves. We lean to the middle and nobody falls.