Friday, August 17, 2018

Three-Part Invention: a review of A Light So Lovely

Madeleine L’Engle made an impression on me when I read A Wrinkle in Time and the Austin novels as a child and young adult.  The books showed a loving family and gave me hope for the future.  As I grew older, I read her Crosswicks Journals, her adult novels, her other books, and the remainder of the later published Time series.  In all of them I found a hope that included neither the stringent boundaries, the black and white world, or the rigid structure of church.  Nor did it include the lack of structure present in my home with an alcoholic parent.  L’Engle brought me hope and freedom and was someone I went back to time and again to regain my perspective and maintain my faith.

As you can discern, I have been a long‐time admirer of L’Engle: the woman who had a lonely childhood, who lost her father while she was still a teenager, who had an alcoholic son, and a less than satisfying marriage.  But L’Engle was more than the sum of her life experiences.   She became to me an icon: an open door through which I could glimpse a wider world, breathe a breath of fresh air, and walk back into communion with Christ.  Like a gentle masseuse she took my twisted thoughts and stroked and pulled  them into a place where I could experience real life and love.  She taught me to appreciate both my strengths and my weaknesses.

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle by Sarah Arthur is a work of one part biography, one part anecdotes, and one part analysis.  The author has themed and divided the book into chapters based on the life and works of Madeleine L’Engle.  In each chapter the author shares some of her own life (as a writer, a book judge, a mother, a former youth pastor), gives us a brief partial biography of L’Engle, and relates interviews with writers who have met L’Engle (either in person or through her writings) and have been influenced and motivated by her, and traces L’Engle’s developing faith.  The book focuses on L’Engle’s appreciation of paradox in the areas of icon and iconoclast, creation and evolution, faith and science, fact and fiction, sacred and secular, and scripture or nothing.  Each paradox is a chapter and there is much here to stimulate thought and discussion.  Indeed, A Light So Lovely stimulated me to reread some of L’Engle’s works.

The book’s title comes from  L’Engle’s book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art where she wrote: “We draw people to Christ, not by loudly discrediting what they believe, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

L’Engle strove to be an icon, to show us that light so lovely, to draw us into a wider world and new ways of thinking much as the children in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis left a dark world at war and were drawn through a wardrobe into the wider and brighter world of Narnia.  Icons are a means to an end, but idols are the end.  Icons can come and go and be imperfect with strengths and weaknesses.  Idols must be kept at a distance because we don’t want our knowledge of their weaknesses to tarnish our vision. Icons open our view. Idols diminish it.  L’Engle was no idol.  Rather, she was an icon from whose books I could always return with a renewed and enlarged vision.  She was both an icon and a mentor to me and the others who benefitted from her works.

For those of us who have loved L’Engle and her works, this book renews our acquaintance.  For those who have never met her or who have read none or few of her works, A Light So Lovely is an introduction to L’Engle’s ways of thinking, her life, and the body of her work.  As it has done for me, I hope it encourages others to dig into L’Engle’s work and hopefully keep it in print for generations to come.

 I received this book free through a book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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