Walking on Water: Writing, Faith, Art, and More Madeleine L’Engle

If you’re a Christian and an artist of any kind, especially if you’re a writer, you really and truly need to read Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.  The book is remarkable–thought-provoking and challenging in the very best ways.

L’Engle discusses what makes good art, what distinguishes Christian art from non-Christian (and isn’t afraid to say that bad art is bad religion no matter how many times you said something Jesus-y in it), the artist’s struggle with giving up control, and the need to allow ourselves time to just be.

This last piece is something I see as necessary but very difficult to put into practice.  L’Engle writes that our spiritual health and our creativity require a break from busyness and making time to just be, and suggests that we need to stop feeling guilty for taking that time.  I find personally that when I’m getting really stressed and frantic, I feel the need to find thinking time more and more acutely.  And the longer I go without down time to think deeply about things, the more fuzzy-headed I get.

As a result of reading this book, I’ve tried to think up some ways to make time for thinking and being (if you want to be more business-like about it, you could call this “strategic thinking time”). For example, I’m making notes of things I want to consider, printing out notes and articles I want to think about more deeply, and putting them into a folder.  So far, that’s as far as I’ve gotten, but my idea is to set aside 15 minutes to half an hour of my work time each day to go through something in that folder.  I will let you know if it helps, should I actually get to the point of allowing myself to open the folder!

In any case, I highly, highly recommend Walking on Water.

Because I’m now such a huge Madeleine L’Engle fan, I checked out Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life.  However, once I got it home from the library I realized it was not another book by L’Engle, but rather a compilation of quotes taken from her other works.  This was a disappointment to me, because while I enjoy quotes, and took a vast number of pages of them down while reading other L’Engle books, I prefer to read her essays in their entirety.  When you just get a quote that someone else thought was important, you miss the whole development of the argument, and the quote often loses much of its weight.

That said, because some of the quotes were from books I had already read but others were taken from transcriptions of lectures or writing seminars L’Engle gave, I decided to keep reading.  Because I did so, I did gather some good points that made the reading worthwhile.  However, if you’re not also a L’Engle fan or aren’t really into writing, you could probably skip this book.

Having read so much of her non-fiction, I decided to re-read some of L’Engle’s novels.  I remember reading the Wrinkle in Time series as a kid and wondered if it would be a good thing to recommend for Hannah.

I totally enjoyed re-reading these books from an adult perspective.  I do think that thematically they might be better for Hannah when she’s older. In case you’ve forgotten, the Time Quintet includes:

  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • A Wind in the Door
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet
  • Many Waters (I liked the concept of this book so much when I first read it as a child, and have often thought of it since.  I liked it just as much as an adult.)
  • An Acceptable Time (I don’t remember if I hated this book as a kid, but I found it annoying as an adult–the main character is Polly, the child of Meg and Calvin from the earlier books in the series.  Chronologically this book comes after the O’Keefe series below.)
I also read the O’Keefe series of books, which follow the children of Meg and Calvin from the first four books of the time quintet.  These are less about time but still about science and ethics.  They are more like mysteries.  I really enjoyed the first two but basically couldn’t stand the last one because of how annoying the character of Polly becomes.  The series includes:
  • The Arm of the Starfish
  • Dragons in the Waters
  • A House Like a Lotus – Really, I would not recommend this book for children or even teenagers, unless you’re ready to read it with them and discuss it.  While it handles some issues very well I was frankly appalled by how casually a relationship between an older man (mid to late 20s) and a 16 year old girl was handled.  For one thing that the character’s parents allowed her to go out with an adult man, for another that the “love” scene was portrayed as no big deal when it was actually predatory and exploitative, to say nothing of illegal.  If my child was reading about it, I would want to be sure he or she understood that a situation like that would NOT be normal, healthy, legal, or moral.  It seems out of character for L’Engle to have written it, and the book itself is not as well written as her other books.  I really think you could, and probably should, just skip it entirely.
If you haven’t ever read them, I’d recommend most of the books, and if you read them as a child I think you’d still enjoy them as an adult.  I’m not someone who generally enjoys YA, but L’Engle’s approach was to write a good story, rather than setting out to write books for a particular age of audience, and I think that might be why I liked them.
Two questions for you:
1)  What books do you remember reading and loving as a child?
2) Do you make time for thinking or to just be?  If so, how do you do that?


5 thoughts on “Walking on Water: Writing, Faith, Art, and More Madeleine L’Engle

  1. Thanks for the recommendation! The theme of Walking on Water sounds like it would make a great gift for my husband (and for me to read as well)–we both greatly appreciate the value of just being, especially in conjunction with creative work. And it’s hard to be consistent with it for us, but we’ve come to recognize when the urgency is increasing (before reaching the exhausted/frazzled stage). We take “personal days” or half-days during which we can read, plan, pray, and/or just think. We try to alternate months, but realistically, these have become more of a two-or-three-times-a-year event for each of us. But having a mid-afternoon rest time for myself–cup of tea, book, journal, or whatever strikes my fancy–also is wonderful rejuvenation. In the summer, I garden so my reading/writing decreases, but weeding and watering with a hose (especially first thing in the morning) are wonderful “being” activities to accompany good thinking.

    And as for well-loved books, no blog comment is truly long enough! But The Hobbit, Chronicles of Narnia, the Little House series, Secret Garden (my sick day book), Watership Down, the Melendy books (The Saturdays, etc.), King of the Wind, Shoo-Fly Girl by Lois Lenski, and many more were read countless times!

  2. I read “Walking on Water” during vacation a couple of years ago. For the rest of that vacation it was easy to incorporate time for being. On a daily basis, it’s one of those things that I know I’d be better off for doing, but I’m not so good at actually doing it!

    Sadly, I was not a reader as a kid. I am enjoying reading with my children many of the books I wish I’d read as a child. As much as I like L’ Engle’s non-fiction, though, I didn’t care for “A Wrinkle in Time” when I read it as a child or as an adult.

  3. I’m developing a love for her books and just finished “A Severed Wasp” and the one before that, “The Small Rain.” Excellent.
    I do not take time for thinking. It just seems to be this season of life for me. I really, really miss such a thing and I think part of my poor outlook on things is due to this absence. Sigh.
    Too many favorites to mention, but the Little House Series and books by Cynthia Voigt jump to mind.

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