Saturday, September 15, 2007

to be...

Just after graduating from college, someone recommended I read Walking on Water by Madeleine L'engle. The book was enjoyable, but I swiftly moved on to other people’s words, never fully allowing hers to sink in. Sometime around 7th or 8th grade, I had skimmed A Wrinkle in Time. Other than those two instances, I hadn't paid Ms. L'engle much mind.

Back in the spring, I picked up a copy of A Circle of Quiet on a whim at a thrift store. The book sat on my shelf for months until I finally picked it up and decided we should spend some time together. I wasn't quite sure how I felt about pursuing the relationship, and didn’t want to give the wrong impression, so we started out casually over coffee.

Time changes people, and over time we may find our personalities oriented toward individuals we may not have been drawn to in earlier periods. My post-college flirtation with Madeline L’engle yielded nothing of significance, but in this season I found myself instantly smitten with her words. We soon became inseparable and, much to the chagrin of the other books on my nightstand, began seeing each other exclusively.

Themes of community, creativity and ontology were woven delicately amidst the stories of mundane existence. I had grown weary of always doing, and here was a gentle companion who championed the art of being. A Circle of Quiet is thick with advice on writing, and with acknowledgement of the symbiotic relationship between one’s life and writing. Interaction with the Other, be it other people, God or nature, prompts and inspires the stories we share.

Whether fiction or autobiography, Madeline L’engle wrote because she felt compelled to share her unique perspective of everyday experiences, her awe of the universe’s mysteries, her doubts and her faith. She did not view art as escapism, but rather believed it to be a collaborative and compelling interaction with the community in which we find ourselves. She saw acceptance of great responsibility in the writer’s willingness to respond to life.

The story comes, and it is pure story. That’s all I set out to write. But I don’t believe that we can write any kind of story without including, whether we intend to or not, our response to the world around us. The writing of a book may be a solitary business; it is done alone. The writer sits down with paper and pen, or typewriter, and, withdrawn from the world, tries to set down the story that is crying to be written. We write alone, but we do not write in isolation. No matter how fantastic a story line may be, it still comes out of our response to what is happening to us and to the world in which we live.

This book went to bed with me at night, awoke with me in the morning, and accompanied me along my day. Recognizing this was a special relationship, I wanted to read more. Seeking the help of the proprietor of our local used book store, I was able to secure used copies of all four books in the Crosswicks Journal series. Our bittersweet adieu came during a vacation to visit a friend, for whom I had secured the extra copy of book one. Though our liaison was ending, I vowed to give A Circle of Quiet one more read-through before I moved on to the other books in her series. There was too much there that had spoken to my heart and soul, and I did not want to cast it by the wayside as I moved on to other books-in-waiting.

Madeline L’engle moved on to fully BE with the Father on Thursday, September 6th at the age of 88. I imagine their conversation is delightful, filled with questions and the awe of revelation. I am grateful to the woman who refused to give up writing because of rejection, or to give into the fear that what she had to say really wasn’t all that significant. I am grateful to the woman who wasn’t afraid to doubt, or to live with the unanswered questions. I am grateful that she was.


Carrie said...

This is absolutely beautiful. I love this piece of writing. I also have to say that Circle of Quiet is my favorite of hers as well! Thanks for sharing!

methy said...

I am definitely tearing up...