Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L'Engle
To end a perfect day, one of the conference board members read a quote from Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water. It talked about submitting ourselves to the process of carrying and giving life to a creative work, just as Mary submitted herself to carrying and giving birth to Christ.
While L'Engle isn't trying to put fiction writing on the same level as Jesus' birth, carrying and giving life to something is exactly what writing a book feels like.
So when I saw Walking on Water come up for review, you bet I grabbed it.
Madeleine's book is full of food for inspiration, moments that resonate, and encouragement for Christian artists. Writing about Christian art was difficult for her. She found Christianity in art by Christians and by secular people, regardless of their faith. I think I would agree. Some songs both Christian and secular move me very deeply, books both Christian and classic resonate with my soul. That is simply because they are good and full of truth about the world.
This book is full of thoughts that are hard to summarize but rich to read about: thoughts on political correctness, God's healing through art, and the sense of wonder that the Christian art requires. Madeleine told herself stories to heal the pain of things she did not understand. I deeply resonated with that as well, but I'll save more thoughts on that for a stand alone article, hopefully next week. She gives anecdotes about her life and different writers she met, and books she worked on, all fascinating to consider. Her words have a warm, friendly, deep thinking style.
Along with the inspiring paragraphs, there are sections that are confusing. Sometimes there were thoughts about communion I downright disagreed with. Sometimes I didn't understand what she meant or how a particular thought connected. She writes in a very personal, conversational style that would probably take me more than one reading to wrap my mind around. But in spite of that, I often found myself giving a resounding yes to things I did understand. Madeleine is Catholic and I am not, but I didn't find her Catholicism overwhelming to the content. Her mind is one it would be intimidating to converse with, though she seems very kind.
My favorite chapter by far was Chapter 11. In this chapter she is talking about the idea of being a servant of the stories, and how the stories know more about how they are to be written and what should be in them than the author does. For instance, the story will tell her what it needs, if it's a knowledge of physics or cellular biology, and she will study that thing. She doesn't take what she knows and pour it into a book. She takes what the book needs and learns it.
In chapter 11, Madeleine told several anecdotes about unexpected characters that popped onto her page and made her work so much more vibrant and complete than her original idea without them. She also told a beautiful story about making an unlikely situation in her book, and finding out that something like it had actually occurred in history. "Miracles" as she calls them, of fiction matching up with true life can indeed take place. I have happy first-hand accounts in my own stories of those things happening without my prior planning.
Walking on Water will give you much to ponder about Christian art. Some of it will be confusing, but all of it will be deep and worthy of consideration. I enjoyed it, and it's an easy read, so I recommend all Christian artists give it a try. Perhaps this statement of hers summarizes the book best:
"I have often been asked if my Christianity affects my stories, and surely it is the other way around; my stories affect my Christianity...." Madeleine L'Engle (2016) Walking on Water, pg. 96. Convergent Books.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.