Saturday, September 8, 2007

Creativity: Madeleine L'Engle, 1918-2007

It has only been within the last two weeks that I finished reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. When I heard about her death on Thursday, I choked up and whispered a “thank you” to her. Walking on Water is one of the most life-affirming, creativity-affirming, and art-affirming books I have read.

Only my two-year-old was with me, sitting at the kitchen table on which I had my computer, which I used to view the news stories and the Wikipedia entry about L’Engle. Although I never met L’Engle, I think I said something like, “One of daddy’s friends died,” and my face briefly contorted toward a cry, but little Sadie laughed, thinking I was clowning. Childlike laughter might be the best way to remember L’Engle.

She proved that childlikeness can be intelligent and broad-minded. Like comedians, children’s writers are often overlooked in the intellectual realm, yet they have both serious and playful minds. Here are some of the passages I underlined in Walking on Water.

Our work should be our play. If we watch a child at play for a few minutes, “seriously” at play, we see that all his energies are concentrated on it. He is working very hard at it. And that is how the artist works, although the artist may be conscious of discipline while the child simply experiences it.


When I am working, I move into an area of faith which is beyond the conscious control of my intellect. I do not mean that I discard my intellect, that I am an anti-intellectual, gung-ho for intuition and intuition only. Like it or not, I am an intellectual. The challenge is to let my intellect work for the creative act, not against it. And this means, first of all, that I must have more faith in the work than I have in myself.


…I try to take time to let go, to listen, in much the same way that I listen when I am writing. This is praying time, and the act of listening in prayer is the same act as listening in writing.

And this fragment, which could be a life goal:

…accepting the discipline of listening, or training the ability to recognize something when it is offered.

I did not recognize what was offered soon enough. I began Walking on Water years ago and put it down, distracted by the parts of life that do not involve being quiet and listening.

Now that I have recently finished it, I want to read her children’s books, none of which, I am ashamed to say, I have read. I eventually recognized Walking on Water after it had been offered for a long time, and now that I have read it, I am eternally grateful to L’Engle. May light perpetual shine upon you.

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