Growing up with few books on an Oregon farm, the first author whose name I recall hearing was that of Madeleine L’Engle. I was at CFO, a Christian summer camp, on the coast with my mom and older brother. There was a table of books for sale. Mom said I could pick one – any one I wanted! – to read at rest time. A rare treat! If it wasn’t from Goodwill or a garage sale, we hardly ever bought anything.
What to pick? An almost impossible dilemma for a young child. Was I seven? Or eight? Someone – My mom? – recommended A Wrinkle in Time. “Madeleine L’Engle is one of the best known Christian authors,” that same someone said and nudged the book toward me. But there were so many pages. I was a slow reader. And where were the pictures? I picked The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, instead.
It wasn’t until high school that I truly discovered L’Engle. While Wrinkle puzzled me, when I read A Ring of Endless Light I was drawn to L’Engle’s brilliance. Here was an author who embraced the mystery of faith while unreservedly expressing her questions and doubts. But what did L’Engle believe?
Much has been published and re-published about L’Engle in recent years, including a biography by her granddaughters. Many I’ve read, but few focus primarily on the author’s faith. That is why I was eager to read A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, by Sarah Arthur, which releases in August (Zondervan, 2018).
Arthur, who writes about faith and literature, takes a close look at L’Engle’s spiritual legacy by interviewing contemporary writers and others whom the celebrated author has influenced. Although at times her writing takes the tone of an academic treatise or college lecture, Arthur’s slender paperback offers a glimpse into L’Engle’s life and faith – which Arthur says was too orthodox for some and too unorthodox for others.
Arthur’s title comes from L’Engle’s book, Walking on Water. “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe,” L’Engle wrote, “by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
For anyone wanting to discover that light, Arthur’s book is an excellent starting place, as with the discussion of what is sacred and what is secular in L’Engle’s writing. “Madeleine herself didn’t make a distinction between sacred and secular—” Arthur writes, “or at least, she didn’t define them the way other people did. Madeleine’s understanding of sacred encompassed every aspect of God at work in the world.”
“‘To be truly Christian,’” she quotes L’Engle, “‘is to see Christ everywhere, to know him as all in all.’ There is no place where God is not, and thus no place where God is incapable of transforming what evil has deformed.”
Arthur’s book serves as a thoughtful companion for readers. I may have missed discovering L’Engle as a child, but I expect to be re-reading my own dog-eared copy of Arthur’s book as I rediscover her as an adult.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series releases this fall with The Christmas Cradle.