April 27, 2012

On Writing, Being, and [walking on] Water.

A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books as a kid. That and Harriet the Spy, Anne of Green Gables, and anything with a strong female lead in those pre-Hunger Games days. So when I heard murmurs about Madeleine L'Engle's book, Walking On Water, I immediately recognized her name. (One of my favorite bloggers even called it her favorite book she read in 2011) The premise: L'Engle's reflections on faith and art, intrigued me enough to find myself a copy.

It sat on my bookshelf for weeks before I actually got around to picking it up. The delay was mainly due to my busy schedule of grad school, work, church, getting things ready for France, and some semblance of a social life. But once I did pick it up, none of that mattered. It didn't matter that I was quickly approaching finals week with little time to spare. It didn't matter that in mere weeks I'd be flying to the other side of the world for the summer.

It's hard to put into words what this book did for me. If you are a musician, writer, artist, or otherwise creative person, I sincerly implore you to get your hands on a copy, especially if you are feeling drained creatively or suffering from "writer's block," regardless of medium. This book invites you to be a dreamer; to believe things are possible that we have long forgotten: like how to walk on water.

The book begins with beautiful imagery of just being. Something, I think, we all have a hard time reconciling in our frantic little worlds. Busyness always seems to take precedence over being, and I think that's why I kept reading the book, even in such a busy season of my life. It refreshed my soul to hear that it is ok, more than ok, it is good to take time to just be.

"I sit on my favourite rock, looking over the brook, to take time away from busyness, time to be. I've long since stopped feeling guilty about taking being time; it's something we all need for our spiritual health, and often we don't take enough of it...When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening." pp. 2-3

And L'Engle talked about what it means to be a Christian today (even though "today" was 1982 and the internet/facebook/twitter/hulu/instagram/smart phones/and pinterest weren't around yet). She quoted lots of famous people and less than famous people and sometimes she didn't know who she was quoting, just that their words had impacted her at some point in her life. She collected and recorded all of these quotes in one special notebook throughout her life. I think I need a notebook like that.

L'Engle probably wouldn't be described as Evangelical, but she had her own way of sharing her faith. She fashioned her life around wisdom from the words of Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard. He said, "To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist." p. 26 I don't think any of our lives would make sense if God did not exist.

Later in the book, she likened that "living mystery" to a sort of light. "We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, 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." pp. 140-141

The following quote that L'Engle copied out of Chekov's letters was especially encouraging leading up to finals week. "You must once and for all give up being worried about success and failures. Don't let that concern you. It's your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite quietly, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, and for failures." p. 29 Chekov was talking about engaging in art, but I think the message of this quote is applicable to every part of life. It's inevitable that sometime in life we will fail. And we will most likely succeed sometimes too. Our focus should not be on those successes and those failures, but on being steady in our day to day lives.

I think my favorite quote in the book was from Rainer Rilke, a poet. She is talking about how to know if you are truly called to write, to be an artist. "You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all--ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: Must I write? Delve into yourself for an answer. And if this should be affirmation, if you must meet this earnest question with a strong and simple 'I must,' then bind your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and testimony to it." pp. 29-30

Fill in the word "write" with whatever your artistic medium. Must I paint? Must I make music? Must I act?

Must I write?

I must.


  1. I must read this book. Thanks, Kelly, for a compelling summary. You above all others (except my immediate family) know how little time I've had lately just to "be" and to nurture the light that is in me. I needed this reminder!

    I'll miss you this summer, but I hope you have a GREAT time in France!

  2. page 140-141 are something my hubby needs to read! he loves to shut people down when they start falsifying religion, but i think he needs a more gentle approach lol btw, I'm having a 100+ Follower Urban Decay Giveaway! I hope you enter :) ♥

  3. Oh Kelly, I've thought about my need to read this book about 12 tImes since you told me (twice) to read it. Now, I simply must!