“I have often been asked if my Christianity affects my stories, and surely it is the other way around; my stories affect my Christianity, restore me, shake me by the scruff of the neck, and pull this straying sinner into an awed faith.” ~Madeleine L’Engle
Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith & Art
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Published: 1980, this edition 2016 Convergent Books
Length: 206 pages with reader’s guide
Presumably, Walking On Water is Madeleine L’Engle’s (best known for A Wrinkle In Time) treatise on what “Christian art” might be. Or, how to be an artist for the glory of God. She answers this question in a way that breaks through boundaries of artistic subject matter, and even religious stance. I say “presumably” because L’Engle’s concept of art is so whole-life focused that she also breaks through the barriers separating how we live from what we create. In this way, whether you consider yourself an artist or not this book will touch your battleground, because this is really a book about how to live to the glory of God with all the passions and interests and questions that make you, you.
When this book first came out in the ’80s, some things Madeleine said were shocking to the Christian church, and some people still discredit her. She was writing at a time when acting and arts in the church were seen as worldly. A few premises may provide a grid to help us understand her worldview. Madeleine idealizes children, seeing them as a prototype for living in the light of faith and what possibilities it can awaken in us. At its core, she sees art as bringing order to chaos. In this way, every choice away from destruction and towards wholeness is an artistic statement and brings glory to God, joining with God as Creator.
As a writer, L’Engle used this book’s platform to emphasize the value of story. L’Engle offers passionate and convincing arguments for the truth in a fairy tale being more transformative and “real” than scientific proofs. Though she is not at all against science. She also belabors how, when pursued from a standpoint of awe, science itself is art. She is simply against using “proof” to close ourselves off from deeper truths.
For those interested in her perspective on what might be strictly considered art in a traditional sense she deals with several topics:
- Art as a way to “listen to the other side of the door” and attune our ears to the world beyond our own.
- Art as movement towards wholeness, and even selflessness.
- Art as a gift distributed without bias to Christian and Non-Christian alike (and yet still attesting to God).
- Art as co-creating with God.
Her thoughts often take on rabbit trails, but she keeps coming back to these themes.
If you accept these points as the purposes of art, or bi-products even, it is easy to see how the separation between all of life and art becomes obscured. Yet, L’Engle talks at length about giving yourself to the gift that you have been given. A painter or a writer or a pianist is not something anyone can wake up and choose to be. Yet, finding what you personally have been gifted to be is your opportunity to partake of where God is in the world.
I remain grateful that the wind has changed to receive L’Engle’s words of wisdom more readily. I don’t agree with her on everything, but her life-giving and God-adoring worldview sparks contagious. I first read Walking On Water in high school and it influenced my perspective greatly. L’Engle gave me permission to doubt and be uncertain, and, though somewhat of a dichotomy, she also helped me believe in a deeper reality all around than I am currently aware. Her words were a big part of my liberation to do small things to the glory of God, even something as seemingly insignificant as clicking needles together to make a knit stitch, knowing that I am testifying to and partaking of God’s goodness in forming beauty and order out of chaos (or in my instance, an unformed skein of yarn).
Review copy courtesy of Penguin/Random House