Book Review: L’Engle’s Walking on Water – Overly Lofty

9780804189293In one sense, Madeleine L’Engle’s “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art,” was pleasant to read and stroked my ego as as a wanna-be writer. Parts of it were inspiring. Overall, however, I found it insipid and overly foofy; it talks of writing and art in the loftiest of idealistic prose, as the highest reaches of human meditation and striving.

In a sense, I agree with most of it. But an idealization of the writing vocation is only a tenth of the story. The other nine-tenths are work, the basic discipline of hitting the nail with the hammer every single day. In this sense, it’s like any other skill or job, one where talent and know-how deepen as experience progresses.

Here’s an example of what I didn’t like:

“The world of fairy tale, fantasy, myth, is inimical to the secular world, and in total opposition to it, for it is interested not in limited laboratory proofs but in truth.” (46)

I love fairy tales and fantasy far more than the average fellow, but science is not something to dismiss. I am not a scientist, but I suspect that a tech-minded reader might react defensively, “Hey that’s what my lab tests are all about–truth.” Of course scientific methodology excludes philosophy, meta-narrative claims, but the whole purpose is to learn true things about how the universe works in order to understand it better. This mentality oversteps when we view ourselves as masters of the universe, meant to tame it. But in general, I would say science and laboratory experiments are at the service to truth, a different approach to understanding our world. I think it throws the baby out with the bathwater to pit science in opposition to truth, as if creative types have some sort of lock on that.

Then there was this:

“In art, we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars.” (47)

Bleck. I am an idealistic person, and I am sympathetic to what she is getting at, which I take to be that art or creativity is an attempt at knowing or expressing truth. Seeking the fullness of truth can be understood as a sort of prayer or connection with reality aka God. That striving to speak truth can bring the speaker to the heights of human calling.

But. I find L’Engle’s language so over-the-top as to discredit it. It’s as if she divinizes the artist himself rather than showing him as a mere human glimpsing at participation with the divine–which is really the intention. Much of life, and I suspect much of an artist’s life, is spent in murky misunderstanding, darkness and trials, and the prosaic daily activities of buying materials, preparing food and changing sheets. Even the highest peaks of sublimity in creation pass unnoticed because the artist is so absorbed in the act. Never is she really conscious of “moving unfettered among the stars.” Maybe L’Engle is, and that sounds amazing.

But the work of other writers and artists, such as Stephen King and Flannery O’Connor, who have explained their craft, spend more time focusing on the process, on the work, of being surprised by the product despite their best plans. So while the artist does do some amazing co-creation, it is rather unknowable. My concern is not that L’Engle is wrong, but that the tone is deceptive.

Artists are not really a breed set apart for transcendental experience, but rather fellow stumblers along the road. More accurate would be Oscar Wilde who said, “We are all lying the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Continue reading

2 Posts on Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia

Pope FrancisThese reflections of mine originally appeared on the Truth and Charity Forum of HLI

Amoris Laetitia: Pope Francis’s The Joy of Love

It is indeed nuanced, full of Pope Francis’s back and forth style as he shows sympathy for difficult situations in between tackling erroneous viewpoints. Like Christ with the woman caught in adultery, Francis counsels concern and care for sinners rather than simple condemnation, while still holding onto the reality of sin. Anything so thoughtfully balanced is bound to confuse or unsettle some people in a culture accustomed to accusations and polarization….

“In such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would ‘indoctrinate’ that message, turning it into ‘dead stones to be hurled at others.’ (AL 49)”

While it is manifest that conception occurred illicitly, children conceived out of wedlock are not uncommon, and we do not know the situation of willingness of either of the two participants. What Pope Francis is saying is that little good is achieved by shunning such a woman. Her situation is trialsome enough. It is precisely such a person who needs a place of welcome, not a bunch of judgemental scowls.

Amoris Laetitia: Pope Francis’s The Joy of Love

Reading with the Heart of the Church: Contents of Amoris Laetitia

The much hyped question is that of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. And the answer isn’t the clear “yes,” that many media releases want it to be. This question is honestly a footnote to the wider discussion of family life, and a careful reading in continuity with Church teaching, reveals that there isn’t any change in canon law, or the Church’s codes for proper liturgical and sacramental observance. …

Canon Lawyer Edward Peters had this to say on his blog about those who “think that AL fn. 351 and its accompanying text authorize holy Communion for Catholics in irregular marriages.” He states that Francis never does this. The Pope does say that:

Catholics in irregular unions need the help of the sacraments (which of course they do), but he does not say ALL of the sacraments, and especially, not sacraments for which they are ineligible. He says that the confessional is not a ‘torture chamber’ (a trite remark but not an erroneous one). And he observes that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect (thank God), but a powerful spiritual medicine, which it is—unless it is taken unworthily or in violation of law, a caveat one may assume all Catholics, and certainly popes, know without having to say it.

Peters reads Amoris Laetitia in continuity with Catholic teaching, that all that is accepted about reception of the Eucharist still stands, which of course is the only reasonable way to read a papal document.

Reading with the Heart of the Church: Contents of Amoris Laetitia

Did you hear about Amoris Laetitia? Did it seem controversial to you? I have read some good thoughts on both sides.

Giving Up Control: My Reflection for uCatholic on March 9

This reflection appeared originally on uCatholic.com; I was honored to be asked to participate in the Lenten reflection series. This short piece draws on the readings of March 9 and the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe to explain how God is with us even in the “bare heights” or difficult times of life.

Turn Over The Controls And Become More Free

In the reading from Isaiah we hear of the incredible promises the Lord makes to the people of Israel, that “on every bare height shall their pastures be,” and His reassurance of His love, though they feel “forsaken.”

Like the people of Israel, so many times we feel forsaken in life, faced with situations beyond our control. I think of St. Maximilian Kolbe who traded himself for the freedom of a fellow Auschwitz prisoner who had a family. Left to starve with other prisoners, Kolbe did not despair, but ministered to them until the end. Though his worldly situation was objectively terrible, he praised God, sowed hope and inspired others to faith and joy. He did this by giving himself over to the will of God for him in that specific circumstance of his life, just as Jesus did during His ministry and ultimately, His crucifixion.

The Gospel tells us about Jesus, and the Son’s relationship to the Father, and how the Father has appointed the Son to carry out His work. Yet, Christ says “I cannot do anything on my own… because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me.”

When we can’t control things, it is easy to feel alone or like a failure. But even Jesus did not perform acts from His own will; He turned His will over to God, His Father. That is what we are called to do. Paradoxically, in releasing this control, we do not find that we are eviscerated or dispersed, but that we are free and able to become our true and best selves.

When we can let go of frustration at our inabilities, we can accept God’s loving providence, like St. Maximilian Kolbe did. Even on that bare height of a Nazi work camp, he found a pasture of fellowship and love.

Turn Over The Controls And Become More Free

Question: Was there ever a time when you admitted that you weren’t in charge of something difficult? What happened as a result?