Book Review: WALKING ON WATER, by Madeliene L'Engle

You probably know Madeliene L'Engle as the author of A Wrinkle in Time, but she's written roughly a bazillion other books--everything from kids' fantasy, to memoir, to adult (sorry, "regular") novels, to nonfiction essays, and WALKING ON WATER: RELFECTIONS ON FAITH AND ART, written in 1980, falls somewhere in between those categories as one of her more meditative and openly Christian books (though all of her books explore Christian themes), and as my absolute favorite.

"Reflections on Faith and Art" means precisely that: a friend asked her to write some thoughts on what it means to be a "Christian artist" and she reluctantly sat down to do so, resisting firstly the notion that art could be cleanly divided into "Christian art" and "non-Christian art", and secondly the idea that it should be divided at all. Her words are clear and convicting on the many subjects that she eventually covers in WALKING ON WATER--at times she seems to veer very much away from "art" or "Christian", but the diversions are every bit as interesting as the main thread, as they touch on all kinds of things: the evolution of language, division within the Christian Church, the relationship between God and science, higher mathematics, the significance of names, and so on.

But her thoughts on art are plenty collected. She treats it as a holy endeavor, a gift given by God that must be maintained through discipline and practice, but that can transport both artist and viewer (or listener, or reader) to a place outside time, for a split second or for hours, depending on how long both parties remain willing. She also presents the fascinating idea that humans were intended to be much more than we are--that we should be able to move unfettered through time, or that we once could walk on water, but have forgotten how--and that the artistic process provides us briefly with a window into the nature we have forgotten as a consequence of the Fall.

L'Engle is brilliant and wise, and though she is two whole generations above me, I find her remarkably easy to relate to. WALKING ON WATER is one of my favorite books to pick up and read a single page, or a segment, or a chapter, whenever I'm feeling artistically (or spiritually) unmotivated. A friend got it just right in calling L'Engle's writing "quiet," because reading WALKING ON WATER creates in me a feeling similar to sitting by a still pond on a sunny day, or lying out on the grass and listening to all the small sounds of the world moving around me.


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