Reading The Season: Walking On Water by Madeleine L’Engle

It’s that time of the year when a quiet respite is probably the most precious gift. For the past four years since I started blogging, amidst the cacophony of December festivities, I would pick something to read that anchors me to the spiritual meaning of the occasion.  I call these attempts “Reading The Season”. This year, I took down from the shelf a long-time TBR, Walking On Water: Reflection On Faith And Art by Madeleine L’Engle.

After reading it, I went straight to her Newbery Award novel A Wrinkle In Time (another long time TBR for me). Amazed at its wisdom and depth, once I finished it I went back to reread Walking On Water, appreciated all the more L’Engle’s intricate weaving of intellect and spiritual insights.

At the very beginning of the book, these words jumped right out at me:

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.

And just a few pages after that, I found this gem:

Leonard Bernstein tells me … for him music is cosmos in chaos. That has the ring of truth in my ears and sparks my creative imagination. And it is true not only of music; all art is cosmos, cosmos found within chaos.

Bernstein might have echoed a Jungian concept of the power of memory and the subconscious self, but there’s a spiritual reality in the thought.

It all began with the calling forth of light from darkness, splendor from void, life from nothingness, the Creation. Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life comes to mind… the cosmic light and galaxy clouds, the molten lava that spews out of the earth, the roaring breakers of the ocean deep, and my heart resounds: ‘day to day pours forth speech, night to night declares knowledge.’

But what’s most awesome is not just the forming of the cosmos, but the Creator incarnated, the infinite confined, the invincible made vulnerable in order to live the hurts, to share the pains. L’Engle writes:

To be alive is to be vulnerable. To be born is to start the journey towards death… We might paraphrase Descartes to read, ‘I hurt; therefore I am.’

The Creator demonstrated that behind the majesty, there’s the power of love, that driving force behind the willingness to stoop, to be made vulnerable, to be stripped naked, be born a babe. Utterly unfathomable. At one point in human history,  Cosmos entered and lived among Chaos.

And artists, those who write, who paint, who sing, who dance, who act… they are birth-givers. “An act of art is an incarnational activity,” L’Engle writes. Artists partake in the continuation of creation, bringing wholeness to a fragmented world, hope in the slough of despair.

As well, true artists live the vulnerability as the One who first took that cosmic plunge, taking the risk of birth because of love.

Here, take a 3:44 minute respite to enjoy some Seasonal reflections. Click on the video to listen to the music as you read Madeleine L’Engle’s poem:

The Risk of Birth 

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed & pride the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle


Walking On Water: Reflections On Faith And Art by Madeleine L’Engle, Commemorative Edition, published by Shaw, 1998, 227 pages.

CLICK HERE to Reading the Season 2012: Surprised by Joy

‘Reading The Season’ posts in previous years:

Reading The Season: C. S. Lewis

Reading The Season: Fleming Rutledge

Reading The Season: Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

Reading The Season: Luci Shaw

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

13 thoughts on “Reading The Season: Walking On Water by Madeleine L’Engle”

  1. This post is so well written, thanks for sharing the few quotes from WALKING ON WATER. They are good, so perfect! ‘…for him music is cosmos in chaos. That has the ring of truth in my ears and sparks my creative imagination. And it is true not only of music; all art is cosmos, cosmos found within chaos.’ Wow, I like that! Hope to find this book in Hong Kong. Thanks for the video (Adoration on the Shepherd), it’s so inspirational – it makes me think! Merry Christmas Arti. Tell us more….

    Molly Mavis,

    Welcome back! Thanks for your kind words and I’m glad you find resonance in Madeleine L’Engle’s thoughts. Have a Merry Christmas over there in your part of the world! I’m sure the festivities would be much more boisterous than here in N. America.



  2. One summer, during a period of lassitude, following our move from Texas, I read these two L’Engle books. I began with L’Engle’s four Crosswick Journals — which someday I hope to re-read — then moved on to your two Advent selections — before finishing my five month sojourn with Madeleine’s Genesis trilogy.

    It was fruitful reading since it led me to my first contemplative prayer class — then to a nine-month Ignatius retreat — and then to writing my own spiritual exercises for a contemplative prayer group I led for 18 months. Life today is richer for that summer course of reading and all the prayer which followed in its wake. And I wonder now, whether I would have found my way to either had the seed of desire not been sold by L’Engle’s words.

    I too choose my Advent reading to ready my heart for Christmas. I don’t think I’ll every forget last year’s — Mariette in Ecstasy. Just writing the title has me recalling that sparse and beautiful text.

    May you find rest in the remaining days of Advent. How quick its flown.



    1. Janell,

      Thanks for sharing your experience with Madeleine L’Engle’s writings and the after effects. Yes, I think whoever that approach her works would bound to be touched one way or another. The Crosswick Journals are one of my favorite non-fiction reads of all time. Actually, a couple years ago my “Reading The Season” post was on L’Engle’s The Irrational Season one of the Crosswick Journals. You may like to click on the link at the end of this post. As we approach Christmas Day, I wish you all the quietude, peace and joy of the Season! Have a Merry Christmas Janell!



  3. Wrinkle in Time and the series of which it is a part was a favorite when I was a kid. I’ve not read anything else by L’Engle. Glad to know her other books are good too!


    The Christmas break may well be a suitable time to reread them again, or explore L’Engle’s other writings, inspiration for the Season. 😉 Have a Merry Christmas you and yours… and, enjoy your reads!



  4. I loved how you chose “Greensleeves/What Child is This?” to accompany your post. The song with its different lyrics for each song has so many levels and interpretations that is so perfect for illustrating the interweaving of the human and the divine.

    You have inspired me to put “A Wrinkle in Time” on my re-read list and to read “walking on Water.”

    Music does organize the chaos of the universe. Merry Christmas!


    What I had in mind was more the lyrics of What Child Is This, which complements well with L’Engle’s poem The Risk of Birth. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Walking on Water. Merry Christmas to you and yours!



  5. I didn’t realize The Irrational Season is one of the Crosswicks journals. I’ll have to find the others, and read on.

    Thinking about cosmos and chaos – another way of saying it, perhaps, is that creation is the bringing of a new world (cosmos) out of chaos. Creating structures, ordering experience, using words or paints or musical tones to incarnate a deeply personal vision of the world is one point where the artist might be able to appreciate the original creator’s joy in his own creation.

    Music has been my way into the season this year, so I appreciate your inclusion of Bernstein – as stimulating in his thought as in his conducting. Here’s a little gift for you – a beautiful Serbian carol called Angels’ Song – it took me a few watchings to catch all the wonderful details of the video, which perfectly melds the traditional story with urban life.

    Merry Christmas season – every single day of it!


    1. Linda,

      I believe it’s Carl Jung who first said “In all chaos there’s cosmos, in all disorder there’s order”. Music is cosmos created among chaos, so’s all arts, L’Engle asserts. I totally agree. And I’ve appreciated you introducing the notion of ‘joy’ in creating such cosmos. Also, thanks for the video, beautiful cosmos in the urban landscape.

      Have a peaceful respite yourself, Linda, and a Merry Christmas!



  6. I started reading Walking on Water a few years ago, but it was during a busy period in my life and I put it aside and never picked it up again. I should go find it in the stacks now.

    Merry Christmas, Arti!


    Good time to try again. I remember I had the book decades ago, tried to read it earlier but put it down. This time I read it through eagerly, still ringing in my ears. Merry Christmas to you too!



  7. I have been away and took pleasure in reading your last four posts – you give such wonderful book reviews. I’ll come back to your links for best books, best pictures, etc. I have not read Madeleine L’Engle – she sounds very interesting. I hope you will have a very merry Christmas and a great New Year.


    Welcome back! Glad you find the links helpful. You’ll love Madeleine L’Engle’s writing. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed The Crosswick Journals, albeit Walking In Water is a brighter star in its brilliance. I’m sure you’ll enjoy L’Engle.

    Have a Merry Christmas!



  8. I loved this post, and inspired by you, I’ve been reading Gifts from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindburgh, which is equally about encountering our own vulnerability and reality by choosing to be alone and simplifying life as much as we can. I love this sort of message – anything that enhances spirituality, at this time of year or any other – feels wonderful to me.


    Thank you for your kind words… I’m glad you find resonance in this post. It has been many years since I read Gifts From The Sea, and it’s about time I should reread it. I think you’d like Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking On Water, and her Crosswick Journals. I’ve written a Christmas post on one of its books, The Irrational Season two years ago. You might like to check that out.

    Have a happy holidays and enjoy your reading!



  9. I am embarrassed to say I haven’t read Madeleine Engel and reading this post makes me all the more disappointed in myself for not getting off the dime to and doing so. There are some rich quotes in this post, rich enough that I suspect delving into at least these two pieces will be part of my new year.

    Speaking of which, it’s coming soon, and I hope you have a lovely Christmas in every way. And by the way, “Think Again!” was under my tree. CANNOT wait!


    Oh don’t be. Even though I’ve read some of her Crosswick Journals, it’s only this Christmas that I venture into probably her most well-known work A Wrinkle in Time, and her Walking On Water. I’ve these books on my shelves for decades! Anyway, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them this Season or the year ahead. And do tell me what you think after you’ve read Then Again. Thanks for stopping by in this busy time.


  10. Thanks for sharing this with your readers. I have loved Ms. L’Engle’s books for most of my life. Walking on Water stays by my bedside. I find it very inspirational yet soothing to my spirit. I have read it many times, yet it has remained fresh.


    Welcome! It’s my pleasure to post about Madeleine l’Engle. She’s an inspiring writer. I’m glad you find resonance in her writing. I’m sure as an artist yourself, you must have found her books enriching and stimulating. Thanks so much for visiting and leaving your comment. Hope to hear from you again here at Ripple Effects.



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