Reading the Season: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

‘Reading the Season’ is my Christmas post every year. It’s always a pleasure to spend some quiet time amidst the hustle and bustle of the festivities to meditate on the essence and meaning of the Season. Yes, something like the perennial “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

In recent weeks, one of my previous ‘Reading the Season’ posts has seen particularly high traffic, and that’s where I selected a few of Madeleine L’Engle’s poems. Indeed, the brilliant L’Engle had given us more than just A Wrinkle in Time. The versatile writer had 63 publications to her credits.

My favourite of her works is The Crosswicks Journal series. In there is the alchemy of wisdom, experience, and faith. Rereading Book 3 The Irrational Season this time, I came upon this verse which I didn’t notice much before. But this year’s different, for there’s a newborn in the family.

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Here’s L’Engle’s short intro before the poem:

“When I wrote the following lines I thought of them as being in Mary’s voice, but they might just as well be in mine––or any parent’s.” (p. 115, The Irrational Season)

Now we may love the child.
Now he is ours,
this tiny thing,
utterly vulnerable and dependent
on the circle of our love.
Now we may hold him,
feeling with gentle hands
the perfection of his tender skin
from the soft crown of his head
to the sweet soles of his merrily kicking feet.
His fingers softly curl
around one finger of the grownup hand.
Now we may hold.
Now may I feel his hungry sucking at my breast
as I give him my own life.
Now may my husband toss him in the air
and catch him in his sure and steady hands
laughing with laughter as quick and pure
as the baby’s own.
Now may I rock him softly to his sleep,
rock and sing,
sing and hold.
This moment of time is here,
has happened, is:
rejoice!

Child,
give me the courage for the time
when I must open my arms
and let you go.

**

And oh what letting go it was for Mary that day at the foot of a cross, that ultimate letting go, and with it, the awakening which must have brought her back to that first night when she gave birth in the manger.

***

Above Photo Credit: Diana Cheng. An evening view from Ontario’s Point Pelee National Park, September, 2018.

 

Past Reading the Season Posts:

2017: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016:  Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

2010: A Widening Light, Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle 

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

 

 

 

Reading the Season: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

For the tenth year, I’m sharing a Christmas read here at the Pond. For the first time, it’s a book written for young readers but is ever so relevant for us grown-ups. Herein lies the ingenuity of writer Madeleine L’Engle. Time to dig out that copy that you might have read when you were a youngster. If you haven’t read it, now’s a good time.

 

A Wrinkle in Time

 

Newbery Medal winner A Wrinkle in Time is the first book in the Time Quintet series of fantasy YA fiction about the Murray family, scientist parents and four children Meg, twins Dennys and Sandy, five year-old genius Charles Wallace, and that special friend of Meg’s, Calvin O’Keefe. The deceptively simple odyssey in time and space is packed with wonder and wisdom.

The book not only exudes insights but shows L’Engle’s remarkable foresights. Take this for an example, dematerializing and materializing  for easy transport. Published in 1962, the book came out four years before Scotty beamed Kirk up using the same method in the first season of Star Trek.

Or this fancy idea, ‘tesseracting’, that is, travelling through space and time via a wrinkle in time. The shortest distance between two points is not a straight line, but through a wrinkle when two points are folded. That’s fifty years before Christopher Nolan sends Matthew McConaughey interstellar travelling.

All concepts held in a simple plot. Meg, Charles Wallace, together with friend Calvin, go on an interstellar quest to look for Meg and Charles’ physicist father who had gone missing for almost a year while doing some classified scientific work for the government. This little, unequipped search party is initiated and aided by three celestial beings: Mrs. Whatsit, who’s much wiser than she appears, Mrs. Which, who doesn’t bother materializing but remains as a shimmering beam, and Mrs. Who, who speaks in quotes.

The more a man knows, the less he talks.

Their odyssey brings them finally to the planet Camazotz, where they find Mr. Murray confined by the evil Dark Thing, or IT (Surprise! 24 years before Stephen King’s book and now movie) The smart alecky Charles Wallace is easy prey and quickly influenced by IT. (And for Luddites, what better parallel to address our technology now, the evil IT) Ultimately, it’s Meg, our reluctant and timid heroine, who has to be the one to go fight IT to rescue her little brother.

The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men… God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.

Meg knows Charles Wallace is not himself but trapped and deceived, and must be snatched from the evil force IT. She has just one weapon as her ammunition, given to her by Mrs. Whatsit, that one thing IT doesn’t have: LOVE. With her single act of bravery, she brings the family together again.

When I was a child, I read like a child, I thought like a child. When I became an adult, I can read like a child and like an adult too. That’s the joy of reading A Wrinkle in Time. One can find pleasure in the adventure and feel the vulnerability of the children, as well delve deeper into its symbolism and parallels, and ponder its layers of meaning.

L’Engle writes to the child and the adult in us. She can convey scientific and spiritual concepts at the same time and in a way that both young and old (and those in between) can enjoy. There’s no conflict between the cerebral and the spiritual; they co-exist comfortably in L’Engle’s work. Not only that, they fuse together and from that alchemy rises a whole new, inexplicable entity: Faith.

That first Christmas day when a baby was born in a lowly manger, the war against IT had started to win. Although the last, painful battle on the hill of Calvary had not been waged, the outcome was cast, just because LOVE came.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

The Movie

‘Tis the Season to read or reread A Wrinkle In Time before the movie adaptation comes out in 2018. Helmed by Selma (2014) director Ava DuVernay, screenplay by Frozen (2013) scriptwriter Jennifer Lee, with some stellar beings including Rees Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine et al.

***

Past Reading the Season Selections:

2016:  Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

2010: A Widening Light, Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season 

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

Reading the Season: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

The brilliance of A Wrinkle in Time is that its author Madeleine L’Engle can convey scientific and spiritual concepts at the same time and in a way that young readers can enjoy. There are no conflicts between the cerebral and the spiritual; they co-exist comfortably in L’Engle’s work. Not only that, they fuse together and from that alchemy rises a whole new, inexplicable entity: Faith.

It’s that time of the year when I try to tune out distractions to dwell on the meaning of the Season, the reason why we have Christmas in the first place. I call these posts ‘Reading the Season’.

This time, I’ve selected four of Madeleine L’Engle’s poetry. ‘After Annunciation’ I have posted before. But I’d like to share it again here because the deceptively simple lines carry much depth and wisdom. Same with ‘The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973’. These two remain my favourite thoughts during Advent. 1973 or now? Ever timely. The poems are taken from The Ordering of Love: The New & Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle, published by Shaw Books, 2008.

The Ordering of Love

**

After Annunciation

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.

**

Sonnet, Trinity 18

Peace is the centre of the atom, the core
Of quiet within the storm. It is not
A cessation, a nothingness; more
The lightning in reverse is what
Reveals the light. It is the law that binds
The atom’s structure, ordering the dance
Of proton and electron, and that finds
Within the midst of flame and wind, the glance
In the still eye of the vast hurricane.
Peace is not placidity: peace is
The power to endure the megatron of pain
With joy, the silent thunder of release,
The ordering of Love. Peace is the atom’s start,
The primal image: God within the heart.

**

Instruments (I)

The sky is strung with glory.
Light threads from star to star
from sun to sun
a liv­ing harp.
I rejoice, I sing, I leap upwards to play.
The music is in light.
My fin­gers pluck the vibrant strings;
the notes pulse, throb, in exul­tant harmony;
I beat my wings against the strands
that reach across the galaxies
I play

NO

It is not I who play
it is the music
the music plays itself
is played
plays me
small part of an innumerable
innum­ber­able
orches­tra.
I am flung from note to note
impaled on melody
my wings are caught on throb­bing fil­a­ments of light
the wild cords cut my pinions
my arms are outstretched
are bound by ropes of counterpoint
I am cross-eagled on the singing that is strung
from puls­ing star
to flam­ing sun
to

I burn in a blaze of song.

 

**

 

The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing 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 a comet the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

***

‘Reading The Season’ Posts over a Decade:

2018: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

2017: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016: Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle 

2010: A Widening Light by Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge 

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

***

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

Reading the Season: Luci Shaw

Every year around this time, I try to stay afloat in the sea of chaos and consumerism.  My method of survival has been to seek a quiet haven where I can dwell upon the meaning of the Season.  I entitled my annual December post on this theme ‘Reading the Season’.

This year, watching the daring flash mob singing of Hallelujah Chorus in a shopping mall food court has jump started my quest for a spiritual respite.  In a time where the legitimate word is Jollity over Jesus, where Christ has been declared politically incorrect at Christmas, and where God is denounced together with Bigfoot and the tooth fairy in ads on buses, I want to mull on some subversive counter-reflections.

This time, I’ve steered my search towards poetry and found this collection edited by Luci Shaw.  It is the 1984 Regent College Publication of  A Widening Light: Poems of the Incarnation. (Click on link to read excerpts from Google Books.)


Luci Shaw has partnered with Madeleine L’Engle on her literary journey, including being her publisher, co-author, fellow poet and close writer-friend.  For years, I have enjoyed Luci Shaw’s poetry and her other works, and one time, had sat in her workshop learning the art and craft of journal writing.

A Widening Light is a collection of poetry by some of twentieth century prominent Christian writers and scholars, including C. S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, Mark Noll, as well as lesser known but just as inspiring contributors.  My favourite in the collection are those from Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw.

As a meager attempt to stoke the flame of faith and keep the Reason in the Season,  I’d like to share some excerpts from this collection here.

Made flesh
After the bright beam of hot annunciation
Fused heaven with dark earth
His searing sharply-focused light
Went out for a while
Eclipsed in amniotic gloom:
His cool immensity of splendor
His universal grace
Small-folded in a warm dim
Female space—
The Word stern-sentenced to be nine months dumb—
Infinity walled in a womb
Until the next enormity—the Mighty,
After submission to a woman’s pains
Helpless on a barn-bare floor
First-tasting bitter earth.

Now, I in him surrender
To the crush and cry of birth.
Because eternity
Was closeted in time
He is my open door
To forever.
From his imprisonment my freedoms grow,
Find wings.
Part of his body, I transcend this flesh.
From his sweet silence my mouth sings.
Out of his dark I glow.
My life, as his,
Slips through death’s mesh,
Time’s bars,
Joins hands with heaven,
Speaks with stars.

Luci Shaw


Some Christmas stars
Blazes the star behind the hill.
Snow stars glint from the wooden sill.
A spider spins her silver still

within Your darkened stable shed:
in asterisks her webs are spread
to ornament your manger bed.

Where does a spider find the skill
to sew a star?  Invisible,
obedient, she works Your will

with her swift silences of thread.
I weave star-poems in my head;
the spider, wordless, spins instead.

Luci Shaw



After annunciation

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d been no room for the child.

Madeleine L’Engle

.

.

The risk of birth

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

That was no time for a child to be born.
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and 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 and pride the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle





Click to read my other ‘Reading The Season’ posts:

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeliene L’Engle

2012: C. S. Lewis Surprised by Joy 

2011: Madeleine L’Engle: Walking on Water

C. S. Lewis: A Grief Observed

Fleming Rutledge: The Bible and The New York Times

Madeleine L’Engle: The Irrational Season

Photos:  All photos in this post except “Water drops on spider web” are taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, All Rights Reserved.

‘Water drops on spider web’ is in the public domain, please refer to Wikimedia Commons for further  details.  CLICK HERE to go there.

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

Striving to maintain some inner quiet, I casually took from the shelf a book by Madeleine L’Engle. Pure serendipity.  It’s one of The Crosswicks Journals, which I’ve shoved to the back of my mind for years, albeit they’ve been my all time favorite reads.  But how apt it is to flip through The Irrational Season, the third installment of The Crosswicks Journals, at this Christmas time.  Oh what joy to discover Madeleine L’Engle all over again.

Famous for her Newbery Award winning young adult novel A Wrinkle In Time, L’Engle was a prolific writer who had 63 publications to her credits.  Her works span from young adults to adults, fiction, science fiction, memoir, journals and poetry, with non-fiction books on faith, art, family, and humanity.  Yes, I say humanity, because L’Engle’s essays depict her strive to be human, and how her faith has defined the essence in her quest.

The Irrational Season comprises L’Engle’s ruminations on the significant events in the liturgical calendar.  And of course, it is Advent and Christmas that I dwell upon for my seasonal read.  This time, my reading has stirred in me a deeper appreciation of her insight and eloquence.

Art is for me the great integrater, and I understand Christianity as I understand art.  I understand Christmas as I understand Bach’s Sleepers Awake or Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring; as I understand Braque’s clowns, Blake’s poetry.  And I understand it when I am able to pray with the mind in the heart… I am joyfully able to affirm the irrationality of Christmas.

…  Christmas evoked in me that response with makes me continue to struggle to understand, with the mind in the heart, the love of God for his creation, a love which expressed itself in the Incarnation.  That tiny, helpless baby whose birth we honor contained the Power behind the universe, helpless, at the mercy of its own creation.

Cribb’d, cabined, and confined within the contours of a human infant.  The infinite defined by the finite?  The Creator of all life thirsty and abandoned?  Why would he do such a thing?  Aren’t there easier and better ways for God to redeem his fallen creatures?

And yet, in His most inscrutable, incomprehensible move, the One who called forth the universe from nothing, the Light and the Word, became flesh and drew near to us, to partake life as mortals knew it, and at the end, willingly go through an excruciating experience no mortals had ever known.  Impossible!  Utterly irrational!  And yet L’Engle embraces such an unimaginable scenario:

I live by the impossible… How dull the world would be if we limited ourselves to the possible.

And how grateful we ought to be, that such an accepting spirit pervaded in Mary’s heart and mind as well…

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d had been no room for the child.

.

.

But now is the hour
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
Midnight is dawning
And the birth of wonder.

*****

Click on my other ‘seasonal reads’:

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

2012 Reading the Season: Surprised by Joy

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

Reading The Season: Luci Shaw

Reading The Season:  Fleming Rutledge

Reading The Season:  C. S. Lewis

*****

Photos: Except the book cover, all photos taken in Israel by Arti of Ripple Effects, November, 07. All Rights Reserved.