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