The Reconsecration Of Art

Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle (Harold Shaw, 1980, 198pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Mel Lorentzen, associate director, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

Madeleine L’Engle’s “reflections on faith and art” (the subtitle of Walking on Water) are not abstruse metaphysical probings into the cloud of unknowing. Nor are they saccharine reminiscences of a pilgrimage toward sainthood. Rather, they are stringent personal and professional efforts to reconsecrate the artifices of art by an act of faith. Like François Mauriac and Flannery O’Connor before her, she dares to be believer and writer at the same time, with all of the private tensions and public misunderstandings that go along with that.

Readers familiar with L’Engle’s diverse works (poems, novels, plays, essays, fantasies, and always stories) will find here in satisfying abundance her laconic wisdom, real-life anecdotes, candid self-revelations, and respect for mystery. Those who have heard her say some of these things in conference lectures will be glad to have them in print at last for repeated reference.

Heresy hunters of all sorts, from fundamentalists to feminists, may think to bag their limit in these 200 pages; but they need to bear in mind Edmund Fuller’s dictum that we do not look to the artist for orthodoxy. L’Engle is not to be judged as a systematic theologian, nor a scriptural exegete, but rather as a brilliant and gifted Christian woman working to relate belief and behavior amid everyday practicalities. Her dogmatic points of reference are essentially and unabashedly Episcopalian, but her strongest sympathies lean toward Catholics and evangelicals (whom she finds, as did O’Connor, to be closer to each other than ...

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