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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
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****The Irrational Season

The Crosswicks Journal, Book Three

by Madeleine L'Engle

Reviewed April 24, 2006.
Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1977.

I love Madeleine L’Engle’s books of meditative musings.  This one follows the Christian calendar, beginning with Advent, and meditates on life and love and God and the things He does in the world.

I’ll quote some of the gems to give you an idea of what you find in this book.  In doing that, I’ll be blessed all over again.

“My protagonists, male and female, are me.  And so I must be able to recall exactly what it was like to be five years old, and twelve, and sixteen, and twenty-two, and. . . .   For, after all, I am not an isolated fifty-seven years old; I am every other age I have been, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven . . . all the way up to and occasionally beyond my present chronology.”

“But we rebel against the impossible.  I sense a wish in some professional religion-mongers to make God possible, to make him comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate him so that he’s easy to believe in.  Every century the Church makes a fresh attempt to make Christianity acceptable.  But an acceptable Christianity is not Christian; a comprehensible God is no more than an idol.”

“After all these years I am just beginning to understand the freedom that making a solemn vow before God, making a lifelong commitment to one person, gives each of us….  It is indeed a fearful gamble….  If I was not fulfilled by my relationship with this particular man, I couldn’t look around for another.  And vice versa.  No matter how rough the going got, neither of us was going to opt out.”

“To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take….  If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather, it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession but participation.”

“If I could not hang my sins on the cross I might tend to withdraw, to refuse responsibility because I might fail.  If I could not hang my sins on the cross, Hugh and I probably wouldn’t still be married.  And I would certainly never write a book.”

“I’ve learned something else about family and failure and promises:  when a promise is broken, the promise still remains.  In one way or another, we are all unfaithful to each other, and physical unfaithfulness is not the worst kind there is.  We do break our most solemn promises, and sometimes we break them when we don’t even realize it.  If a marriage has to be the pearly-pink perfection suggested by commercials for coffee or canned spaghetti sauce or laundry detergents, it is never going to work….  I can look at the long years of my marriage with gratitude, and hope for many more, only when I accept our failures.”

“If our love for each other really is participatory, then all other human relationships nourish it; it is inclusive, never exclusive.  If a friendship makes me love Hugh more, then I can trust that friendship.  If it thrusts itself between us, then it should be cut out, and quickly.  I’ve had that happen several times, so I know whereof I speak.”

“On the other hand, we both have rich, deep, abiding friendships which have nourished our marriage and helped it grow.”

“It is a free relationship, but it is built on promises.  Like every other couple we break our promises one way or another, but we take the breaking of the promises seriously; the fact that the promise has been broken does not make us permissive about breaking it again; instead, we try to mend.  We have used an extraordinary amount of glue.”

“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover.  And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface.  A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again—till next time.  I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged.  And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown.  The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow.  I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.”

“My young friend who was taught that she was so sinful the only way an angry God could be persuaded to forgive her was by Jesus dying for her, was also taught that part of the joy of the blessed in heaven is watching the torture of the damned in hell.  A strange idea of joy.  But it is a belief limited not only to the more rigid sects.  I know a number of highly sensitive and intelligent people in my own communion who consider as a heresy my faith that God’s loving concern for his creation will outlast all our willfulness and pride.  No matter how many eons it takes, he will not rest until all of creation, including Satan, is reconciled to him, until there is no creature who cannot return his look of love with a joyful response of love.

“Origen held this belief and was ultimately pronounced a heretic.  Gregory of Nyssa, affirming the same loving God, was made a saint.  Some people feel it to be heresy because it appears to deny man his freedom to refuse to love God.  But this, it seems to me, denies God his freedom to go on loving us beyond all our willfulness and pride.  If the Word of God is the light of the world, and this light cannot be put out, ultimately it will brighten all the dark corners of our hearts and we will be able to see, and seeing, will be given the grace to respond with love—and of our own free will.

“The church has always taught that we must pay for our sins, that we shall be judged and punished according to our sinfulness.  But I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent.  The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson.  And the lesson is always love.

“It may take more years than we can count before Nero—for instance—has learned enough love to be able to look with joy into the loving eyes of a Christ who enfleshed himself for a time on earth as a Jew, but Nero’s punishments, no matter how terrible they may be, are lessons in love, and that love is greater than all his sick hate.”

“Easter completes the circle of blessing, and the joy of the completion remains, despite all the attempts of the powers of darkness to turn it into cursing.”

“A graduate student wrote to ask if my Christianity affects my novels, and I replied that it is the other way around.  My writing affects my Christianity.  In a way one might say that my stories keep converting me back to Christianity, from which I am constantly tempted to stray because the circle of blessing seems frayed and close to breaking, and my faith is so frail and flawed that I fall away over and over again from my God.  There are times when I feel that he has withdrawn from me, and I have often given him cause; but Easter is always the answer to My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!

“So it is with all of life.  If our usual response to an annoying situation is a curse, we’re likely to meet emergencies with a curse.  In the little events of daily living we have the opportunity to condition our reflexes, which are built up out of ordinary things.  And we learn to bless first of all by being blessed.  My reflexes of blessing have been conditioned by my parents, my husband, my children, my friends.”

“When I talk about my books knowing more than I do, I am not referring to something magic.  Nor is it an easy way out which eliminates the hard work of putting together a story.  Writing a book is work; it involves discipline, and writing when I don’t feel like writing.  Robert Louis Stevenson said that writing is ten percent inspiration, and ninety percent perspiration.  The inspiration doesn’t come before the perspiration; it’s usually the other way around.  Inspiration comes during work, not before it.”

“I am convinced that each work of art, be it a great work of genius or something very small, has its own life, and it will come to the artist, the composer or the writer or the painter, and say, ‘Here I am:  compose me; or write me; or paint me’; and the job of the artist is to serve the work.  I have never served a work as I would like to, but I do try, with each book, to serve to the best of my ability, and this attempt at serving is the greatest privilege and the greatest joy that I know.”

“I know that when I am most monstrous, I am most in need of love.  When my temper flares out of bounds it is usually set off by something unimportant which is on top of a series of events over which I have no control, which have made me helpless, and thus caused me anguish and frustration.  I am not lovable when I am enraged, although it is when I most need love.

“One of our children when he was two or three years old used to rush at me when he had been naughty, and beat against me, and what he wanted by this monstrous behavior was an affirmation of love.  And I would put my arms around him and hold him very tight until the dragon was gone and the loving small boy had returned.

“So God does with me.  I strike out at him in pain and fear and he holds me under the shadow of his wings.  Sometimes he appears to me to be so unreasonable that I think I cannot live with him, but I know that I cannot live without him.  He is my lover, father, mother, sister, brother, friend, paramour, companion, my love, my all.”

“One reason nearly half my books are for children is the glorious fact that the minds of children are still open to the living word; in the child, nightside and sunside are not yet separated; fantasy contains truths which cannot be stated in terms of proof.  I find that I agree with many college-age kids who are rejecting the adult world—not those with bad cases of Peter Pantheism, but with those who understand that the most grownup of us is not very grownup at all; that the most mature of us is pretty immature; that we still have a vast amount to learn.”

“We have much to be judged on when he comes, slums and battlefields and insane asylums, but these are the symptoms of our illness, and the result of our failures in love.  In the evening of life we shall be judged on love, and not one of us is going to come off very well, and were it not for my absolute faith in the loving forgiveness of my Lord I could not call on him to come.

“But his love is greater than all our hate, and he will not rest until Judas has turned to him, until Satan has turned to him, until the dark has turned to him; until we can all, all of us without exception, freely return his look of love with love in our own eyes and hearts.  And then, healed, whole, complete but not finished, we will know the joy of being co-creators with the one to whom we call.

“Amen.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

Reviews of other books by Madeleine L'Engle:
A Circle of Quiet:  The Crosswicks Journals, Book 1
The Summer of the Great-Grandmother:  The Crosswicks Journals, Book 2
Walking on Water
Glimpses of Grace, with Carole F. Chase
Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life, with Carole F. Chase
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wrinkle in Time audiobook
The Joys of Love

Copyright © 2006 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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