The Genius of Madeleine L’Engle

It’s official: Madeleine L’Engle is a genius.

I’ve never read somebody who pairs so well the scientific and the spiritual, the playfulness of a child and the seriousness of an adult, the flow of fiction and the reflection of nonfiction.  She really is incredible.  If you haven’t read anything by her, go–NOW–and start.

During my road trip to move to California (it started the middle of October), I started reading through L’Engle’s Time series: five books which start with A Wrinkle in Time.  I had read this first one as a child, but only vaguely remembered it.  It floored me this time as I began to realize how effortlessly she weaves together these seemingly diametrically opposed concepts.  It was truly the best book I’d read in a long while.

And then I picked up A Wind in the Door.  This book leaves Wrinkle in the dust.  After a lot of effort to locate these books at various libraries in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas, I finally finished Wind by the beginning of November.  It was a deeply profound experience, one which kept me awake late into the evening–even long after I’d finished reading for the night–simply pondering the depths of all L’Engle had to say.

I then proceeded to continue the series with A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third in the series (and which I also thoroughly enjoyed).  But I found I was still stuck on Wind.

So here I am–back reading it again.  I get through maybe two pages a day and then have to stop because I already have so much to think about.  I think I could read it a hundred times and not plumb the depths of what L’Engle is getting at.

So I’ve vowed to blog about it.  I have to do something to process all the wisdom that comes flying at me every time I crack open the pages of this amazing novel.  I started this process two days ago by posting about the idea that “We’re Called Because We’re Needed.”  Tonight I want to process a smaller, but still deeply profound, comment L’Engle makes.

The parents of the main family in the book, the Murrys, are both scientists–and very elite ones at that.  Meg, their eldest daughter, has just met a cherubim and is deciding if she should tell her mother or not.  She decides not to, not because her mother wouldn’t believe her, but simply because her mother is already worried about many things.  But in the process of trying to reason out what to do, the narrator (third person, mostly though not exclusively from Meg’s perspective) tells us that the Murrys’ discoveries “had made [them] more, rather than less, open to the strange, to the mysterious, to the unexplainable” (chapter 3, page 70 in my edition).

I can’t stop thinking about this and had to quit reading there last night.  I love that we can seek to understand the depths of science—-and it can still lead us right back to God.

Science and God are not mutually exclusive.  Scientists don’t have to give up God, and Christians certainly don’t have to give up believing science could have something intelligent to say about the world.  After all, isn’t all truth God’s truth anyway?

I don’t know how the world was created, but if God chose to set up the evolutionary process–and then imbue the first human with a soul–then so be it.  Who am I to question God’s methods?  However it happened, God did it.  And that’s what matters.

And so L’Engle makes room in her books for profound spirituality and profound science.  I love that depth in one can lead to depth in the other.

All this makes me think back to when my mom was receiving her first round of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer back in 2000.  The doctor recommended six rounds, but after my mom was having severe symptoms after five, the doctor confessed that six is the number they use for breast cancer and they hadn’t really figured out what was best for treating ovarian cancer.  I was struck in that moment that, as much as doctors know about medicine, there is so much they still have yet to learn.

The same seems to be true for science.  The more we try to explain, the more we find is truly unexplainable.  I am no scientist, but I look around and can’t imagine this all came from nothing or some “big bang.”  And yet just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I have to give up all ground that has come from scientific discoveries.  And so L’Engle allows room for both, and for that I’m extremely thankful.  Her books speak intelligently to both camps, and in so doing she does a beautiful job of marrying the two.

I pray as we continue to grow in our faith that we too can seek to be smart, deep Christians who understand the beauty of using our minds.  I once saw a bummer sticker that really upset me.  It read, “If you won’t pray in my school, I won’t think in your church.”  Please think in my church!  Being a Christian does not require turning off your brain and becoming a zombie!  May we be intelligent Christians who strive to use our minds as we attempt to discover truth wherever God is choosing to reveal it.  Please let’s turn on our brains.  Please let’s strive to match the genius of Madeleine L’Engle.  Both the Christian and scientific communities could benefit a lot if we did.

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