book review: walking on water

41gMhPpGx8L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I remember when we were assigned “jobs” for books in AP English, one of the roles was to keep track of quotes throughout the book. A combination of quotes can be a really effective way to present a book in its entirety, and to see themes recurring throughout the pages. For my review of “Walking on Water”, I decided to do it that way. The book is a little scattered anyway in the writing style – it’s an artsy book, about the intersection of art and faith, and it’s excellent, but takes some time to digest and some patience to look for the overarching messages and themes. I loved author Madeleine L’Engle’s perspective as a whole – that art created without order, or acknowledgement, or glory to the ultimate Artist is just chaos.

“All art is cosmos, cosmos found within chaos. At least all Christian art (by which I mean all true art, and I’ll go deeper into this later) is cosmos in chaos. There’s some modern art, in all disciplines, which is not; some artists look at the world around them and see chaos, and instead of discovering cosmos, they reproduce chaos, on canvas, in music, in words. As far as I can see, the reproduction of chaos is neither art, nor is it Christian.” (pg. 7)

“Usually, after the death of a well-known artist, there comes a period of eclipse of his work. If the artist reflects only his own culture, then his works will die with that culture. But if his works reflect the eternal and universal, they will revive.” (pg. 41)

“The artist who is a Christian, like any other Christian, is required to be in this world, but not of it. We are to be in this world as healers, as listeners, and as servants. In art we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars. We write, we make music, we draw pictures, because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing. And during the writing of the story or the painting or the composing or singing or playing, we are returned to that open creativity which was ours when we were children. We cannot be mature artists if we have lost the ability to believe which we had as children. An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith.” (pg. 47)

“I look back at my mother’s life and I see suffering deepening and strengthening it. In some people I have also seen it destroy. Pain is not always creative; received wrongly, it can lead to alcoholism and madness and suicide. Nevertheless, without it we do not grow.” (pg. 55)

“There is much that the artist must trust. He must trust himself. He must trust his work. He must open himself to revelation, and that is an act of trust. The artist must never lose the trust of the child for the parent […] Jesus told us to call the Lord and Creator of us all ‘Abba’. Not only Father or Sir or Lord, but Abba – Daddy – the small child’s name for Father. Not Dad, the way Daddy becomes Dad when the children reach adolescence, but ‘Daddy’ the name of trust. But how can we trust an Abba who has let the world come to all the grief of the past centuries? Who has given us the terrible gift of free will with which we seem determined to destroy ourselves? We trust the one we call Abba as a child does, knowing that what seems unreasonable now will be seen to have reason later.” (pg. 68)

“What is the nature of time? of creation? of life? What is human creativity? What is our share in God’s work? In his letter to the people of Ephesus, Paul wrote, “Each of us has been given his gift, his due portion of Christ’s bounty.” To accept our gift means accepting our freedom. This involves a new understanding of time and space […] And the men and women to whom Jesus offered this gift were ordinary human beings, faulted and flawed, just like the rest of us. He gave his disciplines no job descriptions; he did not disqualify Mary Magdalene because she had been afflicted with seven demons; he did not spend a lot of time looking for the most qualified people, the most adult. Instead, he chose the people who were still childlike enough to leave the known comforts of the daily world, the security of their jobs, their reasonable way of life, to follow him.” (pg. 79)

“So we must daily keep things wound; that is, we must pray when prayer seems dry as dust; we must write when we are physically tired, when our hearts are heavy, when our bodies are in pain. We may not always be able to make our “clock” run correctly, but at least we can keep it wound so that it will not forget.” (pg. 86)

“Kairos. Real time. God’s time. That time which breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, that time we do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterwards, because kairos has nothing to do with chronological time. In kairos we are completely unself-conscious and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we are constantly checking our watches for chronological time. The saint in contemplation, lost (discovered) to self in the mind of God is in kairos. The artist at work is in kairos. The child at play, totally thrown outside himself in the game, be it building a sandcastle or making a daisy chain, is in kairos. In kairos we become what we are called to be as human beings, cocreators with God, touching on the wonder of creation. This calling should not be limited to artists – or saints – but it is a fearful calling. […] If we are to be aware of life while we are living it, we must have the courage to relinquish our hard-earned control of ourselves.” (pg. 88-89)

“To name is to love. To be Named is to be loved. So in a very true sense the great works which help us to be more named also love us and help us to love.” (pg. 105)

“Even when the artist bears the spirit (the Saint Matthew Passion; Michelangelo’s PietaThe Tempest) he does not fully understand, and that is all right. The work understands. God understands. And God understands that part of us which is more than we think we are.” (pg. 120)

“A lot of the time we don’t want to know all of ourselves, our more ignoble motives, our greedy desires, our participations in the stonings of Stephens. But only if we accept all of ourselves, our flaws as well as our virtues (and we’re all a grab bag of good and evil, and by and large can’t tell which is which) do we become useful servants – of our art, of our Lord.” (pg. 122)

“Remember – the root word of humble and human is the same: humus: earth. We are dust. We are created; it is God who made us and not we ourselves. But we were made to be co-creators with our maker.” (pg. 125)

“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. No matter what. That, I think, is the affirmation behind all art which can be called Christian. That is what brings cosmos out of chaos.” (pg. 150)

“We live under the illusion that if we can acquire complete control, we can understand God or we can write the great American novel. But the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord or hope to be part of the creative process, is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control.” (pg. 153)

“The journey homewards. Coming home. That’s what it’s all about. The journey to the coming of the kingdom. That’s probably the chief difference between the Christian and the secular artist – the purpose of the work, be it story, or music or painting, is to further the coming of the kingdom, to make us aware of our status as children of God, and to turn our feet toward home.” (pg. 155)

“I’m not sure it’s a choice. If we’re given a gift – and the size of the gift, great or small, is irrelevant – then most of us must serve it, like it or not. I say most of us because I have seen people of great talent who have done nothing with it and who mutter about getting down to work “when there’s time.” For a woman who has chosen family as well as work, there’s never time, and yet somehow time is given to us as time is given to the man who must sail a ship or chart the stars […] I’m often asked how my children feel about my work, and I have to reply, “Ambivalent”. Our firstborn observed to me many years ago, when she was a grade-school child, “Nobody else’s mother writes books.” But she also said, around the same time, “Mother you’ve been very cross and edgy with us lately, and we’ve noticed that you haven’t been writing, and we wish you’d get back to the typewriter.” A wonderfully freeing remark. I had to learn that I was a better mother and wife when I was working than when I was not.” (pg. 157-158)

“A life lived in chaos is an impossibility for the artist. No matter how unobstructed may seem the painter’s garret in Paris or the poet’s pad in Greenwich Village, the artist must have some kind of order or he will produce a very small body of work. To create a work of art, great or small, is work, hard work, and work requires discipline and order.” (pg. 159)

“In a sense, nothing the artist produces is his in any exclusive way. An inventor takes inventory of that which is already there. A discoverer uncovers that which is. T.S. Eliot says: “Poetry takes something that we know already and turns it into something new.” Perhaps art is seeing the obvious in such a new light that the old becomes new.” (pg. 167)

In the end – it’s a book I would recommend, but not an easy read… be prepared to think! 🙂

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my review. 


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