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Theological Notebook/Personal: On Hearing of the Death of Madeleine L'Engle

For probably the last three years, I've been telling myself this day would come and I would regret putting off my impulse to write to Madeleine L'Engle and to thank her for her broad literary production, which has come to mean so much to me. It seemed to me, as dorky as it might be, that some note of appreciation was due: that the artist deserved to hear her applause.

Emily posted the following notice to me from the Publishers Weekly website:
Madeleine L’Engle
Author Madeleine L’Engle died last night in Connecticut, at the age of 89. Best known for her 1963 Newbery Award winner A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, L’Engle was the author of more than 60 books for adults and young readers, most of which were published by FSG. This spring, the Square Fish imprint of Holtzbrinck reissued L'Engle's Time Quintet in new editions.
On my first homepage, back in the mid-90s when I started experimenting with the internet at Notre Dame, I made a "spiritual masters" page off my main "theology page," where I was going to put links to various online resources to these people who had been particularly important in crafting my spirituality and theology, and L'Engle's name was on the short list. In fiction and non-fiction alike, her writing was replete with the normal and the fantastic – and the fantastic obscured for as as the "normal" – in physics, art, music, classical theology, and perhaps most radically, family love.

Nowhere else have I seen an author who could weave these elements together and let you see the mixture as natural. The arts for her were not high-brow, and they could have been for this young woman who wanted to be a writer and who figured she would support herself on that quest by acting on Broadway: her "temp job" that is so many others' great life goal. Instead, she revealed the arts to be elementally human: accessible and even "average" in a way that neither diminished the significance of the arts, nor bought into the ruinous "cult of the artist" that has so damaged art in our era.

Incorporating her vision of the arts was for me part of the key to absorbing the lessons possible in associating with the Catholic humanists known as The Freeks at Notre Dame. When Kate really introduced me to her writing in those days – I had only read A Wrinkle in Time in grade school – I saw it as a recreational distraction. In retrospect, she turns out to have been one of the primary authours I read during that period, even in the young-adult novels with the horrible teen-romance-style covers I hid behind my copy of Rahner as I read. I taught her to my high school students studying Sacramental Spirituality, using her autobiographical account of her marriage to actor Hugh Franklin Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage as one of my two potential texts for our long talks on love, sexuality and marriage (the other option being Vanauken's A Severe Mercy) and her book The Irrational Season as a key resource to open up our talks of our experience of time as spirituality, in calendar and in liturgy. I have a sub-list on my Amazon Wishlist helping me keep track of my purchases of her, as she is one who I've decided is worth tracking down and owning the whole immense corpus. I will still lead students to her, and one day, my nieces. There is perhaps no higher praise I can give than to hand over my students to a better teacher.
Tags: art, beauty, books, christianity, education, ethical, friends-notre dame era, george and the freeks, l'engle, literary, liturgical, musical, mysticism/spirituality, notre dame, obituary, personal, sacramental, sexuality, teachers, teaching, theological methodology, theological notebook

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