Madeline L''Engle is dead at 88 years old. I have good friends who consider her a very good friend, although I met her only two or three times and spoke to her hardly more often. What I remember best of her was her incredible resolve--she didn't question what she believed, as some do. She was especially tolerant--except of those who had no tolerance themselves. She was back then--ten years ago--adamantly sure of where she stood on some of the toughest issues faced by the evangelicals around her, me included.
She once told me I shouldn't live where I do. She felt that artists needed to live with other artists, writers with other writers, because, in many ways, their work feeds off interaction with others who struggle through the creative process.
It's almost hard for me to write a sentence like that one, not because I don't have sympathies for the ideas, but because--or so it seems to me--the ideas are so incredibly old-fashioned. Ms L'Engle was of my father's generation, of Fred Manfred's. I was educated in the drawing shadows of that generation, so I understand something about "the artist" and "the creative life" and all those lines and phrases that constitute the kind of deification given to writers and artists and painters in most of the decades of the 20th century.
But it seems to me that that kind of worship is gone today, departed from our midst just as surely as writers who hold some place in the national psyche, or visual artists whose work is anticipated by a beloved audience of millions. "The Artist" truly in vogue today no more or less a hack than anybody else in the hands of big business. There may well be millions of people, like me, trying to write books; and there may well be more books published today than in the 60's, when L'Engle's classic children's tale, A Wrinkle in Time, was published. The idea of the artist as some kind of visionary has long gone, however.
Maybe that's good. Whitman does sound silly today, confident as he was of his prophetic character. The idea that some of us are endowed with special spiritual vision was quite often a license for silliness or inanity too.
But I rather dislike the idea that we're all just functionaries, or that publishers care not a whit about vision but think only of sales, feeding the insatiable appetite of a mass market. The old "artist-as-prophet" thing offered its excellences too, I suppose.
And maybe all of this is simply the lament of a advocate who hasn't made it, hasn't achieved. Who knows?
She had a great sense of humor--that too I remember; and she was constantly willing to surprise you. She'd say outlandish things delightfully. I think she was deeply blessed to be able to hold strong opinions playfully, and I don't think she ever preached. She knew her voice and was dead-on sure of the efficacy of grace, the love of God.
For awhile--at the time I knew her--huge debates raged among evangelicals about Madeline L'Engle being "new age." Was she?--I don't know. Some of her characters got messages from sea creatures--does that mean we burn her books? I'd rather be Madeline than her persecutors--I know that. And I know she loved God and believed in the saving work of his son, Jesus Christ.
She's gone now. She had Alzheimers for quite a long time. I remember a story her friend told about visiting there: one day Madeline seemed oblivious to her good old friend's presence; the next, they giggled together like grade school girls.
There's a story there too, of course--and it's a story I think she knew. All things must pass--save grace. Save grace.
She sold millions of books, touched millions of souls, had a wonderful life. May she rest in the peace of the Father she knew and loved.