Saturday, September 08, 2007

Goodbye, Happy Medium

Madeleine L'Engle died last Thursday, Sep. 6, I just heard. It was she who remembered in writing her long and loving marriage to Hugh and—in the same book—the final months of Hugh's life (Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage). And who will remember her as lovingly, as eloquently, as she remembered him? Then again, she has probably written her own best memoria. A Wrinkle in Time...The Small Rain...The Sphinx at Dawn...The Rock That Is Higher...The Summer of the Great Grandmother...The Weather of the Heart—these are how I at least remember her.

This woman gave me a language of God and spirituality that made sense to me, that transcended my literal, monocultural narrowness:
The One I cry out to is not limited by size or number, and can be glimpsed only in metaphor, that chief tool of imagery of the poet. And it is only in the high language of poetry that anything can be said about God.
When we first learned of Hugh’s cancer I was dry as the parched land suffering drought in the Southeast. Now the tears are close to the surface. For the third time this summer I come to the Psalms for the evening of the fourth day and read, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and the tears rush out silently and stream down my face. Music, too, tends to pluck at the chords of emotion. Tears are healing. I do not want to cry when I am not alone, but by myself I don’t try to hold the tears back. In a sense this solitary weeping is a form of prayer.
I was in Colorado Springs in the mid-nineties, at a retreat-conference center called Glen Eyrie. I arrived there a day early, and so took supper by myself in the lodge's dining hall. A small group had assembled there, too, beginning whatever event they were there for. A second glance told me it was a Christian writers group. We're not talking LaHaye or Dobson, but Philip Yancey and Eugene Peterson—and Madeleine L'Engle. There she sat, her diminutive self, dyke-cropped white hair and flowing hippie skirt. I can only hope that she was acknowledged as a matriarch, the idea of which she would of course wave away. (Read how a matriarch interviews in this conversation with a Newsweek reporter.) I don't remember a thing about my own conference that week; seeing Madeleine I remember.


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