The Irrational Season, Madeleine L’Engle. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (first published in 1976).
Summary: The third in a four book collection titled The Crosswicks Journals consisting of reflections shaped around the church year, and memories of different season’s in the author’s life.
Madeleine L’Engle’s work is receiving renewed attention with the release of the film version of A Wrinkle in Time. I first discovered this story, and those that followed in college. Later, these were among our favorites in “read aloud” times as a family. Eventually I discovered that this was only a small part of this author’s work, which included children’s stories, fiction and science fiction, poetry, journals, a trilogy commenting on Genesis, and various collections of essays. Running through all of this is the author’s hard-won Christian faith
This work, the third in The Crosswicks Journals series of autobiographical memoirs, is a collection of reflections organized around the church year, from Advent to Advent. The work begins and ends with what she describes as her struggle between atheism and faith, her struggle to believe in something as incredible as the Incarnation. Her reflections take us through the church year–her struggle with the Slaughter of the Innocents that Christ both escaped, and embraced in the cross, reflections on the outworking of the Beatitudes during Lent, a beautiful icon of Mother and Child and the Cross hung on her property deliberately destroyed by a gunshot at close range, and the resurrection of hope at Easter, her thoughts on the Holy Spirit, who she describes as the person of the Trinity she most understands (unlike most of us), reflections on the Trinity, and the grace of community she experienced in a rural congregation, and musings on the Transfiguration as her setter chases a swallow in a meadow.
The journal is full of rich, beautiful, and earthy wisdom. She writes extensively about marriage and sexuality in her chapter on Epiphany:
“It takes a lifetime to learn another person. After all these years I still do not understand Hugh; and he certainly does not understand me. We’re still in the risky process of offering ourselves to each other, and there continue to be times when this is not easy, when the timing isn’t right, when we hurt each other. It takes a lifetime to learn all the varied ways of love, including intercourse. Love-making is like a Bach fugue; you can’t go to the piano and play a fugue the first time you hold your hands out over the keys.”
In several chapters she writes on the “Noes” of God, and how in our own lives the cross must precede the resurrection, and the “no” of God often precede God’s “yes.” She shares this reminiscence of the time when she was seeking a publisher for A Wrinkle in Time:
“Experience is painfully teaching me that what seems NO to a man from man’s point of view, is often the essential prelude to a far greater YES. The Noes which have been said to me may be as small and inconsequential as the opportunities given me for peacemaking, but they are mine. During the two years when A Wrinkle in Time was consistently being rejected by publisher after publisher, I often went out alone at night and walked down the dirt road on which Crosswicks faces, and shouted at God; ‘Why don’t you let it get accepted? Why are you letting me have all these rejection slips? You know it is a good book! I wrote it for you! So why doesn’t anyone see it?’
But when Wrinkle was finally published, it was exactly the right moment for it, and if it had been published two years earlier it might well have dropped into a black pit of oblivion.”
I, for one, am glad that it didn’t and that this particular “No” of God let to this wonderful “Yes.”
L’Engle has faced criticism for her universalism, about which she writes in this work. She affirms, “No matter how many eons it takes, he [God] will not rest until all of creation, including Satan, is reconciled to him until there is no creature who cannot return his look of love with a joyful response of love.” I do not agree with L’Engle, but I do not think this is reason not to read, her works. A few pages earlier, she vigorously defends the bodily Resurrection of Jesus and its centrality to Christian faith. Throughout, one finds wisdom tested by the vicissitudes of life–pain, failure, suffering and loss–as well as the embrace of all that is good in life from private moments with one’s love, to glorious dinners, to childbirth, to a last, precious visit with a dying saint. In our most honest moments, we find ourselves with Madeleine, vacillating between atheism and a vibrant faith. Her reflections remind that we are not the only ones to face this, and that if we are in the darkness of a “No” from God, that it is not the last word, but the prelude to his “Yes.”