Sunday, August 05, 2012

Commonplace Entry: A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle

Cooking is the only part of housekeeping I manage with any grace; it's something like writing a book: you look in the refrigerator and see what's there, choose all the ingredients you need, and a few your husband thinks you don't need, and put them all together to concoct a dish.  Vacuum cleaners are simply something more for me to trip over; and a kitchen floor, no matter how grubby, looks better before I wax it.  The sight of a meal's worth of dirty dishes, pots, and pans makes me want to run in the other direction.  Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody -- away from all these people I love most in the world -- in order to regain a service of proportion.
pages 3-4

We turn to stories and pictures and music because they show us who and what and why we are, and what, despite the arbitrariness of falling beams, will not burn.  Paul Klee said, "Art does not reproduce the visible.  Rather, it makes visible."  It is not then, at its best, a mirror but an icon.  It takes the chaos in which we live and shows us structure and pattern, not the structure of conformity which imprisons but the structure which liberates, sets us free to become growing, mature human beings.  We are a generation which is crying loudly to tear down all structure in order to find freedom, and discovering, when order is demolished, that instead of freedom we have death.         
pages 120-121
I still tend to think of myself in the mirror set up for me in that one [Middle] school.  I was given a self-image there, and not a self, and a self-image imposed on one in youth is impossible to get rid of entirely, no matter how much love and affirmation one is given later.  Even after all these years, my instinctive image of myself is of someone gawky, clumsy, inadequate, stupid, unwanted, unattractive, in the way ... 
page 145  (ellipses hers)
... you will find that you cannot help teaching children your own religion, whatever it is.  If you are an atheist, that will be clear to them, even if you think you're teaching nothing bu social studies.  If a belief in God motivates your life, the children are going to know that, too, whether you ever mention God or not.  If you are more interested in money than anything else, that's not going to escape them.  You've got to accept the fact that you are basically not teaching a subject, you are teaching children.  Subjects can probably be better taught by machines than by you.  But if we teach our children only by machines, what will we get?  Little machines.  They need you, you as persons." And I quoted Emerson; "What you are speaks so loudly over your head that I cannot hear what you say."

page 156 (ellipses mine)
... children want to know, and perhaps it is our desire not to let them down that has led us into the mistake of teaching them only the answerables.  This is a mistake, and we mustn't refuse to allow them to ask the unanswerables just because we can't provide tidy little answers.  In our fear of the unprovable we mustn't forget that they can learn from The Tempest as well as social studies; that they can learn from Aesop as well as the new math; that The Ugly Duckling mus not be discarded in favor of driver education.  There is a violent kind of truth in the most primitive myths, a truth we need today, because probably the most important thing those first storytellers did for their listeners back in the dim past in their tales of gods and giants and fabulous beasts was to affirm that the gods are not irrational, that there is structure and meaning in the universe, that God is responsible to his creation.

page 205 (ellipses mine)
It is an extraordinary and beautiful thing that God, in creation, uses precisely the same tools and rules as the artist; he works with the beauty of matter; the reality of things; the discoveries of the senses, all five of them; so that we, in turn, may hear the grass growing; see a face springing to life in love and laughter; feel another human hand or the velvet of a puppy's ear; taste food prepared and offered in love; smell -- oh, so many things: food, sewers, each other, flowers, books, new-mown grass, dirt ...

Here, in the offerings of creation, the oblations of story and song, are our glimpses of truth.
page 206 (ellipses hers)
Canon Tallis hardly knew us at all, then.  But he stepped in.  What he did is involved with all that I cannot write.  The point right now is that this was the moment of light for me, because it was an act of love, Love made visible.

And  that did it.  Possibly nothing he could have done for me, myself, would have illuminated the world for me as did this act of love towards those I love. Because of this love, this particular (never general) Christian love, my intellectual reservations no longer made the least difference.  I had seen love in action, and that was all the proof I needed.
page 243


  1. What beautiful quotes. I love the ones on teaching children. Thank you for sharing. I'm going to go see if I can get this book to read. :)

  2. Jess, fair warning to you, L'Engle both believes in Theistic Evolution and is a bit of a universalist. I still think she has important things to say.


Thanks for commenting! I love and reply to comments because I love building community with my readers!