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Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

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In this classic book, Madeleine L'Engle addresses the questions, What makes art Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian artist? What is the relationship between faith and art? Through L'Engle's beautiful and insightful essay, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one's own art.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1980

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About the author

Madeleine L'Engle

163 books8,267 followers
Madeleine L'Engle was an American writer best known for her young adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters. Her works reflect her strong interest in modern science: tesseracts, for example, are featured prominently in A Wrinkle in Time, mitochondrial DNA in A Wind in the Door, organ regeneration in The Arm of the Starfish, and so forth.

"Madeleine was born on November 29th, 1918, and spent her formative years in New York City. Instead of her school work, she found that she would much rather be writing stories, poems and journals for herself, which was reflected in her grades (not the best). However, she was not discouraged.

At age 12, she moved to the French Alps with her parents and went to an English boarding school where, thankfully, her passion for writing continued to grow. She flourished during her high school years back in the United States at Ashley Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, vacationing with her mother in a rambling old beach cottage on a beautiful stretch of Florida beach.

She went to Smith College and studied English with some wonderful teachers as she read the classics and continued her own creative writing. She graduated with honors and moved into a Greenwich Village apartment in New York. She worked in the theater, where Equity union pay and a flexible schedule afforded her the time to write! She published her first two novels during these years—A Small Rain and Ilsa—before meeting Hugh Franklin, her future husband, when she was an understudy in Anton Chekov's The Cherry Orchard. They married during The Joyous Season.

She had a baby girl and kept on writing, eventually moving to Connecticut to raise the family away from the city in a small dairy farm village with more cows than people. They bought a dead general store, and brought it to life for 9 years. They moved back to the city with three children, and Hugh revitalized his professional acting career. The family has kept the country house, Crosswicks, and continues to spend summers there.

As the years passed and the children grew, Madeleine continued to write and Hugh to act, and they to enjoy each other and life. Madeleine began her association with the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, where she has been the librarian and maintained an office for more than thirty years. After Hugh's death in 1986, it was her writing and lecturing that kept her going. She has now lived through the 20th century and into the 21st and has written over 60 books and keeps writing. She enjoys being with her friends, her children, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren."


Copyright © 2007 Crosswicks, Ltd. (Madeleine L'Engle, President)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 837 reviews
Profile Image for Laura Baugh.
Author 56 books135 followers
March 11, 2010
This book was recommended to me and I ordered it from the library promptly; I'd liked reading Madeleine L'Engle, and I've often discoursed on the relation of faith and art.

I was a bit disconcerted when the book arrived, however; it was a smaller volume than I'd expected, and when I started reading, it seemed rambling, disorganized, and not terribly helpful. Had I found the low point of L'Engle's work?

As a writer and a Christian, I have of course been challenged -- internally and externally -- by the unfortunately common, "But you should do Christian art!" Trouble is, I really dislike most modern "Christian art," which is almost entirely knock-off sellout schlock. (The art of previous eras has been filtered by time so that better examples are preserved, which helps.) My own arguments that all Truth is of God, and real art is Christian, even if it shows only a part of the story, were valid to me but incomplete.

As I got further into this book, however, I began to find it more and more relevant. L'Engle takes risks in telling us of her own journey in discovering truths of art, and she takes some potentially unpopular stands on the nature of art and its audiences. She defends "art" as something just as vital or more so than science (while simultaneously emphasizing the glorious art and truth of science), she points out the differences between fact and truth, she talks about the artist's experience of losing control of both oneself and one's story, including the (oh so familiar!) disconcerting sensation of having the characters take over and do something wholly unplanned and incontrovertible.

She also challenges both artists of all varieties and the complacent Christian community in fulfilling our roles as co-creators in the image of God, honoring truth and story, and allowing ourselves to serve the story.

I found myself pausing at periods to ruminate on what I'd just read, and I suspect I'll be buying a copy of this to keep for myself. It's for Christian artists, yes, but it's also for Christians, for artists, for anyone who enjoys art of any form, and for any open-minded person seeking truth in the world.
Profile Image for K.M. Weiland.
Author 25 books2,249 followers
February 11, 2019
This book is an intuitive artist’s dream. Incredibly beautiful, insightful, and inspiring. I listened to it on audio and before I was even halfway done, I ordered a hardcover so I could re-read it and underline it liberally.
Profile Image for Cindy Rollins.
Author 20 books1,882 followers
November 19, 2019
I never read L’Engle before last year when I was blown away by her Crosswick Journals. I picked this up after reading Andrew Peterson’s Adorning the Dark. This book touched me deeply because it admitted the connection between pain and art. Truth, goodness, and beauty are not fantasy worlds. I also love her acknowledgment of the Holy Spirit in the mystery of creation.
Profile Image for Dale Harcombe.
Author 12 books288 followers
November 25, 2014
I remember the first time I read Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art. It was an eye-opener for me – and a book I became completely absorbed in. Since then it has been read numerous times. It is one book of mine that has multiple paragraphs and sentences highlighted or underlined as well as pages turned down at the corners. Yes that’s shocking I know to some people but that‘s what I do when a book is a useful tool. This book certainly was for me.

Some of the pages are so highlighted, it is mostly all blue or yellow or whatever colour highlighter was to hand at the time. Much of the yellow highlighter has faded over the years but the message of the book has not faded.

This book, as the title suggests, in not specifically about writing as it deals with various forms of art. In it Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favourite writers, talks about the need of the artist to be ’obedient to the work.’ That means not being prescriptive about being in control and trying to make the work go the way we want it to but being open to let the work dictate the story and form.

At a conference a woman said to Madeleine L’Engle about her Newbery winning A Wrinkle in Time. ‘I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was eight or nine. I didn’t understand I, but knew what it was about’ Madeline L’Engle goes on to say, ’As long as we know what it’s about, then can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear the road may take us through danger and pain.’ For some of us that may mean drawing on memories we would rather not dredge up or being ready to take a risk in our writing or trusting that the work knows what is needed better sometimes than our rational mind does.

‘The artist must be obedient to the body of the work, knowing that this involves long hours of research, of throwing out a month’s work, of going back to the beginning, or, sometimes scrapping the whole thing.’ Or how about this one a few sentences later, ‘when the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant, then the writer has been listening.’ How often have you had someone see something in your work that you were unaware of yourself? Or that you didn’t know you felt until or remembered or held that view until after the words were written down?

I don’t feel I can give an adequate review of this book. It’s one each of us needs to read for ourselves. I wrote most of this review for another blog but once I had the book out from the bookcase, I couldn't help but re-read it. It's still an absorbing book that has a lot to say about the writing craft, particularly when combined with a stance of faith.

One last quote to leave you with - ’When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere.
But before he can listen, paradoxically he must work. Getting out of the way and listening is not something that comes easily, either in art or in prayer.’ These words are worth thinking seriously about.

As in any Madeleine L’Engle book I find there are lines that will challenge thinking and some aspects I will disagree with. That doesn’t matter because at least it has challenged me and got me thinking about the question enough to formulate my own response.

First published in 1980, this book is still as relevant, insightful and encouraging or challenging, today as it was when I first read it. I hope I’ve convinced some of you who haven’t read it, to give it a go and I’d love to hear your responses to it.
Profile Image for Justin Wiggins.
Author 17 books95 followers
April 9, 2022
I remember first reading this when I was in community college years ago, and underlining many passages, memorizing quotes, and finding it to be a very challenging, encouraging, and fascinating read. At that time I was struggling to find my voice as a writer, and this book was one that really helped me find my voice, as well as books by other writers such as C.S.Lewis, George MacDonald, Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, and Jane Austen.
Re-reading it again for the second time reminded me of why I love writing, that good writing is very, very, hard work, and that a writer must write every day, whether it is a thousand words, or one little paragraph written after a very tiring day of work when you just want to crawl in bed and call it a night.
Some of my favorite moments in the book is when L'Engle quotes and references George MacDonald, the struggle and joy she experienced when her iconic book A Wrinkle In Time was published, her important belief in the fact that there is no sacred or secular either/ or, and that whatever the artist worldview, their belief will come out in their work, and the many other references to great writers, composers, painters, and other artists that she herself found to be of great help as she was pursuing her vocation.
L'Engle gives a very valid point about not comparing your own unique gift and voice to the great artists that have come before, but to build off of them, find your own voice, perfect your craft, and to surrender to the work itself. When working on different creative projects, the transcendent experience I have had, has filled me with wonder and great joy.
I once met a lady who knew Madeleiene L'Engle, and she spoke very highly of her. I am glad that she wrote this book. This is my favorite quote from it, "“The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort towards wholeness.”
Profile Image for ladydusk.
416 reviews165 followers
July 29, 2020
Twenty years ago when I first read this book, I loved it. Admittedly I loved the feel, the atmosphere of it, but struggled more with the ideas and ideals. I didn't have the relational background for many of the ideas in it, so the style and general consciousness was enough.

I've been intending to re-read it for a number of years and finally took the time.

Perfect timing.

The style and the ideas came into more overlap for me on this second reading. I could love both. Her insistence that Christians are artists and that Art - good art - is an expression of faith (even if not understood by the artist himself) is incredibly satisfying and strengthening. She insists that disciplined effort, that listening to the work, that revision, that vulnerability (even unto death) are all necessary for good art.

I really loved the idea of finding "cosmos from the chaos" the artist sees, seeks, attends to what is not immediately obvious in the overwhelm. As the Spirit hovered over the chaos and brought forth creation, so artists look for the solid ground in a world that is ever washing over and around them to bring order. Yes.

There are so many concepts here - naming, wholeness, trust, probabilities, paradox, love. It would be nearly impossible to collect them and share them. I can only share the book and say, "Read this. Take up your work." The best review would be to practice the discipline in some art.

I don't plan on waiting another 20 years before a re-read.
Profile Image for Anna.
153 reviews5 followers
August 5, 2011
Trying to encompass all my thoughts and feelings about this book would take...well, a book. Or some approximation thereof. This is my second time reading it and I find that once again it reaches and touches me on so many levels. I find joy here, and inspiration; the book *makes* me want to write. It gives me fuel, or refuels me, if you will. I am reminded of the adventures that unfold in both life and art when we take the time to simply *listen* to the story, to the vision, the photograph, the art, the still small voice. I am reminded that we live mostly on the tip of the iceberg while the larger part of ourselves, of life, the part we cannot really control, lies below the surface -- and when we listen, when we let go of fear of the unknown, we find ourselves, we find true freedom. We are more than we know.

And this is how I want to live, how I want to write -- in truth, and hearing that roar on the other side of silence.

Read it. And follow your art.
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 6 books50.5k followers
January 30, 2012
L'Engle puts into words so many thoughts that have been swirling in my head for decades about Christians and art (and Christian art). Now I'm aching to re-read the Wrinkle in Time trilogy!
Profile Image for Bec.
187 reviews10 followers
March 27, 2013
It is not a perfect book and I certainly don't agree with everything but oh it is wonderful. Such insight and presence and goodness. Thank you L'Engle for this book. My mind and heart are larger for reading it. My ears more open. Familiarity to some of her fiction will help but is not mandatory, however regardless if you read this you should read Wrinkle simply because it is A Wrinkle in Time and that book in itself is close to the heart of life and God.
Profile Image for Sarah Ryder.
406 reviews55 followers
December 23, 2022
This book is amazing and so so inspiring. I know I this review won’t be able to do it justice in the slightest, but it helped me sooo much right at the time when I needed it most and even helped me to press on with my current problem child book even when I think it’s flat or want to quit.

Like I said this review isn’t doing to this book justice, but if you’re a struggling creative in any way, shape, or form, please go pick up this book and be inspired to create and love your God given passion with joy again because I guarantee this book will do just that and so much more. I loved it and will be reading it again as soon as possible. 🥰
Profile Image for Chautona Havig.
Author 245 books1,486 followers
July 19, 2022
I only picked up this book because it was recommended by Andrew Peterson at the end of his book, Adorning the Dark. I can't believe I would have missed it otherwise.

More than "reflections on faith and art," Walking on Water is almost a treatise in glorifying God in everything. And yet, it's so simple and approachable, so completely incomplete... how can it be? All I know is I walked away from the final chapter with a new appreciation for authors and art I hadn't been interested in (Brothers Kamarazov here I come!) and the idea of serving the work as unto the Lord. What a beautiful idea!

Recommended for everyone, but especially recommended for the weary creative who needs a refreshing walk... on the water of the Word through the eyes of a woman convinced we still can through faith.
Profile Image for BookishStitcher.
1,054 reviews44 followers
November 12, 2017
I loved this book so much that I want to reread it till I have it memorized and it has been etched on my soul.

I almost can't even review this because it struck me on such a deep level that it feels too personal to talk about why this book impacted me the way it did. Struggles and doubts that I have had suddenly took on new light when she talked about her path. Basically, any review that I give this will be inadequate for how it made me feel.
Profile Image for D.M. Dutcher .
Author 1 book49 followers
May 10, 2013
This book is like listening to your erudite upper-class grandmother wax poetic about faith in relatively bland, indefinite terms while she sips chamomile tea on a rattan chair in an immaculately kept garden. This means some of you absolutely will love this book, and others will squirm and fidget because they hate tea. I'm the latter.

It isn't a bad book by any means, and it's good to see L'Engle engage faith, albeit elliptically. It's more about intuition and sentiment than a hard look at the Christian and art. It's not that correct either; bad religion has made plenty of good art; the gnostic William Blake is one example. I also think if you can see the Incarnation in secular and Christian works, it might just be you seeing something the author didn't intend. But this isn't a work really for those of us who want nuts and bolts; it's feeling, sentiment, and poetry, and for people who enjoy such, it's fine at doing that.

I tend to not connect with L'Engle, but this book, like all her rest, seem tailor made for sensitive, intelligent young women with a religious, non-dogmatic bent, and you'll probably enjoy it far better if you are one. Men would probably connect better with someone like G.K. Chesterton; "The Ethics of Elfland" in Orthodoxy makes a good contrast in styles between the two.
Profile Image for Sophfronia Scott.
Author 12 books251 followers
May 7, 2022
I'll always re-read this book because I'll always need reminders to serve the work and that it is possible to walk on water.
Profile Image for Lancelot Schaubert.
Author 28 books260 followers
January 26, 2020
When you get down about your artistic work, you’re supposed to invoke your muse. Problem is, as Neil Gaiman pointed out in Sandman, sometimes a lesser muse of a finite part of creation will tempt you to chain her to your type writer and force her to inspire you and that’s no way to treat a lady. So, as Boethius says, sometimes you need the greatest muse to kick out the lesser muses, to point them in their place, to call them the hussies they are. You need whom Milton called The Muse of Sinai: the Holy Spirit. And when the Spirit shows up, she can manifest herself in the encouragement of ten thousand friends. As the poet said, Christ plays in ten thousand places.

And in my darkest hours of my career, consistently, when I have appealed to the Muse of Sinai against other muses, he has sent me Jackina Stark. Jackina has, more than any one person, fueled my craft over the years with books and lectures and atta boys so that I could not quit if I wanted to. She texted me out of the blue on the most depressing day I’ve had in ten years concerning the craft about a Madeline L’Engle writer’s conference called Walking On Water. “I love her book Walking On Water,” she said.

“I really need to read her. Haven’t yet,” I said.

“WHAT? Not even A Wrinkle in a time?”

“Okay, Wrinkle I have read.”

“Her non-fiction writing/spiritual book Walking on Water is one of my very favorites! So beautiful. Get it immediately. Or I’ll have to have it sent to you.”

“I’ll see if the library has it. Likely can’t afford another book at the minute,” I said.

“But Walking on Water! I need you to be reading it this very minute. I’ll help your head and heart. Where should I send it?”

A day later it was in my inbox. I finished most of it in two days, got distracted, finished the last twenty pages yesterday. And as when she sent me On Writing and Story and Bird by Bird, she gave just the right medicine at just the write time. Muse of Sinai once again gave me Jackina at my darkest hour and Jackina once again gave me yet another new light in my flickering candelabra.

Walking On Water, unlike most writing books, is rather ethereal. In some ways it reminds me of Bradbury, but in most other ways it reminds me of of devotional classics by mystics. She at no point minimizes the discipline and craft of writing. Rather by humbling the proud, she makes it possible that we might enter the chapel of great writers by kneeling through the tiny door: the door that only children may enter.


She begins the book not by doing or recommending doing, but by being. Properly ordered, this reminds me of Heschel’s Sabbath where an architecture of time orders work that follows: we don’t become who we are from our work. We know who we are, rest in who we are, be who we are, and then work out of that wisdom and confidence. Proper being predicates proper doing.

And so silence and stillness predicate all good creative works. And that is precisely what we have so little of in society in general and my life in particular — ESPECIALLY at the start of a project when I am so prone to neurotic flurries of intense activity.

Madeline reminds us, like Lewis before her in “Christianity and Literature,” that whatever Christian standards we apply to art (she rails often against pornography, brutality, the sorts of things folk do in secret because they’re afraid to let the children see), we still must measure the work by what is common to all good art. So on the finite end, “Christian art” is simply a marketing genre of kitch art for shallow Christians, but art itself is predicated upon the truths of Christianity and so, in a sense, all good art is Christian art. God is Beauty therefore all beauty is God’s beauty. God is goodness therefore all goodness is God’s goodness and so forth.

From there she transitions (which she seldom does in this book, but I don’t know if poor transitions is always a flaw...) to the idea that all learning under compulsion has no hold on the mind, a thought from Plato (she draws from deep wells, which in and of itself makes me want to continue with my program in reading the western canon). She rightly points out times she learned under compulsion and then quickly shifts to show the role of play with the mind, something Chesterton spoke of often as did Lewis.

The job of the artist, first and foremost in her mind, is to find chaos and speak cosmos firmly into it. To create another world in places where our own world is crumbling. She gets this from a musician but applies it universally. And the. she moves to Mary.

Being an Anglican (Anglo-Catholic) helps her in this regard because she doesn’t treat Mary like a Juliette who happened to go through a Juno pregnancy and got lucky it was Jesus. She speaks of incarnating thoughts: that angels come to us to bear anointing and we, like Mary, must become obedient to her command.

Obedient to the work because the work comes and says, “Enflesh me.” We either bear or refuse. To hear is to obey and the younger we are, the more we see the angels and hear their commands and feel willing to say, “Yes, and...”

Here she points as she points often to Aristotle’s idea: “that which is impossible and probable is better than that which is possible and improbable.” Because, simply, possibility is higher than probability and if we something consider something impossible and yet we _know_ it’s probabilistically possible, that opens up entire new realms of possibility as opposed to merely putting limits by being improbable. Improbable possibility is hitting your number on the lottery. Probable impossibility is turning water into wine.

The Nazi engineer focuses on the former and the Christian artist focuses on the latter, efficient bullets and Bonhoeffer’s poetry in the concentration camp.

She points to Peter whose faith went three layers: first believing in who Jesus was, then believing in what Jesus could do, then believing in who he was in Jesus, and last believing in what Jesus could do through him. The last bit is the hardest, but it’s the one if taken obediently Madeline hopes will enable her to one day walk across her pond, listen to those great disembodied minds we call angels (the ones with thoughts so vast they give us nose bleeds and seizures), and ultimately all things that lie on the other side of reason: the dark and unknown we do not willfully admit exists. Faith seeking understanding.

This too is where art interjects: to speak of what we have no words or data on. What’s miraculous to her is that Mary said, “Yes.” And how that obedience carried her through delivery and rearing.

She speaks of all writing as a lake: that some like Dostoevsky feed the lake with rivers and others like your local poet does it with flicks of raindrops, but the calling is to feed the lake and obedience makes it bigger, better, more beautiful.

To pursue what we want to make in the chaos while praying, “If this is not your will for me, then change my will.” To pray he gives what he commands: that we, like little Christs, give flesh to the thoughts of God. That we, like subcreators, make in the image in which we are made.


Madeline moves on to show how Christ didn’t come to make us suffer but to show us how to suffer well. She points to Orthodox iconography where anonymous painters use anonymity to encourage time at task, care and virtue in the work.

Unlike signs, the symbols we make actually contain some quality of that which they represent. And because of that, they testify to spiritual realities if they remain accurate even when the artist does not believe in God. Therefore, according to Buber, we must utter words not as if they come from our mouth but as if when speaking them we enter the word. We ultimately see God manifesting his unknowable universal bounty into the particulars of the everyday. Therefore the thought that we must, we ought to write, never leaves us.

She also points out that the scandalous particularity of God is what flies in the face of something like the Spanish Inquisition and even sets the stage for the scandal of incarnate art. The beauty of writing, for her, is that a reader co-creates with the author in a marvelous way — much in the way that the author co-creates along with God. Therefore the work wants not to be signed because the work itself and the dialog with the reader matter far, far more than the author. To make icons of the true renders us all prostrate.

She so believes in this icon theory of writing that she compares the diminuation of vocabulary copywriting to that of a dictator, both of which she calls anti-Christian.

God I wish I could have met this woman.

Having leveled that critique, she turns her ire to the book of Common Prayer and shows why there and elsewhere in the feminism movement — to which she considers herself a proto-player — well, I'll leave it to her:

Nor do I want to be stuck in the vague androidism which has resulted from the attempts to avoid the masculine pronoun. We are in a state of intense sexual confusion, both in life and language, but the social manipulation is not working. Language is a living thing; it does not stay the same; it is hard for me to read the language of Piers Plowman, for instance, so radical have the changes been. But language is its own creature. It evolves on its own. It follows the language of its great artists, such as Chaucer. It does not do well when suffering from arbitrary control. Our attempts to change the words which have long been part of a society dominated by males have not been successful; instead of making language less sexist they have made it more so. Indeed, we are in a bind. For thousands of years we have lived in a paternalistic society, where women have allowed men to make God over in their own masculine image. But that's anthropomorphism. To think of God in terms of sex at all is a dead end. To substitute person for man has ruined what used to be a good theological word, calling up the glory of God's image within us. Now, at best, it's a joke. There's something humiliating and embarrassing about being a chairperson. Or a chair. A group of earnest women have put together a volume of desexed hymns, and one of my old favourites now begins: “Dear Mother-Father of personkind.” No. It won't do. This is not equality. Perhaps we should drop the word woman altogether and use man, recognizing that we need both male and female to be whole. And perhaps if we ever have real equality with all our glorious differences, the language itself will make the appropriate changes. For language, like a story or a painting, is alive. Ultimately it will be the artists who will change the language (as Chaucer did, as Dante did, as Joyce did), not the committees. For an artist is not a consumer, as our commercials urge us to be. An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone."

Reminds me of St. Catherine of Siena:

"What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly, the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her; by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good."

Lady's got style.


Biggest pickup from this chapter is that she too got and gets called a liar as I was. This is the West's modern analytic philosophic failure to understand the value of narrative hypothesis when it comes to logic and math and science as well as the practical value of concretizing experience.

She believes, correctly, that all children are artists and it's an indictment of our culture that so few remain so as they age. The freedom of the iterative spirit gets lost as we age: the freedom to climb trees, chain mountains together (as Chesterton said in his defense of Rash Vows), and to run across the lake when called. Writing — and performing, to some degree — returns us to that prime creativity. To what Tolkien called subcreation: a participation in the ongoing donation of being.

Interestingly enough, the qualitative nature of subcreation means that He chooses folks who look bad on paper. And as someone who has perennially scoffed at LinkedIn, resumes, and the like — I really appreciate that.

She points to how pain sort of lances the boil (to use my name in a pejorative sense) and opens up the wound that needed healing all along. Through the healing, we become what Nouen called Wounded Healers, but through the creative act. Pain isn't inherently creative: some seek out pain, which becomes a masochistic inversion of reality, inherently nihilistic and parasitic on the true creative act. It takes a receptivity to move towards the pain, but creatively. To move towards the abyss and say, "Let there be."

4. A Coal in the Hand

She moves from healing through our wounds towards being healed through THE wounds. She also points to the name of trust, the childish "Baba" or "Papa." The coal in hand bit, if I can remember right, I think relates how she thinks we should consider how being "90% of children are highly creative" but how that languishes to 10% in adulthood. And how to foster that: childlikeness without childishness, developing into joy rather than arresting development into despair.

5. Probable Impossibles

This is connected to her rendering of Aristotle's idea that a probable impossible is greater than a possible improbable. She wants to enlarge possibility, which reminds me of the Dickenson poem: "I dwell in possibility — a fairer house than prose — more numerous of windows — superior for doors." She's illuminating how hypothesis predicates execution, how ideation predicates delivery and so forth. So it's better to say, "This impossible thing is probable" — that is, the illumination of our metaphysics and frame for the world so that we might learn to love greater, better, truer than how we're currently permitted to love. It's far, far better than the critical eye that desperately searches for the far end of the bell curve outside the standard deviation. Because most data sets have blind spots, black swans they never considered. The Probable Impossible writes stories about black swans. They transfigure. They move and shape and form. That includes never assuming such impossible joys are your DUE: you don't deserve it, it's currently impossible. Therefore it's not there for you, it's not there so you can prove something, it's there as a gift for you and you're meant to share it.

I'm running out of characters — only 300 left — but I would continue a chapter-by-chapter analysis. It was a well-timed book provided by a mentor who's never late or early, but who arrives precisely when she means to. And I mean both Madeline and Jackina in this instance.

Read on friends.

Lancelot of Little Egypt
Profile Image for Kristina.
168 reviews5 followers
May 27, 2019
Do you know the feeling? The one where you begin to read a book or see the first few frames of a movie or the first few notes of a song and you take a quick breath because you know you are about to be fundamentally changed? This is how I felt in the first few pages of this gorgeous book.

In "Walking on Water", Madeleine Le'Engle explores the relationship between faith and art. She spends most of the time reflecting on what makes certain art "Christian" or "non-Christian", and then rightfully concludes that the job of the artist is to serve the art. To serve the gift which they were given by God, and in this act of service and creating "art" they are glorifying God and therefore it is Christian. She also talks about how art that mentions Jesus can often be secular.

I wept tears of relief through much of this book. Through my entire life I have inherently KNOWN that art is not evil, that it is a gift from the Lord. In my adulthood, I have experienced shaming from other Christians for loving the things that I love. For reading books about dinosaurs, future worlds, and superheroes. For watching movies that are depressing and deemed "sinful" because they're not made by a "Christian" movie studio. For letting my child read books about witches, wizards, outer space, and fairies. She even spends time on the concept of "naming", one that I am often drawn to and moves me to tears when I encounter it in any work, even so-called secular art.

However I love these things because the Lord has drawn me to Himself within these stories. On the outside, a book like Harry Potter is written off by Christians because J.K. Rowling is not one. However, the fact that so often in my life I have been the boy under the stairs, the intelligent but lonely academic, the bumbling friend and yet have been called by Christ into a great adventure is to me a reflection and glorification of Jesus, even if that's not Rowling's intention. Isn't the Lord bigger than His work? Isn't this why we can truly see Him in almost everything, even the secular? (She does spend some time talking, as well, about how there is such a thing as truly secular art that misses the mark).

Reading "Walking on Water" gave voice to my struggles of faith and art in adulthood. I am not a writer, but I am a reader and an avid consumer of seemingly secular art. I am grateful for Le'Engle, and for her obedience to write down her passionate discourse and her own struggles with her faith and how it relates to art.

I recommend this book to everyone. Even if you're not a Christian. Even if you're not an artist. Even if you don't care about the relationship between the two. As human beings, we are participants in creation and we are deemed to be "God's masterpiece"... we are works of art. The relationship between art and faith often reflects our own views of how we relate to our Creator. I am thankful, for one, that I believe that we can walk on water as we keep our eyes on our Creator.
Profile Image for Schuyler.
Author 1 book68 followers
November 26, 2021
Madeleine's book is full of food for inspiration, moments that resonate, and encouragement for Christian artists. Writing about Christian art was difficult for her. She found Christianity in art by Christians and by secular people, regardless of their faith. I think I would agree. Some songs both Christian and secular move me very deeply, books both Christian and classic resonate with my soul. That is simply because they are good and full of truth about the world.

This book is full of thoughts that are hard to summarize but rich to read about: thoughts on political correctness, God's healing through art, and the sense of wonder that the Christian art requires. Madeleine told herself stories to heal the pain of things she did not understand. I deeply resonated with that as well, but I'll save more thoughts on that for a stand alone article, hopefully next week. She gives anecdotes about her life and different writers she met, and books she worked on, all fascinating to consider. Her words have a warm, friendly, deep thinking style.

My favorite chapter by far was Chapter 11. In this chapter she is talking about the idea of being a servant of the stories, and how the stories know more about how they are to be written and what should be in them than the author does. For instance, the story will tell her what it needs, if it's a knowledge of physics or cellular biology, and she will study that thing. She doesn't take what she knows and pour it into a book. She takes what the book needs and learns it.

In chapter 11, Madeleine told several anecdotes about unexpected characters that popped onto her page and made her work so much more vibrant and complete than her original idea without them. She also told a beautiful story about making an unlikely situation in her book, and finding out that something like it had actually occurred in history. "Miracles" as she calls them, of fiction matching up with true life can indeed take place. I have happy first-hand accounts in my own stories of those things happening without my prior planning.

Walking on Water will give you much to ponder about Christian art. Some of it will be confusing, but all of it will be deep and worthy of consideration. I enjoyed it, and it's an easy read, so I recommend all Christian artists give it a try. Perhaps this statement of hers summarizes the book best:

"I have often been asked if my Christianity affects my stories, and surely it is the other way around; my stories affect my Christianity...." Madeleine L'Engle (2016) Walking on Water, pg. 96. Convergent Books.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Profile Image for Maribeth Barber.
Author 1 book36 followers
June 27, 2019
"In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, or God's glory with our own."

"If our lives are truly 'hid with Christ in God,' the astounding thing is that this hiddenness is revealed in all that we do and say and write. What we are is going to be visible in our art, no matter how secular (on the surface) the subject may be."

I realized recently that I am Presbyterian in my theology, Anglican in my devotions and liturgies ("my timekeeping," as I call it), and increasingly Catholic in my imagination. This book absolutely nurtured my Catholic imagination, while rankling my Presbyterian theology a bit and confirming my Anglican-style timekeeping. And in spite of my disagreements with some of L'Engle's theology (specifically, her clear distaste for the doctrine of predestination), she did have a true and lovely gift for articulating the incredible importance of art and creativity in the Christian life.

She also shows, in her rambling yet enjoyable style, that truly Christian art--even if it isn't produced by believers in Jesus Christ--brings "cosmos out of chaos," order from disorder, meaning from pain, joy from the mundane. "All shall be well," she writes, quoting Lady Julian of Norwich, "and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. No matter what. That, I think, is the affirmation behind all art which can be called Christian. That is what brings cosmos out of chaos."

I've definitely been encouraged and affirmed in my vocation, thanks to this book. I did have to read it slowly and with discernment, because it's quite possible to be so enchanted by L'Engle's beautiful turns of phrase, you don't realize she's being a bit unorthodox until you read that one paragraph or sentence a second time. That said, our Lord undoubtedly gifted her with a great deal of insight into the value and power of creativity. For that reason alone, Madeleine L'Engle remains an inspiration and encouragement to all the writers, painters, musicians, and craftsmen who seek to do their work for the glory of God and for the edification and delight of others.
Profile Image for Amy Neftzger.
Author 13 books174 followers
July 17, 2015
This book is one of the best I've read for artists who also happen to have a strong religious faith. L'Engle approaches creativity as a natural response to being created in the image of The Creator. In fact, she explains that most children start out creative, but wander (or are trained) away from these activities. Unlike many Christian "artists" she defines the individual as an artist who happens to be Christian, rather than a Christian who is obligated to produce art as an evangelism tool. What I respected most was her assertion that art designed to evangelize tends to be come across as forced, and is often lower quality because of this.

The book is also filled with some great concepts for helping the artist to reconnect or remain connected to creativity. I strongly recommend this to Christian artists of all genres: music, visual, literary, dance, etc. Well worth the read for those interested in becoming the person you were created to be, rather than the one that the Church tells you to be.
Profile Image for Jenny.
888 reviews87 followers
February 9, 2018
The rating says it for me this time--it was okay. It was repetitive if you've read other books by L'Engle, and the points she makes about art and artists are interesting but not particularly enlightening. My favorite thing about the book is that I identified with a few passages as a writer. It was nice to say, "Someone else felt this way or went through this too."
Otherwise, I'm disappointed. Usually, L'Engle's books leave me with much more than this one did. My dad said, "It's Madeleine--it wasn't bad." I agree, but it wasn't good either.
If you're looking for a book about advice for writers, this is not that book. If you're struggling to understand what being a Christian artist means, this may give you some insight. Otherwise, I would read almost any of L'Engle's nonfiction books over this one, especially The Crosswicks Journals.
Profile Image for Josiah.
812 reviews166 followers
June 23, 2022
Rambles at times, but there's a lot of profundity to even the rambles.

Rating: 4.0 Stars (Very Good).
Profile Image for Faith Elizabeth  Hough.
497 reviews44 followers
July 20, 2011
Madeleine L'Engle was not only a brilliant story teller, she was a humble, beautiful and insightful woman who, in this book, wrote many of the wisest words I have ever read--about being a writer, and artist, a woman...a human being and child of God.
I couldn't stop quoting passages to my husband, family--okay, anyone who would listen--but this was a book that was best read slowly, page by page, with time for reflection. (So the constant pausing to quote ended up being a benefit for me!) It is certainly going to be one of the first books I think of if I am ever again asked the "desert island" question.
I highly, highly recommend this book to everyone--but especially to writers and artists...and any woman struggling with marrying the dual roles of writer and mother would do well to find some answers in these pages.
Profile Image for Poiema.
446 reviews64 followers
August 31, 2014
I've read at least one book by Madeleine L'Engle every decade of my life, starting with _A Wrinkle in Time_ when I was a child. Madeleine's theology does not always match my own, but I deeply respect her thoughtfulness and depth. This book is about the arts. I love that Madeleine does not encourage Christians to stay with "safe" art (Thomas Kinkade comes to mind). Truth can be captured by some very unlikely artists and humanity is the richer for it. Come to think of it, I believe Madeleine L'Engle has earned a place in that club! Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Amberlee Bixler.
48 reviews1 follower
August 2, 2011
Is there a 5 star plus I can offer for a review? I ask, because this is the one book to warrant it. Ms. L'Engle beautifully presents several arguments for re-uniting the theological with the artistic, and how an artist (writer, performer, dancer, etc.) can not only bridge the gap between the two, but also clearly defines the reasons why one must. The quotes and arguments are simply stated, and honestly reasoned. This is the book I read when I question whether the pain is worth the thunder, and always, always find the answer is yes.
Profile Image for Rivers Houseal.
Author 4 books8 followers
July 6, 2022
I found some faulty theology in places, but overall a thought provoking book that makes some very good points.
Profile Image for Jared.
59 reviews17 followers
August 1, 2022
Each summer, I get to work with a book-writing-and-editing intern through Louisville’s Love Thy Neighborhood ministry. This is one of the books I ask the intern to read.

The book was first published when I was 2, but I resonate with it deeply. For L’Engle the character of an artist and the character of a Christian are one and the same. Each must submit to incarnation followed by life, to death and then resurrection. This is the theology of a Christian writer who truly serves others. It’s a theology of the cross.
Profile Image for Jacinta Meredith.
359 reviews4 followers
April 30, 2022
As soon as I finished this book, I wanted to start it again. In fact, I might just do that. I feel like this is one of those books that the Christian artist needs by his or her side at all times. Just to pick it up, read a passage here or a passage there as a reminder of the magic you are weaving for the glory of God and the imagination of the reader. I felt like Madeleine L'Engle understood me as a writer more than anyone else I've ever read or talked to. This book was truly beautiful.
Profile Image for Mitali.
Author 22 books483 followers
May 22, 2021
Read this purportedly as research for my own book, STEEPED IN STORIES: TIMELESS CHILDREN'S NOVELS TO REFRESH OUR TIRED SOULS, but it ended up refreshing my own tired creativity. "Auntie" Madeleine was so prescient when it comes to writing, faith, and children's literature. I felt like I was spending time at a retreat with her teaching me right now, in the moment. The discussion questions in the back by Lindsay Lackey are fantastic, and I really enjoyed Sara Zarr's foreword.
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