The Book That Transformed My Creative Life

When I had just about finished college (the first time, many moons ago),  I met a woman who became a constant source of inspiration; a dearest mentor and friend–Laura.  (To this day she is one of the most important people in my life, though we sometimes go months without speaking, as we live states away from one another.)

I believe she is my spiritual family – given to me by God to stand in the gap.

Laura introduced me to my favorite author, and a book that changed my life.

 

I remember after I attended an audition for a regional theatre she was running at the time, we had our first conversation about wonderful things like books and music and my creative soul began to break open.    I wore my little cobalt blue hat that made me feel artsy and carried my journal in my purse.  She asked me if I had ever read any books by Madeleine L’Engle.  I’d read some of her children’s literature, (in particular The Wrinkle In Time trilogy) but didn’t know L’Engle had written over 60 books total – about art and life and faith, and so much more.

“You should read Walking On Water, Sarah”, said Laura.  I think it would have a lot to say to you.”

 

{Unless noted, all quotes in this post are from Walking On Water by Madeleine L’Engle.}

In art we are once again able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars.  We write, we make music, we draw pictures, because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing…An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith.

How can I even begin to put into words how this book has affected me?  I still lovingly peruse my dog-eared copy from all those years ago with such happiness, and dare I say, reverence.

There’s a ticket stub inside it from a Blue Man Group performance in Vegas years ago, with a bright blue goopy ‘autograph’ lip-print.  I’ve highlighted so much of the text in so many different colors, many of the pages look like a rainbow.  My best friend borrowed the book, and her handwritten notes in the margin are full of wisdom.

When I see other bloggers or authors discovering her work (especially for the first time), I get positively giddy on their behalf – hoping they’ll discover something about themselves as artists and believers as they read Madeleine’s words.

There is much that the artist must trust. He must trust himself.  He must trust his work.  He must open himself to revelation, and that is an act of trust.

 

L’engle’s  ‘Reflections on Faith & Art’ (the book’s subtitle) should be required reading for any kind of artist or creative soul with even a shred of faith.  Even if your faith has gone south, and all you can do is seek and question, rest assured Madeleine’s words will speak life and wisdom to your bones.

But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint or clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.

 

There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation…To paint a picture or to write a story or to compose a song is an incarnational activity.  The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver.  In a very real sense the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command.  Obedience is an unpopular words nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work.  Each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am.  Enflesh me.  Give birth to me.”

 

This book has taught me about so much more than just my art.  Some of its words I have carried with me and done my best to live out for as long as I can remember–particularly where my faith is concerned.

We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.

 

Of course, along with all of the wisdom on art and faith, there is sound advice for the craft of artistic performance that can translate to any type of work.

It’s a strange paradox: your technique must be practised until it is as close to perfect as you can make it, and then, and then only, are you free to let go, to let yourself get out of the way.

 

The important thing is to recognize that our gift, no matter what the size, is indeed something given us, for which we can take no credit, but which we may humbly serve, and in serving, learn more wholeness, be offered wondrous newness.

L’Engle’s  wisdom as a writer encouraged me to write for years in my journal when I couldn’t write in public.  She has inspired countless authors, and her words are continuing to teach me about telling a better story with my life and my words.

Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.

 

Story is in no way an evasion of life, but a way of living life creatively instead of fearfully.

 

We must constantly be open to new revelation, which is another way of hearing God, with loving obedience.

 

I truly have barely scratched the surface of inspirational nuggets in the few excerpts I’ve shared here.  If you haven’t read it, you have the delightful treat of discovering one of the best books on the creative process for the first time.  If you have your own well-worn copy, take a moment and perhaps re-read a few chapters – you’re bound to find something new to inspire and delight your creative soul.

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For Further Reading by Madeleine L’Engle:
  • A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journal 1)
  • The Irrational Season (Crosswicks Journals 2)
  • Two-Part Invention: The Story of A Marriage (Crosswicks 4)
  • Friends For The Journey (by L’engle & Luci Shaw)
  • The Genesis Trilogy (And It Was Good, A Stone For A Pillow, Sold Into  Egypt)
  • The Rock That Is Higher: Story As Truth
  • Penguins & Golden Calves: Icons & Idols
  • Bright Evening Star: The Mystery of the Incarnation
  • Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts & Reflections (L’engle reader)
  • Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections On A Writing Life (L’engle reader)

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 {This post is part of the ‘Resources For Creatives’ series.}

 

 

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