“What would it look like to have friendships with those who are not like us, wherein we learn to argue well and lovingly- and yet at the end of the day we can still be friends?”
So asks author Sarah Arthur in A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle in regards to the friendship L’Engle shared with Luci Shaw.
Longtime followers of our blog will recall that I reviewed Madeleine and Luci’s book Friends for the Journey in 2014. I even listed it as a complementary book example in the proposal I wrote for Mary & Me,
“And you, on your part, can make radical theological statements with which I may disagree, but again, because of our bond of love we accept each other for who we are, flawed and failing, but always truth-seeking,” Luci wrote to Madeleine in their co-authored book.
“Do you feel it, the quiver of longing? I’m guessing I’m not the only one who knows firsthand just how rare, how valuable, such a grace-filled, truth-seeking kind of friend is. Not an idol, not a mentor or spiritual director: a friend.” Sarah Arthur marvels.
Mary Humston and I are blessed to share that unique kind of friendship. Before we co-wrote Mary & Me, I would have said we are more alike than we are different, but our co-writing venture seems to have heightened the differences between us, opening the door to conversations we may have avoided before through thousands of letters. We’ve discussed political issues more in the ensuing three years than we had in the previous thirty. A recent exchange regarding educational reform ended with a respectful agreement to disagree.
“This is a lost art in our culture, particularly as we create ever narrower, taller, insular silos on social media, cut off from opposing viewpoints. With a mere click of a button we can ‘unfriend’ and ‘unfollow’ those with whom we disagree…” Sarah Arthur continues. Her depth of research into Madeleine L’Engle’s life reveals a woman who, much like my dear friend Mary, always attempted to practice charity and empathy towards others. About an acquaintance who worshipped alongside her every day but hated all people of an Asian descent, Madeleine wrote “Surely within me there is an equal blindness, something that I do not recognize in myself, that I justify without even realizing it. All right, brother. Let us be forgiven together, then.”
“All right, brother, we say to the angry relative at Thanksgiving. All right, sister, we say to the person on social media whose politics sound like a foreign language. All right, we say to our idols when they disappoint us. Let us be forgiven together, then. We will only make a way forward when we recognize that we too are flawed and wounded sojourners, that where we are now on the journey is not the end game,” Sarah Arthur extrapolates.
Up until the reading of this beautifully-written biography, I’ve managed to pointedly ignore any hint of criticism of my idol, Madeleine L’Engle, preferring instead to keep the Christian mother and author atop the carefully crafted pedestal I’d established for her in my mind. Somehow, Arthur has managed to delve into that criticism in a way that does not cause disappointment, but instead reveals the complexity of a woman who, despite her failings, still managed to convey a strength and faith we should all strive for.
“Madeleine showed up to serve the work of writing; she disciplined herself to sit down and be present. And she showed up as a struggling believer; she disciplined herself to continue praying, continue reading the Bible, continue practicing hospitality, continue worshiping in community. She perhaps never wrested every chapter of her life into a tidy resolution in which ‘all shall be well,’ but she put her trust in the One whose love does not fail.”
In sharing Madeleine’s own words from the 1996 Festival of Faith and Writing, Sarah Arthur reveals my own greatest desire;
“We’re supposed to be such witnesses of Christ’s love that other people will want to know what makes us glow.”
Novelist Leif Enger called Madeleine “an apologist for joy,” Sarah Arthur informs the reader. A Light So Lovely aptly conveys that aspect of her.