Monday, May 8, 2017

Book Review: And It Was Good

And It Was Good. Madeleine L'Engle. 1983/2017. Convergent Books. 213 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: A small ship—a freighter—on a very large sea.

Premise/plot: And It Was Good is the first in a reflective trilogy by Madeleine L'Engle. The reflections are inspired by her reading--rereading perhaps I should say since I'm sure she read it more than once--of the book of Genesis. The book is a collection of her thoughts on God, on faith, on religion, on the world we live in, on belief and doubt. L'Engle also reflects on the times: the threat of nuclear war, the threat of war-war-and-nothing-but-war, the lack of compassion we show each other as human beings.

Throughout the book, she uses EL as the name for God. There is no he or him. It's always "God," "El," "Jesus," or "Spirit."

For those looking for LITERARY devotions, this one might suit. My criticism is not of her literary style or technique, the way she crafted words into sentences that make you pause or puzzle. My criticism is of her theology.

My thoughts: L'Engle's theology is…in my opinion…dangerous. Dangerous for at least three reasons: first because she has a way of crafting half-truths into beautiful sounding truths; second, because her approach to practicing faith is becoming more and more mainstream and common; third, because it is such a mixed-bag. There are sentences you agree with completely; sentences you agree with somewhat; sentences you are just plain confused about what she actually might have meant; and fighting-sentences where you just call her out as WRONG. Sometimes it isn't sentences so much as ideas and concepts. L'Engle is way more mystical and mantra-driven than I'm comfortable with. Also L'Engle advocates for a God who is always changing and very open, also dependent on us in some ways. She also does not believe that hell is forever. She proclaims there's second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. chances. We never run out of chances to repent and turn to God. Ultimately no matter how long it takes--everyone, everything will be redeemed and restored.

Very true:

  • Our deepest messages of love are often conveyed without words.
  • To write a story or paint a picture is to risk failure.
  • If we are to pray, we must know where our prayers are directed.
  • It is impossible to understand the New Testament without a firm grounding in the Old. 
  •  If we are to have the courage to recognize ourselves as God reveals us to ourselves, we must have the courage to face ourselves, not only the parts which we like or of which we approve.
  • Compassion means to be with, to share, to overlap, no matter how difficult or painful it may be.
  • How ironic it is that we’re still far from having the knowledge of good and evil, and it is more difficult to distinguish between them today than it was in Eden. 

Somewhat true:

  • But I believe that the Kingdom is built on the little things that all of us do.
  • We do not love each other without changing each other. We do not observe the world around us without in some way changing it, and being changed ourselves.

Plain confused:

  •  Every single one of us, without exception, is called to co-create with God. No one is too unimportant to have a share in the making or unmaking of the final showing-forth. Everything that we do either draws the Kingdom of love closer, or pushes it further off. That is a fearful responsibility, but when God made “man in our image, male and female,” responsibility went with it. Too often we want to let somebody else do it, the preacher, or the teacher, or the government agency. But if we are to continue to grow in God’s image, then we have to accept the responsibility. God’s image! How much of God may be seen in me, may I see in others? Try as we may, we cannot hide it completely.
  • If we accept that God is within each of us, then God will give us, within us, the courage to accept the responsibility of being co-creators.
  • I stood at the rail looking down at the ocean and saw the foil-like flickering of flying fish, and it struck me that knowledge is always open to change; knowledge, not wisdom. If it is not open to change it is not knowledge, it is prejudice. 
  • If I discover that my concept of God is becoming limited, then I am beginning to shut myself off from revelation. And if I assume that my concept of God is final, I have fallen for Satan’s temptations, because if I decide that my concept of God is final, then I am falling into hubris.
  • I am not comfortable in a closed system where there are no questions left to ask, or where questions are shunned as heresy. 
  • A young friend told me of an East Indian Christian who had suggested to her that we are not called to be Christians; we are called to be Christs. I find this both challenging and freeing when I am confused by all the things which Christians are doing all over the planet, in the name of Christ, which seem incompatible with all that Jesus taught. 
  • How can those who would follow Christ assume that they are more beloved of the Creator than any other part of his creation, when God created everything, and saw that it was good? And if God created man in his own image, male and female, then all, all of humankind is part of that image, known or unknown, served or betrayed, accepted or denied. God loves every man, sings the psalmist. Perhaps it is more blessed to be aware of our part in the Image than not, but Jesus made it clear that sometimes it is those who are least aware of it who serve the image best.
  • Each of us needs others. Any single one of us, alone, cannot be the image of God; discovering that image within us is not a do-it-yourself activity. Before I can be an icon of the image of God, I must be with someone else, hand in hand. 
  • I had a delightful letter from a woman who expressed her hope that after death she would meet some of her favourite fictional characters. I agree with her that this would be a delightful aspect of heaven. There are so many I would like to meet—Emily of New Moon, Ivan Karamazov, Mole and Rat, Viola and Duke Orsino, Mary Lennox, and even, I hope, some of the characters who have come to me in my own books.
  • Divine discontent is to accept to our sorrow that we are not what we have been created to be. We have fallen far short of our small part in the image of God; we are less than we are. Once we are aware of this we can open ourselves to our Creator, saying, Help me to be what you want me to be. 
  • Reality is something we participate in making, as co-creators with God. Making reality is part of our vocation, and one of the chief concerns of prayer. And it is an affirmation of interdependence. 
  • A writer, alone and with great struggle, writes a book. That book becomes real only as someone reads it and creates it along with the author. Each one of us, reading Genesis, will begin to create a new reality. The important thing is that our realities intersect and overlap. 
  • We seek God not in order to find but to be found. When God discovers me in the deepest depths then I am truly Named, and rather than ceasing to be, I become.
  • And in all cultures it is made clear that the recitation of the holy words is never for the individual; it is for the salvation of all people, the redemption of the entire universe. The interrelationship is so total that at the death of a single person the galaxies quake. And the laughter of one child is part of the singing of the stars. 
  • There is nothing static. We change each other simply by observing each other. We are all part of something far greater than we can begin to comprehend, and to be part of the changing melody and the complexity of the dance is part of our vocation as co-creators.
  • God cares about us, for our Lord is in us and we are in our Lord, and el’s beauty is our beauty and all of creation is an act of creative love. 

Fighting sentences, or, plain confused part 2:

  • And then with astonishment I heard myself saying, “My religion is subject to change without notice.” And I felt that I had received a profound revelation. As God has revealed elself throughout history, our concept of the Creator has changed and deepened. If we close ourselves off to revelation we are, in a real way, silencing God. If God is I will be what I will be (which is what el replied when Moses asked “Who are you?”) then our understanding of el’s ways has to be open, too.
  • But who is to say that if God chooses to change, he chooses to change in the way in which the world changes? It may be completely the reverse, I do not know whether or not, or how, God changes, only that el will be what el will be, and that is what el wills, not what I will. 
  • As long as the Lord will be what el will be, a living Lord still involved in creating, it is always possible that el will repent, either to forgive us when we are truly sorry for our sins, or to punish us when we are discontented, and often don’t even know we are sinning, unless there is a prophet to point it out. 
  • But this faith involves an acceptance that the Bible is not static, that at different times the living Word can speak in different ways to different ears, and that even the Bible itself can never fully express or manifest the glory of the Creator. That does not make it any less the living Word. It is because it lives that it moves. 
  • Our religion must always be subject to change without notice—our religion, not our faith, but the patterns in which we understand and express our faith. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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