Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Dark and Stormy Night

Most of us think of Charles Schultz's beagle Snoopy when we read those words. Snoopy, perched on top of his dog house, pecking away at his typewriter as he worked at writing the Great American Novel ... and seldom getting farther than the first line or two.

Other readers might think of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, a 19th century British writer, whose opening line of Paul Clifford (1830) read: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

In this one line Bulwer-Lytton shifts focus at least four times and, by today's standards at least, it's a bit much in terms of length and verbosity. 1830s readers put him up there with Charles Dickens, but his writing is mercilessly satirized by our less forgiving age.

In fact, the line sparked a bad-fiction opening line writing contest beginning in 1982. You can read all about it at, where, they say, www means “Wretched Writers Welcome.”

Afficiandos of children's and young adult fiction, however, will recognize “It was a dark and stormy night” as also being the opening line of “A Wrinkle in Time,” written by Madeleine L'Engle, which won the 1963 John Newbery Medal.

I encountered “Wrinkle,” if my memory is correct, as a high school freshman in Tustin, CA, back in the dark ages of the 1960s. I didn't use the school library often, preferring the larger Tustin City Library or, better, the neighboring Santa Ana Library. Extra time at lunch one day caused me to wander in to browse the school library as it was in the same quad as the cafeteria and picnic tables. (Thought: Where do schools situate their libraries?)

I picked up “Wrinkle,” began to read, and ended up checking the book out when the bell rang. It's funny—out of the few memories I've retained of my high school years, walking out of the library with that book is one. The oddities of the human brain...

I remember devouring the book and understanding, for perhaps the first time in my life, that there was more to God than I'd previously thought. That the supernatural was real and that God was in control. Not that my life changed. I saw no visions, heard no voices, didn't become a Joan of Arc or even of Arcadia.

But a grain had been planted that germinated and grew and blossomed less than ten years later when I, as a young mother of three small children, came to understand that living life based on what I thought I should do and on what I thought was right, was slowly destroying me. And there was God, offering me a supernatural life based on what He wanted me to do and on what He said was right...whether I understood it or not.

(Note to those who question God's gender: Yes, I believe that God is neither/both/above and beyond gender. Genesis 1:27 says “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” To me, the creation is not about body or gender, it's about God creating triune beings as a reflection of His triune Godhead. Email me if you'd like to chat.)

Three decades later, I marvel at the road God had prepared for me and at how He has, in very deed, given me the desires of my heart ... desires I didn't even really know were there, they were buried so deeply. But He knew because He put them there. Topics for another day and time.

Today's reflection is in honor of a woman who lived life in the understanding that God sees more than we see, God knows more than we know, and God cares more than we care.

Madeleine L'Engle died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 88. One of this age's most prolific writers, she wrote fiction, memoir, essay, plays, children's and young adult fiction, science fiction based on the real sciences of quantum mechanics and particle physics, romance fiction, poetry, and God alone knows what else. The New York Times' obituary said her work “transcended both genre and generation."


Since rediscovering “Wrinkle” as a young adult and then reading as much of L'Engle's other work as I could find, I've considered her as one of the Titus 2:3 women God has put in my life. Not just, as the Scripture instructs, admonishing me to love my husband and love my children (ever wonder why we need to be admonished to do those things?), but showing me how to be a woman open to God's voice and God's leading, not afraid to ask hard questions nor to hear answers I don't like.

I wrote to her once.

One Thanksgiving, I believe it was. I wrote to thank her for her impact in my life through the books she had written.

She wrote back. A thoughtful, typewritten letter with a handwritten note scrawled at the bottom inviting a response. I can't remember if I responded or not. I know I was stunned that she had written to me ... who was I, after all?

A fellow irrational, she might have responded.

The Irrational Season
This is the irrational season
when love blooms bright and wild;
Had Mary been filled with reason,
there'd have been no room for the Child.
Madeleine L'Engle

So, here's to Madeleine Camp Franklin, known to her readers as Madeleine L'Engle. It was a dark and stormy night.

It is, God willing, a luminous and eternal morning.

I look forward to the time when all veils are removed and we see Him face to face and each other as we truly are, made in His image.

See you then, Madeleine.


JGC said...

So, her response was the poem?

Anne ska Granny Annie said...

How I wish!

No, the poem appeared in her book The Irrational Season, in which she shared scenes from her life, poetry, and reflections/arguments based on the Church year from Advent to Advent.

Please forgive my untimely and delayed response. My editor alerted me to your question/comment and has instructed me on the fine art of linking comments to an automatic email notification system so that I might not commit such a breach of etiquette again.

Pamela said...

Personally I prefer Aunt Luigi. :>

Patricia said...

I enjoyed your tribute to Madeleine L'Engle. I didn't know she had died so your B'log was informative. I did feel a loss that she died, but also, I know she's in a far better place.

Keep that writing coming! I enjoy it so much.