“We’re supposed to be such witnesses of Christ’s love that other people will want to know what makes us glow.”
In A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, author Sarah Arthur shares these words spoken by Madeleine L’Engle at the 1996 Festival of Faith and Writing.
The message is a timely one for me. Not only have I been studying the difference between happiness and joy in a “Franciscan Way of Life” course I’m taking, the topic has recently come up in conversations with my children.
Arthur’s depth of research into Madeleine L’Engle’s life reveals a woman who 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.”
Novelist Leif Enger called Madeleine “an apologist for joy,” Sarah Arthur informs the reader. A Light So Lovely aptly conveys that aspect of her.
“I’ll need to go in my office and write for a few minutes at midnight,” I informed my daughters last night as we watched television. “I’d once heard that whatever you are doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve is how you’ll spend the rest of the year, so I want to be writing.”
If that superstition holds true, I’ll be sleeping through most of the year, as I woke up to laughter five minutes after it began. I’d fallen asleep! Turns out, I had that superstition wrong. The point is to actually be doing something related to your employment on the first day of the new year. By doing it well, but not working too hard, you’ll do your job well and not be overworked the rest of the year.
I’m not sure if writing for seven consecutive hours today constitutes working “too hard,” but I hope it bodes well for productivity the rest of the year. While I’ve been employed part-time as librarian since March, it’s my writing and workshops I’ve been concentrating on over the holidays.
A year ago, I was miserable in a job that should have been perfect for me; getting paid to go to work every morning and write as a newspaper reporter. Now employed part-time, I spend my free mornings writing what I want to write. Last year, that meant finishing up a journal that will be released this April.
Since signing a book contract in November, I’m also working on a book about creativity. The seeds of this book were planted in my heart a long time ago, shortly after my mother passed away in 2010. She left behind many notebooks and journals that made it clear her greatest wish for her children was that they get to Heaven and utilize their talents. Her words became a catalyst for change in my creativity and faith. The winter after her death, I embarked on what would become one of the most creative periods of my life up to that point. In her empty house, I found solitude and solace, a private writing retreat. There, I worked on a book manuscript, wrote articles and essays, prepared couponing and writing workshops and designed a power point presentation on creativity. I also began a file folder on creativity, certain it would someday become a book in honor of my creative mother. It could be said that grief was the impetus to taking my writing seriously, the legacy of my mother as my muse. My work in progress opens with her words.
“Our main purpose on earth is to save our soul and try to do the will of God in all things. That also means using the talents he gave us, and using them for good.”
I pulled out that old file folder in March. By late June, I’d completed the book proposal. A lot of research went on in-between; on the science behind creativity, the link between creativity and health and happiness, and the spiritual aspect of creativity. (After all, how can we talk about creativity without mentioning The Creator?)
I’ve continued doing research as I delve into the different topics. The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer and Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle were old favorites that I re-read. World Enough & Time I borrowed from my sister Joan and read on the airplane on the way home from visiting her in Florida. The Art of Creative Living by Thomas Kinkade was one of the last books my mother had read in the summer of 2010.
By late summer, all this reading and writing about creativity led me to begin a Lifelong Learner’s Creativity group at the library where I work. Many of the women who joined weren’t exactly sure what they wanted to gain from it, but something in the description appealed to a restless, unnamed feeling stirring within them. Perhaps you were the daydreamer in grade school, the child staring out the window with a head full of stories, or the one reading books from your lap beneath the desk. Then someone snatched the box of crayons from your hand, insisting you’d done it all wrong; that trees weren’t pink, and bunnies weren’t purple, and you’d gone outside the lines. Or maybe they pulled the book out from beneath your desk, telling you it was time for math, not reading. Whether you’re ready to reignite your childhood passion for all things creative, and want your crayons back, or are looking for a way to connect with your inner artist and others who think outside of the box, a new group forming at the James Kennedy Library might be of interest.
Our circle now serves as a focus group of sorts, representing my target audience. We’ve already done several of the activities I suggest in my book. This month we’ll be painting on canvas, and next month we’ll envision what our more creative life looks like with Vision Boards.
In the same vein, I’m incorporating creativity exercises into a “Legacy of Creativity” workshop. While I’ll continue doing writing workshops, I’m looking forward to doing “Expressive Writing for Healing” and “Legacy of Creativity” workshops in 2018.
In the early stages of working on this manuscript, I’m finding the chapters, and the information in them, moving around a bit, which can be disconcerting when you work with an outline. When I told my oldest son, Dan, about this dilemma, he suggested I use index cards and a white board so I could literally move ideas around. He gave me one for Christmas, which is why my kitchen table looked like this morning.
So, this is what the beginning of 2018 looks like for me; a new book coming out in April, work on a manuscript that is due the end of May, and workshops and classes scheduled on my days off from the library. Despite nodding off at midnight, I’m fairly certain I won’t be sleeping through 2018.
I’m reading a lot of books on creativity as I immerse myself in the topic of my current work in progress, a book about working creativity into our everyday life. I picked up this book for a break from the topic, only to discover Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Lifeincluded a chapter on creativity, Chapter 10: Makers and Dreamers. It turns out, it was my favorite chapter. While I occasionally laughed out loud at the humor in the “How To” lists, and loved author Jen Hatmaker’s unique voice and style of writing, it turns out Chapter 10 was exactly what I needed to read today. From page 94:
“Don’t we want our lives to be lovely and creative and productive and meaningful? Don’t we want to offer exquisite, sacred things to the world?”
Yes, and yes.
“This draw toward creation is important, worthy of our time and attention and nurture. We have these magnificent minds and hands and ideas and visions, and they beg us to pay attention, give them permission, give them life.”
“I sincerely believe we are created by a Creator to be creative. This is part of His image we bear, this bringing forth of beauty, life, newness. This bears out in one thousand different ways: we write, sculpt, paint, speak, dance, craft, film, design, photograph, draw, bring order, beautify, garden, innovate, produce, cook, invent, fashion, sing, compose, imagine. It looks like art, it looks like music, it looks like community, it looks like splendor. The thing in you that wants to make something beautiful? It is holy.”
Hatmaker goes on to say that creating takes time and hard work, and the time isn’t just going to magically appear.
“I am here to tell you with certainty: if you wait until you have a natural margin to create, you will go to the grave empty-handed…
…If you are waiting for someone to beg you to do the work or promise to give you a huge paycheck or rearrange your schedule to clear the time or somehow make this whole part easier, you might as well take your little dream for a long drive into the country and say goodbye. Creators create.”
This uncomfortable truth is why I bring this photo with me to the writing workshops I teach.
Because, inevitably, there will be someone in the room who bemoans their lack of time for writing, using that truth (because we all lack time) as an excuse for not writing.
“Art requires time, which of course, you have none of. This is the creator’s dilemma. You will not miraculously produce by carrying on exactly like you are. It’s a whole thing, and you have to make room for it.” (page 96)
You can read more about Jen Hatmaker and her books (yes, she has more, and I’m going to read them all) at jenhatmaker.com.