The Crosswick Journals are hard to describe. Each of the three that I have read has been very different. But the central reason for reading them is the same, wisdom.
The first was mostly about writing and family and calling and art. But there was lots more to it than those ideas. The second was mostly about family history, especially Madeleine L’Engle’s Mother, who was dying during the period being written about. The third, Irrational Season is even more hodgepodge than the first two. But there is a theme of the liturgical year, while not strictly focused on, does bring some organization.
One feature that is new in The Irrational Season is a lot of L’Engle’s original poetry. I am not a particular fan of poetry. I understand the appeal. But I also do not want to put in the time. Poetry doesn’t work if you skim it. Poetry requires slow and repeated work. I don’t like giving books slow and repeated work. I like reading quickly and absorbing what I can and then maybe reading again a while later and absorbing some more.
But the poetry is here and I tried, at least occasionally, to read it as I should, slowly and a couple of times; focusing on more than just the surface meaning. Some of it is very good. Some of it is mediocre. But all of it seems to be carefully selected or particularly written for the sections that the poetry highlights. The use of poetry matters because it fit into the broader idea of liturgical year as a method of discipling us.
When we think of our faith, the repetition of the seasons should matter. It is a great loss that the low church evangelicals like myself rejected the liturgical year. There are/were lots of good reasons for doing it. But the Christian life is not the profession of faith. The Christian life is what happens after that initial profession of faith. The year after year after year of making some progress, of your faith running aground. Of being carried through hard times and having space for real joy.
In addition to James KA Smith’s call to liturgical worship as a formative experience and Robert Webber’s call for renewed conversation between the Ancient and modern aspects of faith and Thomas Oden’s reminder of the historical roots of our faith; Laura Winner’s short memoir of the grief of her divorce and her struggle for faith was a great reminder that the liturgy can be a method of sustaining faith in a method that is just not available for low church evangelicals.
I think frequently of the ravages of Alzheimer’s or other dementia related aging diseases that steal away our minds. The deeply ingrained prayers and actions of the liturgy are present bodily in ways much deeper than just intellect or memory for those that have been active in morning and/or evening prayer services for decades.
L’Engle is not pretending a stronger faith that she really has in Irrational Season. She is confronting her periods of temporary atheism. But in her wisdom she is looking back and seeing where faith comes from and where faith is encouraged. And for her (and many others) the liturgical year is a significant physical reminder of the story of Christianity, told year after year, season by season. (She is also not reveling or holding up her temporary atheism as something to be emulated.)
I will be starting the last of the quartet of the Crosswick Journals soon. They are well worth reading. Not for short term fixes or five steps to a better you. But for hard won wisdom, wrestled down over time and reflected on from a distance. The way that wisdom is always gained.