Summary: What does it mean to be a Christian artist? What is the Relationship between faith and art?
Walking on Water is a book that it is hard not to hear about if you are in circles where you interact with Christian who write professionally. I have been hearing about the book for years, but Sarah Arthur’s recent biography of L’Engle reminded me again about how many writers (and other artists as well) were impacted not just by L’Engle’s art, but by her speaking and writing about the role of art in the Christian life.
In many ways Walking on Water is like a fifth volume of the Crosswick Journals. It is not as full of personal stories as the Crosswick Journals, but it was first published in 1982, between books three and four of the Crosswick Journals (Irrational Season in 1977 and Two-Part Invention in 1988). Walking on Water has a similar sense of listening to an older friend share wisdom about life. It is more focused on writing, but there are definitely overlapping themes with A Circle of Quiet (first book in Crosswick Journals).
Writing is more of a means of processing than as an art form for me. I do not edit as much as I should. So the thoughts on writing were not really my focus. This is a book that was written to be read and re-read. There is wisdom here, but like a lot of books of wisdom, there is some vagueness where the reader has to read into the text.
Walking on Water is the first of L’Engle’s books I have read after reading Arthur’s biography. Arthur had a helpful structure for writing about L’Engle’s contrasts (or paradoxes). Part of the paradox of L’Engle was her ability to mold the reality around her in ways that was not always ‘historically accurate’ but did show as aspect of truth that may not have been able to be shown without her shaping. That shaping of the world around her is hard to miss after Arthur pointed it out.
Walking on Water is a book I appreciated, but did not love as much as what many other do. I think that is in part because I am not an artist at heart but a consumer of art. Art is essential, but I am not a creator. Also, at this point there is an enormous amount of the content of Walking on Water that has leaked out of Walking on Water into other books that I have read since it was published 36 years ago. We are in time that values art better than some other eras. It is not perfect by any means, but I do think that L’Engle has strongly influenced the way that Christians receive and participate in art, in part because of this book. Walking on Water is worth reading. But, at least on this first reading, it was not a dramatic revelation to me, and I think that is largely a good thing, and at least partially the result of Walking on Water being a dramatic revelations to previous readers.