THE EARTH IS SACRED
THE COSMOS IS DIVINE
Throughout history, higher dimensions have served as a universal symbol for the unexplained or infinite truths of our world. The search for these fundamental truths of our existence often occurs within one's spiritual framework. Often in literature, we see spiritualism and dimensionality linked because higher dimensions are a phenomenon that we can not verify through personal experience; the fourth dimension lies outside our everyday concept of the world. Similarly, our belief in the divine represents a higher power that we have little, if any concrete evidence to support. Both of these concepts are the topic of debate and speculation, but ultimately their existence is a matter of faith.
L'ENGLE'S RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND
Madeleine L'Engle was born to Episcopalian parents, Madeleine and Charles Camp, who brought her to church regularly and taught her of God's unconditional love. However, L'Engle chafed under the strict code of conduct of the Anglican Church and her Anglican boarding school. During her final year of high school at Ashley Hall, L'Engle's father died, and Madeleine felt frustrated with her church, which did not encourage her grieving. As she entered her first year at Smith College, she realized that "she was through with the organized religious establishment." Throughout college and during her first years living in New York City, Madeleine did not belong to any formal religious community, although she continued to attend mass occasionally at various churches. Her husband, Hugh Franklin, similarly shunned his Baptist background. Madeleine said, We rebelled, each of us, against our particular religious establishment. However, eventually the two moved to Connecticut in 1951, where they joined a Congregational Church in Goshen. In 1960 Madeleine and her husband returned to New York and joined the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where she still volunteers as a librarian. Currently, L'Engle attends the All Angels Episcopal Church. At heart, Madeleine is an ecumenist and believes in unifying all the Christian churches. However through her rejection of religious establishment and her liberal views on faith, it becomes evident that she accepts all faiths as one. "She abhors the divisions that human beings, and their institutions have created...It is a mistake to think God loves Christians better than people who profess other religious beliefs. Each of us is a child of God." In her writing, L'Engle often presents God in a universal manner, allowing the reader to see his own spirituality.
Throughout her life, the Bible has remained the focal point of her spirituality. Her parents introduced her to the Bible at a very young age, not as scripture, but rather as a storybook. The stories taught Madeleine not only moral lessons, but fostered an appreciation for myths and symbols that has greatly influence her writing. In her writing, L'Engle uses these elements from the Bible to convey infinite truths to finite human beings. In her novel A Stone for a Pillow, she says of myths:
Myth is the closest approximation to truth available to the finite human being. And the truth of myth is not limited by time or place. A myth tells of that which was true, is true, and will be true. If we allow it, myth will integrate intellect and intuition, night and day; our warring opposites are reconciled.
In many ways L'Engle creates a myth or parable in her novels. "She believes that stories, both biblical and fictional, can be seen as 'true' and express deep universal principles without being factual." In A Wrinkle In Time, L'Engle utilizes dimensionality as a vehicle to create her story and convey her message to the audience. Indeed, dimensionality provides an infinite medium through which Madeleine conveyed her infinite truths.
A WRINKLE IN TIME
A Wrinkle In Time functions as a parable, set in higher dimensions. A paradox exists within the story in that Meg's journey is at once an exploration outward into the universe and inward to her soul. Madeleine L'Engle skillfully utilizes dimensionality as a metaphor to convey her spiritual beliefs to the reader, and to demonstrate the similarities between these two concepts. Although L'Engle writes from a Christian background, the text offers support to liberal spiritual interpretation. I have included some Buddhist interpretations of the novel to accompany L'Engle's Christian morals.
THE BLACK THING
In the novel, IT symbolizes the source of evil throughout the universe. In many ways, L'Engle's representation of evil allows the reader to place IT in their own religious context. She abstains from naming specifically and portrays the evil force as a dark shadow cast over the universe. However, some details of her description lead to parallels in religious establishments and in L'Engle's own spiritualism. When Meg sees the Black Thing hovering over earth, Mrs. Whatsit tells her, "It has been there for a great many years. That is why your planet is such a troubled one." One interpretation of evil from this description could relate it to the Buddhist Lotus sutra. In this scripture, the Buddha compares human beings to children playing and rejoicing in a burning house, unaware of the danger that surrounds them. Similarly, in the novel Meg was unaware of the evil that shadowed the Earth. This recognition of the existence of evil is the first noble truth on the path to enlightenment. Another detail that might connote a different interpretation is the man with red eyes. This character might serve as a demonic symbol, with his glowing red eyes and his devotion to the greater evil, which supports a Christian interpretation of the text. Finally, L'Engles's portrayal of the consequences on Camazotz of succumbing to IT, relate to her own spiritual background. On Camazotz, L'Engle depicted extreme uniformity, where everyone surrendered their own will, and allowed IT to think for all. In her own life, L'Engle has felt restricted by organized religion and has adopted a liberal view in which she adheres to a fundamental spiritual framework, but still exerts her right to disagree with the church and formulate her own philosophies as an individual. This tolerance of different religious beliefs is evident in the universal lessons she teaches in her novels.
MEG'S SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
Throughout the novel, Madeleine L'Engle portrays many characters as messengers of God, and ultimately she concludes that anyone who has faith can serve God. Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which act as the central symbols of God in the story, whom they serve on two different levels. First, they actively help Meg to save her father and fight against IT, but simultaneously they assist Meg in her spiritual journey to find love within herself. When asked to describe Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which, Meg and Calvin can only describe what they look like, not what they are like. Then suddenly, Calvin recognizes their essence, "Guardian Angels! Messengers! Messengers of God!" This realization reveals to the reader the identity of the three characters and places the tale within a spiritual framework. Aunt Beast could not understand what Meg meant to "see". She says, "It must be a very limiting thing, this seeing." This quotation comments on religion and dimensionality. L'Engle provides a quotation from the Bible through Aunt Beast, who tells Meg, "Things which are seen are temporal. But things which are not seen are eternal. (II Corinthians 4:18) This quotation illustrates the infinite nature of faith. Another interpretation of Aunt Beast's comment on the limitations of sight parallels a Buddhist doctrine. Aunt Beast knows what things are like, which is equivalent to enlightenment in Buddhism. Buddhism specifically comments on the false impressions made through the senses, and only through meditation can true wisdom be achieved. Both of these religious concepts relate to dimensionality. Aunt Beast has access to higher dimensions, which enable her to "see" the angels in a greater context than Meg's isolated three dimensional world. This higher dimensional world can be related to heaven and nirvana, where life is eternal. Besides the three angels and Aunt Beast, L'Engle also suggests examples of human beings that have been instrumental in the fight against evil. Mrs. Whatsit tells Meg, "Some of our best fighters have come right from your own planet...You can be proud that it's done so well." Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin then generate a list of artists, scientists, and mathematicians, and religious figures including Jesus, Gandhi, and the Buddha. These of examples demonstrate L'Engle's universal view of the divine. She represents people of all occupations and religions. She believes that the power of God exists in every aspect of life. Madeleine regards her own writing as a kind of prayer, and all art as containing elements of the divine. She says, "To be an artist means to approach the light, and that means to let go our control, to allow our whole selves to placed with absolute faith in that which is greater than we are."
MESSENGERS OF GOD
Meg began the story as an awkward teenager, angry and confused at her father's absence and doing poorly in school. Her journey through higher dimensions was simultaneously a spiritual journey into her own soul. L'Engle's choice of protagonist is crucial to the narrative in that it suggests that anyone can do God's work. Madeleine believes that "not only do our fallibilities help break down our pride and arrogance, but that it is precisely out of our brokenness that we can serve God best." The reader finds evidence of this idea within Meg's character. Aunt Beast quotes the Bible to offer Meg strength:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And the base things of the world, and the things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought that are. (I Corinthians 1:25-28)
Meg utilizes her faults to help her save Charles Wallace from IT's control. Only through Meg's discovery of love within was she able to defeat evil and reclaim her brother. "Madeleine believes that we...are called to love, affirm, forgive, minister - to see Christ in everyone." This is the moral of L'Engle's parable of higher dimensions. Love is the basis of all spirituality.
1. Chase, Carole F. Suncatcher:A Study of Madeleine L'Engle and Her Writing.
Innisfree Press, Inc.: Philadelphia, 1998, pp.41, 53, 63, 75, 87-9, 114, 108, 114.
2. L'Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux: New York, 1962,
pp. 179, 183.
Written by Brian Lavin
© 1998 by Eli Weiss. Last modified: Fri 4 Dec 1998