After encountering at least a dozen references to Madeleine L’Engle‘s book, Walking on Water: Reflections on faith and art, I had to check my library for a copy. A worthwhile read, I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a creative pursuit, or who wonders about the place of art in the life of a religious person.
In Walking on Water, L’Engle offers advice to creative people who also are religious. Her recommendations are straightforward, and apply to prayer life as well as to creative work. Stay open to the Holy Spirit. Take time just to be, so that you can listen to the silence. We cannot wake to the voice of the Creator if we are too busy filling our days with noise. We are meant to be obedient to God’s call, but are we making space to hear it? “We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not; otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it.” We are called to be faithful in our prayers as well as in our work, even when we might feel less than inspired.
Over many years of giving lectures, L’Engle was asked to describe what makes a work of art religious. She explores this question throughout Walking on Water, and her responses made good sense to me. The short answer is that the artist does not have to be religious to make religious art, and one need not intentionally set out to make religious art (in fact, this can easily backfire). Art that uplifts, that is life-affirming, that turns our hearts toward the light rather than the dark—all of these might describe religious art. Also, we are individuals, and what points my heart toward God might not speak to you in the same way. There is space for our diversity.
L’Engle advises us to lay aside the sense that we are in control, that the work is ours to make, in a possessive sense; rather, we can be a vehicle through whom the work emerges, if we can step out of the way enough to let the Holy Spirit shine through. I nodded in affirmation when I read, “I want to be open to God, not to what man says about God. I want to be open to revelation, to new life, to new birth, to new light. Revelation. Listening. Humility.”
Disclaimer: This review is freely given, and based on a copy from the local public library.