Monday, March 5, 2012

Practical Spirituality: Lewis and L'Engle

OK, I've read a bunch of loooong dry books lately and needed some tried-and-trues, preferably under 300 pages. So I reread some of my very favorite books on, well, not spirituality exactly, but on applied spirituality. They're how-to guides with practical tips of living a good, a morally good, life, and the rewards of that kind of life.

One of my all-time favorite books (top five? top seven, certainly) is C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. It informs a lot of my beliefs about redemption. The last chapter gives me chills every time. Plus I think it's a great story: the damned who are sick of hanging around hell take a field trip to heaven. Cool, right? (Does anyone say "cool" anymore? No? Just me?) The damned get to stay in heaven if they want, but they mostly don't, because they've got some appetite or habit or need that has twined so tightly around them that the original building, the soul underneath the habit, has been entirely taken over. There's just not much of the person left to actually want salvation.

What I especially love/am terrified by is that many of these choking habits don't seem all that dangerous in the beginning. But what starts out as cynicism or self-sufficiency or pride in one's work or even possessive maternal life can, if not pruned and tended, suffocate the soul. OK I've carried this evil ivy imagery too far. Anyway. If you like Screwtape Letters, try Great Divorce - I think it's even better.

My other spiritual re-read was Madeleine L'Engle's Circle of Quiet. Here's my goodreads review:
 A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journals, Book 1)A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a personal collection of reflections and journaling from Madeleine L'Engle, who, it turns out, is quite an interesting person. She's one of those authors I wish I'd grown up next door to so we could be lifetime friends. This book, the first of four "Crosswicks Journals," is starting feel its age -- forty years and some -- but there's so much that still grabs me. L'Engle talks about parenting, and Christianity, and punctuation, and small town New England, and she covers this range with earnestness, humor, and compassion.

I've read and reread this book since childhood, and this time through I realized how much it's influenced me. In it I was introduced to many of my favorite authors - Dorothy Sayers, George MacDonald, Josephine Tey. And my life motto comes from this book: a friend of L'Engle's, Hugh Bishop, said, "Love is not an emotion. It is a policy."

This book is ultimately about both: it's about the practical policy choices that lead to the heart of love. If you're a fan of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea, or Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, you might pick this one up and see what you think. And then let me know.

View all my reviews

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