I read Madeline l’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. But it’s only recently that I have read any of her non-fiction works and discovered a wise, loving, open-minded, strong woman of faith. Although she died in 2007, she has recently become a mentor to me. As a child of God, she is now living in a room He prepared for her in His heaven-mansion–living with Him in eternity. And her words are leading me closer to God.
In her book Sold into Egypt, Madeline l’Engle talks about our difficulty in comprehending the concept of eternity:
Eternity is not a time concept. It is almost impossible for us to glimpse what eternity is like because we were born into time. Our bodies move through time. We will die in time. But eternity, that which we are promised, has nothing whatsoever to do with time. It is not time stretched out, on and on forever. It is something wholly different.
My forbears and their contemporaries … knew during their lifetimes far more about death than we do, because death was far more present. There are not very many old people in that graveyard. There are many children a year, two years, three years old, cut down by diphtheria or scarlet fever. My cousin Myra … told me that when she was a child, five of her brothers and sisters died of scarlet fever in a week. … To lose five children in a week! How did the families endure such grief? They endured it because they had to, and such tragedies were not uncommon. Only faith kept the living going.
It is no longer possible … to have the same kind of literal faith that my ancestors did. … Our knowledge has kept people alive today who would have died early deaths a century ago. … But we have saved lives so successfully that we tend to forget that to be human is ultimately to die. Our thinking about death has atrophied to the point where we reject it as being a medical failure. People are put away in hospitals or nursing homes so that we don’t have to be tainted by death and perhaps catch it.
We are all going to die, and I suppose whether it is sooner or later makes little difference in eternity, for eternity is total is-ness, immediacy, now-ness. Living in eternity is, in fact, the way we are supposed to live all the time, right now, in the immediate moment, not hanging on to the past, not projecting into the future. The past is the rock that is under our feet, that enables us to push off from it and move into the future. But we don’t go bury ourselves in the past, nor should we worry to much about the future. … God in Jesus came to be in time with us and to redeem human time for us.
Sold into Egypt is the story of Joseph of the many-colored coat who was sold as a slave by his brothers who had had more than enough of his better-than-thou ways. She tells the story from each of the twelve brothers’ perspectives and, between stories, listens to and tells us (me) God’s voice to her as she puts herself into their lives. They dealt with death, as she was dealing with the sudden illness that ended the life of her beloved husband Hugh. In Benjamin’s voice she reacts to the revelation of his brothers’ treachery and how his reaction awakened Joseph’s long-hidden pain. “Pain, lying long dormant, can rise up and be as acute as when it was first felt,” Madeline says, and I can almost see the drops of her tears on the pages of my book. She goes on, “…grief that had been drowsing, if not sleeping, is suddenly wide awake.”
These were the words I was reading this weekend, after Friday’s evil deed that resulted in the deaths of so many, shot and killed, their last moments on earth full of terror and pain. How do we go on? Madeline’s words again, “We are moving into the unknown, not knowing what the future will hold. Of course we never know. Future are roughly and irrevocably altered by unexpected accidents, betrayals, illnesses. What we have is this day, this moment.” She talked about moving back to New York, to an apartment where she and Hugh had lived. It was in need of repair and redecorating, which she did, but despite its beauty and others’ comments on its loveliness, she thought to herself, “I hate the apartment this way. I want it all back exactly the way it was.” Irrational, but she realized that what she wanted had nothing to do with the redecorating but a longing for her husband. Her thoughts continue:
As I continue to move out into the unknown the only thing I know is that I still believe with Paul that all things work together for good to them that love God–not just in this mortal life, but in God’s ultimate purpose for Creation which we are called on to observe and contemplate. It may be that our contemplation will involve great pain. And sometimes our pain will be deepened as we struggle to remember that its purpose is love.
I cry for those families who are in the middle of such pain, pain that eventually may drowse and even sleep at times, but will rise up unbidden at unexpected times. I pray that their pain will lead them to God and His comfort and peace.