I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright,
And round beneath it, Time, in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres,
Like a vast shadow moved, in which the world
And all her train were hurled.
I picked up a used paperback when I was at Powell’s Books in Portland.* It was one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books that I hadn’t read before; I hadn’t even heard of it before, to be honest. It had a cheesy picture on the cover of a teenage-looking boy and girl swimming with a dolphin. If it wasn’t written by L’Engle, I never would have purchased it. In elementary school, I used to read her books like other kids read through Babysitter Club books.** I even wrote L’Engle a letter telling her how much I loved her books and I got a response! Yes, it’s true; it was probably written by some editor’s assistant, but like I cared. Somehow, though, I never read A Ring of Endless Light.
I started reading it about a week ago and many of the names were strangely familiar: Vicky Austin, Zachary Gray, Vicky’s family… It wasn’t until AFTER I finished the book that I looked up on Wikipedia the “Austin family series” and remembered reading The Moon by Night, which I checked out from the library in Sugarhouse back in the day. That’s where I had first met Vicky, Zachary, and friends. Years ago.
As a kid, I didn’t realize that L’Engle’s underlying themes of religion and Christianity weren’t typical. The other books I was reading at the time were by C.S. Lewis. I thought this was typical. Plus, I grew up in a very religious family where we talked about it on days other than Sunday.***
I realize now, that having the religious theme throughout is rare and how much more I appreciate it now. There are phrases in this book that really stuck with me:
Suzy still sounded angry. “Prayer didn’t keep Jeb from being hit by a motorcycle. It didn’t stop grandfather form having leukemia.”
“Prayer was never meant to be magic,” Mother said.
“Then why bother with it?” Suzy scowled.
“Because it’s an act of love,” Mother said.
And joy, Grandfather would remind me, joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.
I said, slowly, “How do we know how much we’re to do for other people? Or for how long? I mean–like Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus’ cross for a while, and then putting it down.”
“I suppose that’s somewhere in the Bible?”
“Yes. All I mean is, we are meant to help each other, but not to feel that we have to do it all, all by ourselves…”
It’s a deep novel for juvenile literature. It’s certainly not juvenile. Death, God, religion, love, anxiety, and on. Her passages provoked a lot of thinking and pondering that linger with me still. It’s good for me to be reminded of the unstable emotions of adolescence when tragedy and joy seemed to be constantly battling to control my feelings. It was an amazing rollercoaster ride, which sometimes I miss, but other times, I am thankful for the stability of being an adult. And after reading this book, it reminded me that a great deal of that stability is dependant upon my faith, which becomes more and more unshakable every day.
*If I lived within a few hours driving distance from this store, I would have no retirement. It would instead be invested in books with broken spines and receipts used as bookmarks.
**I can’t recall reading even one Babysitter Club book. Does that make me any less of a child from the 80s?
***I know, I’m totally Mormon with my FHE and Primary background. It’s fabulous.