Monday, September 10, 2007

On Heaven and Fiction

When I was twelve years old I played "Meg" in A Wrinkle in Time at the little community theater on Hilton Head Island. No big-time acting gig or even good acting, for that matter. But the experience made an impact on me. What I remember most about becoming Meg's character was the love I was to have for my little brother in the play. Funny that that's what I remember most--not the fantastic, imaginative storyline, but the caring for another character.

I learned this morning that the author of A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle, died last Thursday at age 88. I read the memoriam by Jennifer Brown in Shelf Awareness. Here is an excerpt from that article that I found most interesting:

"L'Engle won the 1963 Newbery Medal for A Wrinkle in Time, one of the most banned books in the United States. When asked in a 2001 interview with the New York Times what she thought of the accusations by religious conservatives--that she "offer[ed] an inaccurate portrayal of God and nurtur[ed] in the young an unholy belief in myth and fantasy"--she replied: "First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, 'Ah, the hell with it.' It's great publicity, really." (Readers familiar with all of her work might find such accusations ironic, since L'Engle is also widely admired for her titles for adults with Christian and biblical themes, including Glimpses of Grace, and her Crosswicks Journals, begun with A Circle of Quiet.)"

Reading that Madeline L'Engle, someone who incorporated Christian themes in her work, had her book banned and criticized by religious conservatives back in the sixties makes me think that perhaps not much has changed since then. J.K. Rowling has been criticized for her Harry Potter books having other-than-Biblical and potentially "dangerous" content. However, reading her books, from a Christian worldview, I was able to see in each of the seven, Christian themes. Was this all in my head? I thought perhaps, except when I got to book seven, it was utterly clear that there was an underlying Christian theme throughout. And it was done very nicely, I thought.

I have no problem with people sharing their own opinions about my book or any other. What is interesting to me is that the label "Christian fiction" seems to be quite limited or rigid. Some critics of The Spirit of Sweetgrass spend much of their reviews discussing the theology of the book--whether this is correct, or that is not Biblically correct, or if such-and-such is a dangerous thought to have, et cetera. Once making their way past these things, most reviewers can appreciate the story for what it is, fiction, a story, hopefully one that makes the reader think and leaves him/her inspired in some way.

I do not criticize books that have overt Christian themes in them. These are good. We need books such as these. I do not criticize the critics or the writers. I do, however, pose this question: Do all books labeled "Christian fiction" need to have sound theology or can a Christian write something that is purely fantastic? Is this not "fiction by a Christian?" Can not such a book also teach us things about ourselves? About God?

I do not claim to know what heaven is like. I do love to dream about it though. Perhaps that's why it found its way into my first book. I have heard many meaningful comments from readers, but the best comment about The Spirit of Sweetgrass was this: Recently, a woman in a book club approached me and said "Thank you for writing The Spirit of Sweetgrass". She said thank you because she finished reading my book one day and on the very next day, her mother passed away unexpectedly. She said thank you because she had never thought about what heaven might be like, and she said that my book helped her in some way to get through that most difficult time because now she could imagine the unimaginable. I was completely humbled by this woman's gratitude.

Am I worried that my portrayal of heaven was not exactly as it is? Not really, no. What amazed me is that God worked through my book in order to ease that woman's suffering and to allow her to imagine her mother in a better place. Perhaps He planted a seed for Him in her heart that day. I don't know. My reader may now think of God and heaven in a different way now. Did I intend this or did I simply write a book? Truthfully, I simply wrote the book that was on my heart to write. It is my belief that God gave me that story. It is my understanding that God works in mysterious ways and in all things for good for those who love Him. Therefore, I write. And I love Him. And I explore the deepest, darkest and lightest places in the human mind and soul. And I will continue to pray. I will continue to think. I will continue to write and hopefully, God willing, to touch another soul.

God bless Madeline L'Engle, a great writer, who is now in a better place.


nickyp said...

Thanks for this post. I'm glad you've found a confident voice as a Christian writer who doesn't necessarily have to write "Christian" material. It is inspiring and reassuring to me as someone who is struggling with the ideas I want to put on paper and the fear I have that it won't glorify God. Thanks again.

Nicole Seitz said...

I truly believe that if you love the Lord and you desire to glorify Him, He will give you the words for your writing, and He will be glorified. Pray about it and then go forth without fear. And have FUN!