Book Review: A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle

Every now and then I will read a book that marks an epoch in my life. A Circle of Quiet is one of those books. I stumbled across this book on Amazon while looking up copies of A Wrinkle in Time. I’m currently teaching Wrinkle to my seventh graders, so I jumped at the chance to do a little research about Madeleine.

After reading this book, I feel that I can call her Madeleine, because we are kindred spirits. This book touches on all of the things I am struggling with in my everyday life–what it means to be a writer, a teacher, and a Christian, how to balance a career with what your heart says you ought to be doing, everything.

The book is written reflectively, almost as a collection of essays or a conversation that all runs together smoothly. There are different parts and different chapters, but the book is cyclical: the same themes and topics recur again and again throughout. There were so many moments that spoke to my heart and led me into my own circle of quiet. The most notable was Madeleine’s habit of retreating into her own “circle of quiet” whenever she felt herself becoming negative or crotchety and out of sorts. I love this idea, and it makes my heart happy to think that I can guiltlessly retreat into a circle of quiet to get my heart and mind back in line with Christ.

Madeleine also writes poignantly of growing up, of maturity. These parts spoke to me especially–I think part of us always dreads growing up because we think it will be rules and responsibility all the time. A Circle of Quiet shows that growing up into maturity is truly the best expression of a childhood lived joyfully. We don’t have to fear age and maturity, because we can still retain our childlike sense of wonder with the world. When we can grow up into ourselves and be ourselves, then, as L’Engle puts it, we are living “ontologically.”

I won’t write more for fear of gushing, but this book has immediately earned its spot on my list of favorites, and I can’t wait to read it again and again whenever I need to quiet my heart and simplify my life.

 

You can find the book here.

Advertisements

Music Notes

This is a subject that, as I was writing, grew more and more interesting. Hopefully in the future I can better distill and address these thoughts and feelings.

My brother inherited most of my family’s musical talent. He can sing, play the piano, play guitar, and play the drums. While he and I both took piano lessons from kindergarten through twelfth grade, his musical skills have always seemed more innate. For me, music is such an influential part of my life that I wish more than anything I had the voice of an angel or the ability to sit down and sight read any song. Alas, it is not so! The fact of the matter is I sing enthusiastically, but not well.

The piano, however, has come to mean more to me in the past year than it has during all of my lessons. I loved my piano teacher (Still do!). She was so patient and helped me when I was incredibly frustrated. She also built an amazing relationship with me. I’m sure as a kindergartener I was nervous around her, but by the time I was in high school I loved our weekly sessions. When I think about how she laughed and joked during our lessons I am encouraged in my struggles to build relationships with my own students. I am incredibly grateful for her influence in my life. One thing she would always try to tell me was to keep playing, even if I made a mistake. That concept is incredibly foreign to me, and it even feels foreign to me now. I am a perfectionist. I want the song to sound beautiful, and in my thinking, it won’t sound beautiful if I mess up! How on earth could I just gloss over the mistakes?

Well, now that I have an apartment and a piano [read electric keyboard] of my own, I am beginning to rely on music in a different capacity. Instead of feeling like I am learning a skill, I feel now that playing the piano is a time for me to release all of the tension of the day. When I sit down at the piano I might still struggle with the notes or the songs, but I guarantee you I’m thinking about what note is on the page and not what ugly thing a student said to me. I’m more worried about how to count out a piece of music than wishing I had the money to go shopping for things I don’t need. There is something so relaxing about working out a puzzle that is only for your own enjoyment, and it is in practicing of my own volition these last months that I really have come to understand my teacher’s advice.

In life, just like in my piano lessons, I want to be perfect. I’m afraid that if there are any incongruities my life won’t seem beautiful or meaningful. This thinking is so flawed. Scripture clearly says that God works ALL things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. In music, stopping and worrying about every error produces a song that is halting and disjointed. When I ignore the slip-ups and keep playing the song might not be technically perfect, but the emotion and the expressions of the song are still displayed. I think in some sense the musical expressions of our lives matter more than their technical perfection or moral exactitude. Does my life glorify God? Does my life bring joy to others? Is my heart always singing a song of praise? Those are the things that matter. If I am caught up in a daily struggle that makes my faith stop and start I gain nothing! Of course, sin is sin, and disobedience is disobedience; those things must stop in order for true repentance and sanctification. However, if I allow myself to be bogged down by every step I make I begin to feel like every day is a fight, not like my entire life is a journey.

Not to drag out the metaphor, but life is a journey just as songs are a journey. Each song is a complete story, some parts are fast and exhilarating, others are slow and reflective. At the end of the song, will God look back on my life and pick apart each time my faith wobbled? I don’t think so. I believe that I can examine my life and say that God was faithful to sustain me even when I rebelled. He has rescued me and he has given me the faith I need to stand on His grace. His work of redemption is what makes the song of our lives beautiful–not any feeble piano plunking we do along the way.

Memory Work from Philippians

That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Inspiring Thought

This quote makes me want to write:

Love is the overflow of joy–in God! It is not duty for duty’s sake or right for right’s sake. It is not a resolute abandoning of one’s own good with a view solely to the good of the other person. It is first a deeply satisfying experience of the fullness of God’s grace, and then a doubly satisfying experience of sharing that grace with another person.
-John Piper, Desiring God