Madeleine L’Engle on Living Creatively

When I started Madeleine L’Engle’s book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, it took me a little while to get into it.  Then I began to really enjoy reading it. Even though there were points that I didn’t agree with, I came across many paragraphs I thought were worth saving for future reflection. So here are some of my favourite quotations from Madeleine L’Engle on living creatively.


“But [as a child] I was frightened [of war], and I tried to heal my fear with stories, stories which gave me courage, stories which affirmed that ultimately love is stronger than hate. If love is stronger than hate, then war is not all there is. I wrote, and I illustrated my stories. At bedtime, me mother told me more stories. And so story helped me learn to live. Story was not an evasion of life, but a way of living creatively instead of fearfully.”


“What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint or clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter what our vocation, or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts or having some kind of important career. Several women have written to me to complain about A Swiftly Tilting Planet. They feel that I should not have allowed Meg Murry to give up a career by marrying Calvin, having children, and quietly helping her husband with his work behind the scenes. But if women are to be free to choose to pursue a career as well as marriage, they must also be free to choose the making of a home and nurture of a family as their vocation; that was Meg’s choice, and a free one, and it was as creative a choice as if she had gone on to get a PhD. in quantum mechanics.”


“In moments of decision, we are to try to make what seems to be the most loving, the most creative decision. We are not to play safe, to draw back out of fear. Love may well lead us into danger. It may lead us to die for our friend. In a day when we are taught to look for easy solutions, it is not always easy to hold on to that most difficult one of all, love.”


“A life lived in chaos is an impossibility for the artist. No matter how unstructured may seem the painter’s garret in Paris or the poet’s pad in Greenwich Village, the artist must have some kind of order or he will produce a very small body of work. To create a work of art, great or small, is work, hard work, and work requires discipline and order.”


“One problem with the word work is that it has come to be equated with drudgery, and is considered degrading. Now, some work is drudgery, though it is not always degrading. Vacuuming the house or scrubbing out the refrigerator is drudgery for me, though I find it in no way degrading. And that it is drudgery is a lack in me. I enjoy the results and so I should enjoy producing the results. I suspect it is not the work itself which is the problem, but that it is taking me from other work, such as whatever manuscript I am currently working on. Drudgery is not what work is meant to be. Our work should be our play. If we watch a child at play for a few minutes, ‘seriously’ at play, we see that all his energies are concentrated on it. He is working very hard at it. And that is how the artist works, although the artist may be conscious of discipline while the child simply experiences it.”


“The important thing is to recognize that our gift, no matter what size, is indeed something given us, for which we can take no credit, but which we may humbly serve, and, in serving, learn more wholeness, be offered wondrous newness.”


Did these passages from Madeleine L’Engle spark any thoughts or observations? I’d love to hear what you think.

4 thoughts on “Madeleine L’Engle on Living Creatively

  1. Emily Miller says:

    I really like this book, too, and now I want to reread it (I read it a couple years ago). I remember writing down a lot of quotations into a notebook. My favourite of the ones you picked is the second last one, about work. I also love the photographs you included in this post. 🙂

    1. M.E. Bond
      M.E. Bond says:

      I also really liked her comments about work and drudgery and the fact that creative work requires discipline. And I love her defense of Meg Murry choosing to nurture her family.

  2. Joy Ayer says:

    Margaret, I lost a lot of email friends a while ago through some glitch, and am just now getting organized again. Thanks for continuing your project in the midst of all your “work”!

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