We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes… –Madeleine L’Engle, from The Rock That Is Higher
Story captures our hearts and feeds our imaginations. It reminds us who we are and where we came from. Story gives meaning and direction to our lives as we learn to see it as an affirmation of God’s love and truth—an acknowledgment of our longing for a rock in the midst of life’s wilderness.
Drawing upon her own experiences, well-known tales in literature, and selected narratives from Scripture, Madeleine L’Engle gently leads the way into the glorious world of story in The Rock That Is Higher. Here she acknowledges universal human longings and considers how literature, Scripture, personal stories, and life experiences all point us toward our true home.
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About the Author
Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007) was an American author of more than sixty books, including novels for children and adults, poetry, and religious meditations. Her best-known work, A Wrinkle in Time, one of the most beloved young adult books of the twentieth century and a Newbery Medal winner, has sold more than fourteen million copies since its publication in 1962. Her other novels include A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and A Ring of Endless Light. Born in New York City, L’Engle graduated from Smith College and worked in theater, where she met her husband, actor Hugh Franklin. L’Engle documented her marriage and family life in the four-book autobiographical series, the Crosswicks Journals. She also served as librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan for more than thirty years.
Date of Birth:January 12, 1918
Date of Death:September 6, 2007
Place of Birth:New York, NY
Place of Death:Litchfield, CT
Education:Smith College, 1941
Read an Excerpt
Story as Homecoming
On the 28th of July, 1991, I was being driven from San Diego to Escondido, California, to a lecture job to which I was looking forward. It was a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon, and Sally, my driver, had just pointed out the sign to Escondido, when there was a sudden crash, a spider-webbing of the windshield, a crumpling of the engine, a tearing of pain across my body.
A truck had run through a red light and broadsided us.
Sally moaned, “Oh, Madeleine, Madeleine.”
“Sally—” I breathed. I knew I had been badly hurt. I said, not out loud, Lord, is this it? Is this the end of my story, God?
The ancient words of the Jesus Prayer, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, surfaced in my mind. They have been with me for many years, like a deep, inner fountain. When I wake up in the night they are there—those strong, affirming words. They were with me as I sat in the crumpled car.
“Are you all right?” I asked Sally.
“I think so. My ribs hurt. I did have a green light, didn’t I?”
A man thrust his hand and a piece of paper through the window into the car. “Here’s my name and phone number. I’m your witness,” he said. Another man took pictures. Someone called the police and the ambulance. Help came quickly. We did not see the truck driver who hit us.
We answered a few questions. Both of us were completely conscious. Sally was put in the ambulance on the gurney, as it seemed to the paramedics that she was the more severely injured of the two of us. I was put on a board and slid in beside her, and the ambulance took off. After a few moments I heard a little voice ask, “I suppose there’s nobody to hold my hand?” And almost immediately someone took our hands and put them together, and I held Sally’s hand firmly until we were taken into the hospital. What loving sensitivity on the part of an unknown paramedic!
The University of California San Diego Hospital is an enormous teaching hospital with a fine trauma center. After a doctor examined me and asked a few questions, he said, “I think you’re all right. I think we’ll be able to let you—” and then he stopped. “Your upper lip is wet with sweat.
I said, “I feel very strange.”
The next thing I knew I was being rolled along the hospital corridors with an oxygen mask over my face. I wasn’t all right at all.
But the Jesus Prayer stayed with me. I was still completely conscious, and able to answer questions and to tell the doctors that I’m allergic to iodine—important, as they were going to do a CAT scan and needed to use an alternate dye. The doctors treated me as though I was an intelligent human being, capable of answering their questions, capable of asking questions. They told me, after the CAT scan, that all my vital organs had been lacerated and were bleeding—the spleen, kidneys, liver, pancreas, intestines. They would probably have to remove the spleen. They might have to remove one kidney.
It’s an odd and unexpected way to die, I thought, but I am seventy-two years old and I’ve had a wonderful life.
My clothes were cut off me, and a hospital gown was slid on. A gastric tube was put down my nose. I was told what some of the surgical procedures would be. “We’re going to remove your spleen.”
I was wheeled to the operating room. I asked a question about what kind of anesthesia was being used. I was answered, and then told to breathe deeply. I knew that once I went under the anesthetic I might not come out of it, not in this life. I was not afraid. The Jesus Prayer was still with me, a strong rope to which I held like a sailor fallen from a ship. If God was ready for the curtain to come down on this final act of my life’s drama, I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
I am grateful for that feeling of readiness, for the lack of fear, for the assurance that whatever happened all would be well.
I woke up from the anesthesia. God still had work for me to do.
So was this experience all faith in Jesus and assurance of God’s love for me?
The next two weeks were as dark as any I have known.
My body had taken a terrible battering. The truck had hit the driver’s side of the car, and Sally had two broken ribs—miserable, but not life threatening. Why and how I sustained the injuries that nearly killed me we don’t know because it all happened so quickly that we aren’t sure what happened—except that the truck driver ran a red light and hit us.
I lay in the Intensive Care Unit wrapped in pain and thought, Lord, if I’m going to die, that’s all right. But please let me die. If I’m going to live, help me.
Deborah, who was to have been my boss for the week of lectures I was missing, came to see me in ICU and reported later that I was so plugged into all kinds of tubes that I was barely visible. I said to her, “I’ve been lying here asking what the meaning of all this can be.
Deborah said, “When you’re well enough to leave the hospital, of course you’ll come to me.” And with that great kindness she left me.
I had one other visitor in ICU, a clergyman who was a friend of a friend of mine in New York. He came in, big and rather loud, wearing a clerical collar. He beamed at me and said, “Now, if there’s anything I can do for you, anything at all, just call me.” And left. No prayer. No assurance that he was with me, or that God was with me. “Just call me.” How on earth was I going to be able to call anybody?
I was far from home, far from friends. At that point I was so ill that all I could do when I was awake was to keep on breathing. And breathing hurt badly, because my sternum had been bashed and bruised. Later the doctors said that my ribs had also taken a beating, and some were probably broken. Both legs were black and blue. Because of the internal bleeding my entire left side was black with bruises.
My only prayer was the Jesus Prayer and that was there for me because it has been part of my inner rhythm for many years, the prayer that fulfills Paul’s exhortation to pray constantly, at all times and in all places.
Time, instead of racing at its usual incomprehensible pace, crawled interminably slowly. There were no windows in ICU, so I had no way of knowing whether it was day or night. There was a large clock on the wall, but when the hands pointed to ten o’clock I had no idea whether it was ten at night or ten in the morning.
I was moved from ICU to Intermediate Care, and eventually to a four-bed room where two television sets were blasting. There was no way for me to control volume or program. Visitors for the other patients came in and out. There was a phone by my bed and when it rang I answered it, and it was Deborah.
“Aren’t you glad to be out of ICU?”
“No,” I replied. “It was much quieter there.”
“Where are you?”
I told her, and she said, “I’ll do something about that.”
Deborah had been on the board of this hospital. Within an hour I was moved to a private room. It wasn’t much quieter than the four-bed room because they were rebuilding the hospital to make it earthquake proof, and outside my windows was scaffolding on which workmen were walking back and forth with hammers, wrenches, blow torches, and loud voices. But I did not have to watch other people’s television shows.
Once I was in the private room I learned that a network of prayers had been set up as soon as people learned of the accident. My telephone had to be unplugged because it was not where I could reach it without great effort, and I was too exhausted and in too much pain to talk. One temporary effect of the accident was that my voice was a froglike croak, not good for telephone conversations. But flowers and get-well cards poured in to tell me that people cared, and that if I could not use the phone, they could. One friend wrote, “We’re supporting AT&T, but we’re really getting to know each other. And we’re all praying.” So I knew that although I was still too ill to pray for myself, I was being prayed for, upheld in a wonderful web of prayer from all over the country.
Time was a slow blur of pain. My son and daughter-in-law flew from Connecticut to San Diego to talk to the doctors and see what was going on. My elder daughter was somewhere in France with her husband, celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary; there was no way to reach them. My younger daughter and her husband were in Connecticut with their two little boys.
When my son walked into my room, I said, “Oh, Bion, the last time I was this glad to see you was the night you were born.” My daughter-in-law, Laurie, is a physician. She and Bion were able to talk with the doctors and satisfy themselves that everything was being done for me that needed to be done, and that Deborah’s offer of taking me in when I was well enough to leave the hospital was a firm and good one. But delighted as I was to see these two wonderful young people, I was still too injured to enjoy visiting, and sent them off in their brief time in California to see something of San Diego. And of course they could not stay, but had to get back to Connecticut.
So I was alone again, and as I gained a little strength I felt a terrible sense of isolation. The trauma my body had suffered wakened all my primordial fears, fear of isolation, fear of being enclosed, fear of dark. I knew that these fears were a result of the accident and that ultimately they would leave, but there was no denying the fact that they were very much with me. One of the nurses suggested that I draw the curtains across the windows to shut out the scaffolding and the workmen. But to do that would have made my small room feel like a tomb. I didn’t care about the workmen; I didn’t want to be shut in. At night I wanted the door to my room open, not only to keep from feeling enclosed, but for the light.
Because I was no longer in critical condition I saw very little of the overworked nurses; hospitals at this late end of the century are woefully understaffed. I felt lonely, isolated, in pain. Not back into life, yet not out of it. Still too wounded to pray for myself, I was aware enough to be grateful for the prayers that supported me, for the flowers that made my sterile room a bower. I had my small travel radio-alarm clock with me, and San Diego has a good classical music station, so I could listen to music, though I was careful not to keep the radio on constantly and run down the batteries; listening time was precious.
After a few more days I remembered the red box in the closet in my room that had in it nearly six hundred manuscript pages of the new novel on which I had been working for over two years. The draft I had with me was the seventh. Certain Women was ready to go to the publishers. I had lived with this story and with the story of King David of Jerusalem for all this time. King David, I knew, had been through periods of isolation far more terrible than mine. During wakeful periods in the night I would think that in the morning I might be strong enough to ask for my manuscript, but I was not. It seemed, in fact, that I did my best thinking about it during the long nights. I was now off morphine, so my mind was clear. It, like the rest of my body, suffered from the trauma of the accident, but it was still capable of thinking of my novel and its characters. As so often happens with my stories, the book changed radically as I worked on it. The truth of a story is what the novelist strives for, and quite often the writer is taken down strange and unexpected paths on this search.
I had started out to write a novel about King David’s eight wives, and I realized fairly quickly that I could not put myself completely into the bodies and minds of women who lived approximately three thousand years ago in a culture completely different from ours. I needed a twentieth-century point of view. What happened was that my twentieth-century cast took over, and the story of King David and his wives became a play that Nik Green, one of the twentieth-century characters, was writing. It didn’t mean that I had to live any less with King David and his wives—and his friends and enemies and his battles and his joy in the Lord—but that this story and its marvelous truth was being approached from a different perspective. King David brought his people from the bronze age into the iron age; what age are we living in? The electronic age? It’s different. We think differently. We certainly live differently.
Much of the research that went into the writing of the first draft ultimately was put into the enormous pile of discarded manuscript pages on which I write telephone messages for my college-going granddaughters. But I wouldn’t have missed what I learned from it. I read 1 and 2 Samuel and the beginning of 1 Kings over and over, coming to the end of David’s story, and starting again at the beginning. But where is the beginning? It starts long before David’s entry into the tale, perhaps not as far back as the birth of Samuel, but certainly as far back as Samuel’s anointing of Saul as the first king of the Jews.
Now the problem was that the Jews had never before had a king. They had the Lord, and they had the prophets and patriarchs. They did not need a king. The Lord did not want them to have a king. When the elders of Israel came to Samuel and said, “Now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have,” the Lord told Samuel, “They have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods.” The Lord was not pleased at the people’s clamoring for a king, and el warned them, through Samuel, what would happen when they got this human king, of their own making. This king would take their sons to be soldiers and their daughters to be cooks. The king and his men would take the fields and the vineyards, and everybody would cry out because of the king they had chosen,
Excerpted from "The Rock That Is Higher"
Copyright © 2018 Madeleine L'Engle.
Excerpted by permission of The Crown Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Sarah Bessey xv
1 Story as Homecoming 1
2 Story as a Family Affair 35
3 Story as Affirmation of God's Love 53
4 Story as the Search for Truth 81
5 Story as Scripture 113
6 Story as the Lord's Prayer 131
7 Story as Community 149
8 Story as Joy 157
9 Story as Good News 171
10 Story as a Creative Act 191
11 Story as a Redemptive Act 213
12 Story as Resurrection 259
Reader's Guide Lindsay Lackey 289