This Mystery

I’m rereading a Madeleine L’Engle book this morning, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.


Her writing is filled with wisdom and flights of fantasy, and her cadence feels old-fashioned and slows me down.  Every third or forth page I find myself tearing up, which makes no sense because today is a gorgeous, sunny day and I’m in a great mood. And yet here I am, soggy over these pages (some of which are so warped that it’s obvious they’ve either made me cry before or been dropped in the bathtub) wondering what God is doing inside me.

In the middle of the book is the faded receipt from when I bought it: March 19, 2003, at the Barnes & Noble  in Downtown Crossing.  I used to go there at lunchtime when I was temping at a venture capital firm, living under an assumed name, struggling to pay my rent and figure out my life. I’d been a Christian just long enough to feel like God had forgotten about me, so I spent my free time stalking the “professional Christians” in the religion section of the bookstore, looking for reassurance that this Jesus guy wasn’t just another figment of my spiritually-inclined imagination.

I read Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye, sitting on one of those little round stools you can use to reach the higher shelves, and struggled to imagine a man who would love me (and God) enough to wait for sex until after marriage.

I looked at books speculating about what might happen in the End Times when Jesus returns and thought, How about we just focus on getting through today? and slipped them back on the shelves.

And I bought Walking on Water, having never read any of L’Engle’s books before, Unknownbased solely on the introduction written by Nichole Nordeman, the singer who was keeping my new faith afloat with the haunting, hopeful songs on her CD, This Mystery.  One lyric in particular swirled in my mind in those days:

If I abandon all that seeks to make my faith informed and chic, could You, would You, show Yourself to me?

This morning, almost eleven years later, I’m in a different place. Jesus has proven himself more than a figment of my imagination. And yet I still feel the tension, the desire to cram what I’ve seen and what I know into a form that is “informed and chic”;  to write about Jesus in a way that is smart and witty and wholly understandable. If L’Engle had been a snarkier sort of woman, I can imagine her looking at me with a raised eyebrow, asking, “So, how’s that working for you?”

This morning, God is reminding me of what it means to respond to Him.  That I write (and live) into a mysterious place I don’t see ahead of time or fully understand. That all the talk about building a platform and cultivating followers is all just noise, because He selects the people who happen upon my book at a bookstore or library (or yard sale) and decide to pick it up. And that what they see there is His story, played out across a portion of one life.

It’s making me feel small and insignificant. Which is, historically, where my best writing comes from.

If you’re struggling to write (and live) your portion of God’s story, I recommend Walking on Water. Read it with This Mystery playing in the background. Ask Jesus to help you believe, so that you don’t miss any miracles.

And then, instead of Leaning In, lean back into the good news of being so very small, and yet safe in the presence of magnificence–With work to do, a story to tell, and an imagination that is only a glimpse of what is possible.