“A suspension of disbelief is…what links literature and religion, both of which require a leap of faith as the first step.” So goes yesterday’s post from Andrew Sullivan’s “The Dish.” Its focus is the writer Madeleine L’Engle, author of the work A Wrinkle in Time and other fantastical children’s books, upon the recent release of a collection of interviews conducted by Leonard S. Marcus about L’Engle, titled Listening for Madeleine.
Friends described L’Engle as one who was “open to grace,” according to Ruth Franklin’s review of the book.
And, on the importance of faith in her work, Franklin, as quoted by Sullivan, writes:
One of Marcus’s interviewees recalls glancing at L’Engle’s notebook during a meeting to discover that she was writing a prayer. Another person calls her the greatest preacher he had ever heard. Her piety should not come as a surprise: A Wrinkle in Time is a fairly obvious allegory of the struggle between good and evil, and the Austin chronicles allude often to the family’s Christianity. One of L’Engle’s editors muses that her books always reflected “her very deep faith . . . embedded in a great story with great characters,” but the reverse can also be true: L’Engle’s characters are embedded in her faith, which is the real raison d’être of her novels. She liked to speak of her writing as an “incarnational act,” an inseparable part of her religious life.
It seems to me that “openness to grace” is itself a “suspension of disbelief” and that all of life, in its messiness, requires this openness at some level- by even the most hardened of atheists. The bare fact that we allow ourselves to breathe means that we leave ourselves open to an encounter with something bigger than ourselves and beyond our comprehension breaking into our world.
I wonder what Christopher Hitchens would say here- I miss his hard-nosed honesty and hostility to skin-deep religion.
But, without an openness to grace, life becomes tedious, boring, and materialistic. We pretend that we really do have all the answers. We have the answers for why a young man massacres young children. We have the answers for how the earth came into being millions of years ago. We have the answers for why we do everything we do in this beautifully ordered yet confusing world, whether it’s making love or making war.
Have you noticed that kids are often asking questions? My son always is. And there’s something wondrous about the seeking.
Maybe this is at least in part what Jesus means when he says we must become like children to enter the kingdom of God.
Openness to grace…a suspension of disbelief. Children are much better at this sort of thing than grown-ups.
Our questions and a willingness to be surprised by the answers take us there.
But, what do you think? Are “openness to grace” and “the suspension of disbelief” the same thing? Does the bare act of living require them?