(My office hosted a group of Tibetan monks, who made a mandala in our Fishbowl Room at the USC Office of Religious Life. I watched them create it over the course of a week, and then watched as they ritually destroyed it in an elaborate ceremony. As I watched them sweep their creation away, I wept for mother, who had died the week before. After 88 years of creating her life, it was swept away like the sand of the mandala.)
In order to be able to discuss the book with her, I decided to revisit it myself. I discovered that it is a sophisticated yet simple meditation on mystical, progressive Christianity - and on religion and spirituality in general - for children. While it contains sexist language and plot lines, and contains some linguistic anachronisms, it was far ahead of its time in 1962 and remains ahead of our time in many ways, as well. How much of my perspective on Christianity can be traced back to this book, I wonder? Clearly, fifty years ago, Madeleine L'Engle's book planted seeds in my soul that are still sprouting.
After a rest on Uriel, the kids are sent on their own, with blessings from the old lady angels, to tesser to Camazotz, a grim planet centered on a grim city by the same name. There everybody does everything the same way every day, at the same time. It appears to be modeled on Moscow in the Soviet era, or Berlin in the Nazi era: a state controlled by a massive entity called CENTRAL Central Intelligence. Surely L'Engle was swept up in the American reaction to communism at the time, but her characterization of Camazotz goes to the heart of the problem with totalitarianism in all its many forms: missing from Camazotz is creativity, the very thing that L'Engle used to describe the planet. And missing from Camazotz is love, which generates the creative urge. Into CENTRAL's enormous edifice the kids enter with trepidation, and make their way deep inside to confront a quivering, pulsing brain which controls the behavior of everyone on the planet except them. "IT" attacks the kids with an overwhelming temptation to give over all willpower and choice-making ability. Charles Wallace, thinking that by yielding to "IT", he can get closer to his father somehow, succumbs and becomes an automaton, telling Meg that it is good that in Camazotz, everybody is equal to everybody else. "Like and equal are two entirely different things," she thinks, fighting against the mental force of "IT". Meg and Calvin try mightily to snap Charles Wallace out of the spell, and in the process, the little boy leads them to their father, who is trapped in a force-field in the building. Meg puts on Mrs. Who's glasses, which the angel had given her, and thus is able to get into the force-field to free her dad.
Pedernal's silhouette, lifting its slightly-tilted, sheer-sided mesa skyward to the west, brooded under a dark and boiling sky as I drove up the winding road out of Abiquiu, New Mexico. It was nearly noon, earlier than usual in the day for a monsoon-season storm. As I crested the pass, a wide vista opened. To the north, sheets of dense rain moved toward walls and promontories of red and yellow stone. Lightning flashed, thunder boomed. As I made the turn up to Ghost Ranch, a huge squall obscured the high mesa above it. By the time I got to the ranch headquarters, the squall had passed over the heights to the east. I walked to the trailhead at the dry wash and headed up toward the golden precipice of Chimney Rock, hoping to get there before the next storm cell approached. To the east, flashes of light were followed by deep booms rolling and tumbling across the broken landscape.
"How does the Truth fare with thee?"
Silence beyond sound and its absence,
Seeking to know the Knower,
Settling thoughts into proper places,
Discerning Truth about what is
From wishes about what might be,