We enriched each other.” Luci Shaw speaks with Nate about her rich friendship with Madeleine L’Engle and how they made one another better writers and better followers of Jesus.

Show Notes + Transcript

Nate: Lucy, we get to talk about your friend today. How did you first come to meet Madeline?

Luci: Well, Madeleine and I met originally at Wheaton College at a conference on, on literature, and she was a speaker and I was a speaker, and so we just happened to connect at that, at that time, and we discovered we had a lot in common.

Madeline had just written a couple of poems that she wanted published. So, since my husband and I had just started the publishing company, Harold Shaw Publishers, I asked Madeline if she would like us to publish her poetry. Which is one of the things we had planned to do, was publish poetry people of faith. So, we did. We published two of her books. One was called A Cry Like a Bell. And the other one was Oh, I can’t even remember the name of it. But this was very early on. And we discovered the more we talked, the more we found we had in common. 

We loved Bach. We loved the music of Bach. We had a number of common friends. That was way back when. 

Nate: Now, was this before she’d written Wrinkle in Time?

Luci: She had written A Wrinkle in Time.

Nate: And then you two went on to write some books together.

Luci: That’s right, yeah, we had our publishing company, and we were trying to publish, books by people of faith who had a literary bent. Anyway, that was the beginning of a really fruitful friendship. We found that, though Madeline had a number of people who were devoted to her and looked up to her, she didn’t have many colleagues who were sort of meeting her at the friendship level, not just the sort of worshipful level that she had managed to accumulate.

So, the first book that we did together, I asked her to write a book on faith, how faith and literature work together. So she, at one point, handed me this very untidy typescript. Piles and piles of typed notes and possible chapter headings and so on.

So I had to just take the whole thing, pull it apart, I emptied my dining room, got the table out of the way, and started making piles. of different ideas that would flow together. We called it the Weather of the Heart

She needed someone who could sort of say, Madeline, you can’t say that. You know, that’s… not orthodox. We’ll have to talk through that one. So, we did. We did a lot of discussion. She came from a very liberal background in New York City. I came from a very conservative background. And we sort of met in the middle and discovered that we loved each other’s works. And we learned a lot from each other and through each other.

Nate: What did you learn from her? 

Luci: I learned to be a lot more open about what faith in God was all about. That you didn’t have formulas by which to describe your faith. That this was a freeing thing, that the Holy Spirit of God could work in different ways. We just enjoyed each other’s experiences with the Spirit of God. We shared so much. We found that working together was truly an act of worship to God. 

I remember after working through an entire manuscript, The Weather of the Heart, we finished all the copy editing and so on, we spontaneously stood to our feet and sang the doxology, Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.” 

Nate: What do you want people to remember about her?

Luci: I want them to remember that she loved God with all her heart. That she wanted to be God’s child and servant. And I think that what I could bring to her was a sense that God was larger than either her understanding or my understanding of God. That God was so magnificent and so wide, in the ways we could reach to God through the Holy Spirit.

So it was a very Trinitarian friendship. She loved Jesus, and you know, the fact that God was both Jesus and also the Divine Creator of the world. 

Nate: How did you see her work influence people spiritually?

Luci: I think she asked a lot of questions that people had. People you know, had a lot of questions because God is knowable through various ways, but not always easily understood. And because Madeline had a very great respect for the Bible and for Holy Scripture, and she realized that, throughout Scripture, God speaks to us through metaphors.

God spoke to Moses with the Ten Commandments, but also through acts of grace and love. It was, an ongoing, free flowing relationship that God wants to have with us as his children, as his followers, and both Madeline and I wanted to have that characterize our life and our writing.

Nate: Mm-Hmm. . Do you miss her?

Luci: I miss her a lot. I think I was the only true friend she had at the level where we could be honest, really honest with each other. We rescued each other several times. 

Once she was in California speaking at a conference and she became very ill and was hospitalized. And I was living in the state of Washington. And she phoned me and she said, can you come down and be with me? So I went down to the hospital in Santa Cruz and spent three weeks. I lived in a motel nearby, and came in and spent time with her, telling jokes, writing things together, just conversing at the deepest level about what our lives were meant to be, and what was truly significant and important for us to believe and to do with our writing. 

And of course, I was a poet. She’s a fiction writer. And sort of, we met in the middle, which was a really good place. We enriched each other at that wonderful level. 

I also got to know her family. I spent quite a bit of time visiting New York and staying with her in her apartment on the Upper West Side.

Most days we would walk over to the cathedral, Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Divine. And go to communion there at noon.

And that was the sort of thing that we were able to join in wholeheartedly with no reservations. But also, when we had questions, we were able to share our questions with each other and search what the great theologians had to say and what Scripture had to say about topics and about themes.

When we had doubts, when we had huge questions about what God was doing in the world. We could share those with each other and pray together. We did a lot of praying. 

Nate: Sounds like a really special friendship that you two had. What was the role she filled for you?

Luci: She filled for me a challenge. She would ask me to move beyond my evangelical faith and open up to various other questions about who we were to be in the world, how we were to reflect the Holy Spirit’s wide ranging creativity in the world.

So we can be part of that flow of creativity that comes through the Holy Spirit into the created world.

Nate: What was she like as a person?

Luci: Well, she was quite– she was, pretty strong minded. Yeah, she didn’t suffer fools gladly, but she was very loving to people who were questioning, who were seekers after God.

I think one of the things that blessed me was that she loved to come to Wheaton College, which was a very conservative evangelical school, and she found kindred spirits there. They loved her. The faculty at Wheaton fell in love with Madeline. 

Now, some of the board members of the Wheaton College board were a little worried about her because she seemed to be not totally evangelical in the way she lived her life and what her books were all about. 

I just loved the freedom that we had to discuss theology and doctrine and to ask questions of Scripture and to be led by the Holy Spirit in our questioning and in our, in the answers we were finding.

Nate: How do you think she felt about her contribution to the world?

Luci: I think she was fully in the flow of wanting to give, to be open, to have that free flow of love and respect and questioning. She was not dogmatic in the way she spoke, though I think she had strong convictions, but she loved to ask questions of people. Of all the books that we published with her– Shaw Publishers did 11 of her books, not the fiction.

But we mostly focused on characters in the Bible, she would write about those, but she wrote a wonderful book called, uh, we’ll have to look that one up, sorry.

Nate: Yeah, no, it’s

Luci: Yeah, you have to realize, Nathan, that I’m 95.

Nate: You’re doing fantastic. 

Luci: My brain short circuits itself sometimes.

Nate: No, it’s totally fine. We can edit all these things and put something together. So I’m not worried about it.

Luci: Okay, okay, all right, all right, great.

My husband loved Madeline, too, Harold. He was even more conservative than I was in his upbringing, but I think Madeleine opened up to us the riches of salvation and of God’s plan in the world for human beings. And so both Harold and I just felt it was such a privilege to publish her book and I became her editor for 12 of those books. And I learned so much. It opened me up in ways, that were, life transforming.

Nate: How do you think she’d respond if she knew how her work has carried on?

Luci: I think she’d be thrilled. I think she’d know. I think she probably does know. We don’t know, you know, if people who have died, whether they still have a conscious connection with the world that they died out of. But I suspect that, you know, in the grace of God, there’s a free flow of ideas. I would certainly hope that that goes. just beyond the limits of mortality. I think that we are living creatures who continue in the realm of the future, even after our death. We don’t know what our spirits are or what they are involved in, but I can’t believe that God created us as human beings with creative ability. And he’s not just going to short circuit that once we die.

I believe that there’s an ongoing role for Christians, and particularly for creative people, writers and poets and musicians. Madeline was a very fine musician. She had a beautiful Steinway grand in her living room and she could play Bach.

Nate: Do you have a favorite work of hers?

Luci: Well, I think the book that we did together, you’ll have to look this up, Nathan

but, um,

Nate: Don’t worry about the title. It’s fine. I’ll get that in there.

Luci: Yes. What, what I did, I asked her to write a book about what she believed, and she gave me this very untidy manuscript that I was able to put together the book that became a bestseller, Walking on Water that is still in print. It became sort of a textbook for people interested in literature and spirituality to find some common ground. 

Nate: Lucy, thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Madeline?

Luci: I just hope that people understand that what Madeleine was doing was trying to bring life and imagination into her Christian understanding, and that what she was doing is a gift that continues to speak to people. Just about anybody I know who is interested in literature is interested in, in the books that she wrote that have such powerful themes that glorify God and glorify the creation that God provided us with.

So thank you, Nathan. I love to talk about her. Can I show you something that,

Nate: Please.

Luci: is my new book.

Nate: Ah, it came!

Luci: Coming out almost any day now. It’s called Reversing Entropy, and it’s poetry. Entropy is a system of decay. And I believe that imaginative work, particularly by Christians, reverses that decay that was the result of sin coming into the world.

So it brings back life and brings back design and creativity and beauty and meaning.

Nate: Mmm, I love it. Congratulations, and I’m just delighted that you’re still, you’re still making contributions in the way you’ve so wonderfully done. Thank you.

Luci: Okay, well, thank you for the opportunity. I love to talk about it.

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