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Monday, December 10, 2007

Book Talk: WinterSong

Madeleine L'Engle is one of my all time favorite writers. When she died this past September, I found myself blogging and googling and wishing there could be just one more book. How nice that SongBird shared the gift of WinterSong, a book that I had somehow missed over the years.

For many, L'Engle is the author of the children's classic A Wrinkle in Time. For others, she is the writer of wonderful journals such as The Summer of the Great-Grandmother and Two Part Invention. For me, she is a kindred spirit, able to voice spiritual joys and sorrows in language I truly aspire to create.

Over the years, L'Engle has worked with her friend Luci Shaw. Born in 1928 in London, Shaw has lived in Canada, Australia, and the US. She is a co-founder and now president of Harold Shaw Publishers, and since 1988 has been an adjunct faculty member and Writer in Residence at Regent College, Vancouver. Her poetry is widely anthologized and lucky for us, fills many of the pages in WinterSong.

Reading a book like WinterSong is a lot like sitting down with a box of fine chocolates. One is good. Two is great. Three, woo! But to do the whole thing in one sitting? Maybe not. And really, the English major in me says that a book like this should be savored over a period of time, not consumed in one fell swoop. With that in mind, I've picked a few bits and pieces for conversation. If you don't have a copy of the book, follow this link. If I've neglected your favorites, please don't be shy!
  1. After Annunciation: This poem by L'Engle has stayed with me for weeks. What has filled you up this Advent season? Is it the reason and the busy-ness? Is there room for the joy and wonder? How do we make room to receive the gift of the child?
  2. Winter Nights: Shaw's words to her daughter poignantly tell of the winter of life. You can almost feel the stitches of the "head thing." I don't have a question to ask about this poem, other than, tell us what you think/feel?
  3. That Tiny Flame: It is the spirit reflected in this piece by L'Engle that makes me love her so. At a time when I needed to know that other folks struggle, there she was! Whose words have strengthened you in your journey? Who has opened their life to you in a way that has helped you to feel more up for the challenge that is the life of faith?
  4. That'll preach! There are at least 15 good December sermons in this book. What inspires you from the pages of WinterSong?

That's it for the questions, pals. If you have a favorite poem, essay or even turn of phrase from this book, please share with us. If you have not picked up this book, I heartily commend it to you. It makes a wonderful devotional resource and there are lovely bits for Advent and Christmas sermons.



  1. I hate to admit, but I haven't read it yet... but after reading this, I'm going to go out and get one ASAP!

  2. Diane, if you want to check out the pieces I named, follow the link to my blog, I've posted them there. And do get the book, it is a gem of fine writing.

  3. As I wrote in my blog today - I am in a funk and really struggling.

    So I took time today to snuggle down with this book.

    This is my favourite (so far)but this book is too good to rush. Maybe we could discuss it again AFTER Christmas when we've had more time to read it and savour it?

    Behind me - a thud
    on the sidewalk, padded with
    leaves like open hands.

    I turn. It is like
    a key. The jade womb unlocks
    birthing you at my feet.

    New as a baby
    you hold the heavy secrets
    of growing, dying.

    Now fingered and shrunk,
    your Fall gloss faded, you look
    as spent as I feel.

    But still you ride my
    raincoat pocket - Christ’s coal for
    my five cold fingers.

  4. I love the story "Miracle on 10th Street." We adapted it for a bereavement service yesterday, and it will be read as is in place of a sermon on December 30th (when I'll be away on the Gulf Coast preaching at St. Casserole's church!).
    I've always loved her seasonal poetry, and this book brought many new beauties to me, as well as refreshing my memory on poems like "The Annunciation," which I believe I will use in the bulletin on the 23rd or 24th.

  5. By which I meant "After Annunciation."

  6. Songbird- I had to thumb through the book to find which story. The last paragraph is highlighted and in the margins I wrote "Yes!"

    For those with no book at hand, it reads: "Between that Christmas and this sthere have been many times when I have been in the fiery furnace, but I am beginning to understand who is in there with me and that when I need it, I am given courage I never knew I had. Every day is a miracle, and I hope that is something I will never forget." ML'E

  7. Lorna, in my haste I somehow passed over this poem by Luci Shaw. It is lovely and the reflection that follows it is equally marvelous. You can feel the weight of the chestnut and see its gloss. And how wonderful that God sends these little reminders that we will stop and look and listen.

  8. Okay, turth be told, i bought it, haven't read this, but I am like Diane. I am heretoforwith and all that kind of language going to read it. I heart this beautiful woman and her friend Luci Shaw. Now onto the reading. Thanks for the wonderful post and discussion questions, RevHRod! Yea!

  9. See, if truth be told, I bought it and would not have dived in so deep except that I promised my friend Songbird....

    I will say it again, worth reading. But too rich for going through front to back in one sitting.

  10. truth be told I bought it -and then sighed when I saw it was POETRY rather than prose

    - but I've been taking it slowly and love it.

    I wish I'd bought two copies -or more- as I'd love to give one to a friend (at least)

  11. I'll have to check but I think I have the story Miracle on 10th Street as a part of a Christmas anthology...

    I think it would make a great play...

  12. Lorna, I'm glad you didn't give up when you saw the book contained poetry and that you found something meaningful in it.

  13. Since this morning, I've decided to use "After Annunciation" as the jumping-off place for my Christmas Eve meditation. What does it really mean to make room for the Child? I think I can do something with that.

  14. I love this book and had more to say, but cannot write much now.

    I am grieving today for the loss of a very dear friend. And so the line that speaks most to me is from "Redeeming All Brokenness" p. 59:

    "In Advent we prepare for the coming of all Love, that love which will redeem all the brokenness, wrongness, hardnesses of heart which have afflicted us."

  15. I haven't read it either- but now I want to!

  16. Mary Beth- you are in my prayers this afternoon. Thank you for pointing out this piece.

  17. Songbird, that poem is sooooo preachable. I am jealous that I have no pulpit to fill that week. I have, however given the poem to more than one preacher!

  18. Mary Beth,
    My heart is heavy for you - ((((MB)))

    I echo what many of you said - when I sat down to read this, once I got through several of them, I realized this is not one to read through, but to pick and choose and savor.

    And... I thought of it mostly as a meditation and devotional book and hadn't considered it a resource for sermons! Imagine that! Now I need to go back and read some of these that spoke to you. It's my way of finding what speaks to you during this time and the same for me. I think this is the beauty of these discussions.

    Now... off to read a few more...

  19. I wasn't going to get involved in this at all because I thought to myself, I'm really not a Madeleine fan (go ahead and hiss and boo), and then I read "After Annunciation." Wow. So now I am going to go buy the book, although I think I'll be living just with that one for a while.

  20. I am grieving today for the loss of a very dear friend. And so the line that speaks most to me is from "Redeeming All Brokenness" p. 59:

    "In Advent we prepare for the coming of all Love, that love which will redeem all the brokenness, wrongness, hardnesses of heart which have afflicted us."

  21. Dear Cathy and Widening Circles - I am so glad that this discussion was fruitful for you. If you're looking for an Epiphany idea, there is a piece on the magi and alchemy that is really interesting.

  22. I am loving this discussion ... and thinking it would be great to continue this once we've read and savoured more - and also find out how the pieces were received in advent, Christmas and epiphany services and gatherings.

    I read a little more last night and have been so blessed.

    It's definitely a book to take slowly though. And I picked it up at the very right time :)

  23. Thank you, thank you for inspiring this morning's blog, and a memory of the most rich spiritual encounter I've had:


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