Studying Writing with Madeleine L'Engle

Our first assignment was: pick any character from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and write a story from that person’s view.

My story was literal and dramatic (that seemed to be the tone of the bible and I write what I believe is assigned). But Madeleine fulfilled the assignment with an imaginative and funny story. We both wrote about the woman in the window at the edge of town.

I remember thinking, “That is NOT the way the story goes, lady. But you’re Madeleine L’Engle, so you can change the bible any which way you want.”

I got in her class because I’d been going to All Angels’ Church — I loved the warmth and elegance of the worship, but was less in love with its evangelic and literal zeal. I wrote about this church when I started my Church A Day visits, the post was called: A Beer, A Bra, Then Church: at:

Back to getting in Madeleine’s class, when I worshiped at All Angels’ the pastor, Rev. Goode, invited any regular church goers to sign up for her class.

About a dozen of us met in her home, for a couple of summer months. She lived in a big rambling Upper West Side apartment which I loved and felt I could easily move into — she wouldn’t even know. She seemed to have a lot of guests coming and going.

She was getting old — still classy yet pixie. She held court from a big easy chair.

She liked talking about writing and listening to writing. I remember she liked my work. I felt we were kindred spirits, not only as writers, but because we were both married to actors, which gives a marriage a certain gypsy charm.

Another assignment: Write about a recent ethical dilemma and how as Christians we answered that dilemma.

I vividly remember one young man’s story. He was riding a night train in Europe. After the conductor collected tickets, a man who had been hiding, crawled from beneath the young man’s seat. The stowaway asked not to be given up and hid again beneath the seat. The conductor returned, asking, “Have you seen anyone else in this compartment?”

Should my classmate tell about the man hiding beneath his seat? Would you? It was a scary, true story. And the young man said he tried to think, “What would Jesus do?” I don’t remember how he answered. I only remember that my classmate was still plagued by this dilemma, believing he’d done the wrong thing.

Her class allowed us to admit we might be wrong. We had to be honest and imaginative.

I have to get to work now.

I have no idea why I woke up this morning thinking about Madeleine L’Engle and her writing class. That class was probably 16 years ago.

Maybe it was simply a Wrinkle in Time.

Or maybe I thought of Madeleine because yesterday I wrote about another aging mentor, writer and friend, Bel.

A beer, a bra, then church

I’m full of ambition. This morning I resolved to work 10 minutes a day on my novel. (Only one more hour in this day to complete that goal.)

And here’s a new one. Visit a church a day.

I was sitting in Havana Central after work with my work spouse, sipping a beer tonite. I was showing him a new app for my phone, Church Finder. He and I have the same phone. We love our phones. We often talk about our phones when we get together. Fondly, we talk about their newest and best features, like the phones are our darling children. (My real children are still in the country while I am in the city, hence the ability to frequent a bar, a bra shop, a church, guilt-free.)

On Church Finder, you can request the nearest church to your location. So we searched for the nearest United Methodist Church.The address that showed up? 475 Riverside Drive. We laughed. Because, the United Methodist Church at 475 is our beloved place. But it’s not a church. The God Box at 475 is a church headquarters. It never would occur to me to list 475 as a church.

In any case, we two parted. I did a little shopping.

If you must know, I purchased a bra (okay, two!). One of the ladies at the Town Shop bra store once told me, “Honey, I know titties.” Going to a classic bra store is almost a religious experience. The saleswoman joined me in the small pink fitting room to give me just the perfect fit. I was giddy with gratitude, because I’m not easy to fit. But I am way off topic here. My point is —  I went for a beer, for a bra, then I needed something more.

I was right around the corner from All Angels’ Episcopal Church. Chris and I used to go there, in the late 90s when Hayden was a baby and I was pregnant. It was evangelical.

On one of our first visits there, I was so surprised to see that one of the ministers was Doug, an ex-crush, acting student friend of mine from NYU. The other pastor, Rev. Goode was lovely, earnest, English, I recall. Both of them were fabulous pastors — kind and smart. (I can’t really recall why we stopped going. At some point, the church felt too conservative, I think.)

Back to the present, I asked the gentleman at the All Angels’ front desk, “Could I sit in the sanctuary for 5 or 10 minutes?”

He was pleasant, but seemed surprised. He may have been closing up shop. It was around 8:30 ish.

“Well, there’s someone playing piano,” he said, apologetically.

“Great,” I said, enthusiastically.

As soon as I got into the sparse sanctuary, a young man in the black tee shirt stood up from behind the piano.

“I’ll leave you alone,” the young man said.

“No stay. You can play,” I said. I realized I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted him to play.

“No, that’s fine. I’ll come back.” He left.

So I was alone. The life-size wooden angel in the back of the church blows a trumpet. And the quiet was all around me — even though the church is just off Broadway. I sat in a back row. I closed my eyes. I remembered when I went to All Angels’. I remembered going through a very tough time. I felt comforted there. I just let the quiet wash over me. I remembered how one Sunday night when I was attending All Angels’, I went to serve dinner to the homeless. I was very pregnant with the twins, and one of the homeless guys made me sit down and he waited on me. I remember feeling so grateful for that fried chicken dinner with the homeless folks.

I didn’t want to stay too long. I didn’t want to keep the piano player from his music.

Sometimes a church doesn’t feel like it belongs to you. Sometimes a church feel like a place only for goody goodies, the well-dressed, the righteous, the connected, the believers. But I felt good sitting in the sanctuary of All Angels’.

Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was the new bra, maybe it was the quiet angel near the door. Maybe it was my own past, that memory of a time I needed help and being back in a place where I found it.