THE GUILD FOR SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE
I first encountered Madeleine L’Engle when I was about 10 or 11. A Wrinkle in Time ended up on my school summer reading list. I was a voracious reader as a kid, but was always dubious about these required readings, so when I finally sat down with the book I’m sure it was with a fair amount of skepticism. Of course, that vanished once I entered L’Engle’s fantasy world. In my mind, it was a worthy successor to CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, which had been my last literary obsession—in both, the war between good and evil is decided by the heroism of children. I clearly remember sequestering myself in the back bedroom of my grandparents’ summer house, flying through the pages of Wrinkle, then a Wind in the Door, and a Swiftly Tilting Planet, remember too that horrible, empty feeling when I was done, and there were no more installments left to gobble up.
Back in the days before Amazon, I had to wait until we were home and could get to a mall to feed my new literary obsession. I think we ended up going to a B Dalton. The only book they had by L’Engle that I hadn’t already read was something called Camilla, a coming of age story set in New York. Reading it was a revelation of a different kind—“whoa, this isn’t fantasy! This is about regular people! Which means this Madeleine L’Engle person can write more than one type of book…” It was the first time I had considered that such a thing was possible. I ended up loving Camilla as much, if not more, than L’Engle’s fantasy trilogy. Even though the titular character was older than I was at the time, I felt a powerful connection with her.
I must have exhausted the L’Engle offerings at B Dalton, because eventually I moved on to other literary interests. But Madeleine found me again, in college. In my freshman year I befriended a girl named Christie. She was from San Diego, and her sunny temperament matched that of her hometown; she was one of the sweetest, most optimistic people you could ever hope to meet, a believer in true love, and a foil for my comparatively cynical New Yorker self. After just a year, Christie decided to transfer, to head back west—I recall her saying that the lack of a visible horizon in our corner of NJ made her feel claustrophobic. But before she left, she gave me a parting gift of two books—A Circle of Quiet, and a Two-Part Invention, by…Madeleine L’Engle! Both meditations of a sort on love and family, they had been Christie’s own copies—I think she wanted to share something that was meaningful to her, also maybe something that would impart some of her optimism and faith to me. But of course, my first response was “wait! Madeleine L’Engle writes non-fiction? For adults?!” Yes, yes she does. Mind. Blown. This L’Engle woman kept surprising me.
Over the years, I developed a fuller picture of Madeleine’s L Engle’s career. Like CS Lewis, with whom I will always associate her, as well as so many other literary greats, she did in fact write more than one type of thing—fiction, non-fiction and poetry, for children and for adults. And like Lewis, her writing somehow always circled back around issues of faith, about which she was unsurprisingly optimistic. Her belief that "All will be redeemed in God's fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones" reminds me of nothing so much as Julian of Norwich, whose work has also influenced me over time. Of course, unlike Julian, or Lewis for that matter, L’Engle lived in my own lifetime, in my own city—she died in 2007, and is buried at the Cathedral of St John the Divine.
At some point, I assumed that Madeleine L’Engle had lost her power to surprise me. Wrong. Fast-forwarding through a BA, MA, PhD and a position teaching medieval literature, I found myself in the Apprenticeship Program of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance—it seemed a perfect opportunity to meld my interest in spirituality with my academic career. And as any new apprentice knows, it isn’t long into your first weekend that you start learning about the greats who founded the Guild—John Yungblut, Henri Nouwen, Nan Merrill, and…Madeleine L’Engle?! My first thought was “wait, she was a part of this thing I’m a part of?” And all of a sudden, four decades collapsed in a moment—the inspirational writing, the spiritual searching, the sense of identification. Of course she was a part of Guild. Or rather, of course, I am drawn to this thing she helped create. Turns out, Madeleine has been a part of my intellectual and spiritual formation for years—it just took the Guild to help me realize it.
Over the last four decades, The Guild for Spiritual Guidance has continued to weave the strands of Sacred Love, Sacred Consciousness, Sacred Universe and Sacred Community. From the genius of our original founders, to the ongoing commitment of our animators in the strands, to our ever-growing community of apprentices and graduates, the Guild continues to support, cultivate, motivate and inspire new generations of spiritual seekers from all walks of life. I invite you learn more about the Guild, its founders, teachers and members, and to consider how it might fit into your own spiritual journey. I think you might just be surprised too…
Christina Carlson, P.h.D.