Sunday, August 25, 2013

Two-Part Invention

I received a lovely gift in the mail for our wedding anniversary: Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage by Madeleine L'Engle. And what a joy it has been to read. I knew that her husband Hugh was an actor, but in this book, we get to peek into their courtship, their heartbreaks and their beautiful marriage. Because much of this book was written while Hugh was undergoing treatment for cancer, it has a touch of pathos. When the cancer was first mentioned, I thought, Oh please, don't let this be a memoir of his death. Oh, over the years, I've pondered death, my own and those of whom I love. This happens during times of separation and I've endured enough to last a dozen lifetimes. Now that we are together, I am not ready to let them go ... the doctor in this book says it best: It is hard to let go of beloved flesh.

I still remember vividly the last five months my mother lived. Five months from diagnosis to death. She chose palliative care only, and I am thankful. She was home except for the last week when we were unable to control her pain. She slipped into a coma shortly thereafter. My sister told me that before she was admitted to the hospital, she had a vision of her first-born son, our brother, waiting for her, all smiles. He died right before his fifth birthday well before we were born. Reading about Hugh's treatment and all the setbacks made me weep, but I also took pleasure in all their small pleasures, and the myriad ways we make love. The very writing of this book was an act of love.

This is a memoir of a marriage, a not-so-typical one considering that Madeleine was a writer and Hugh an actor, at a time when most women did not have a career. But they survived and thrived through separations, poverty, riches, illness, tragedy. They raised three children. I love it when one of the librarians asks, "What do you think you and Hugh do that is best for your children?" and Madeleine answers, "We love each other."

Truth has a way of delighting!

When they returned to the city so that Hugh could pursue acting, she say tells the children: "Your father needs me more in the evening when he comes home from the theatre than you do in the morning before school. We don't like each other very much in the morning, anyhow." So the children got themselves dressed and off to school, but Madeleine was all theirs when they came home. And she had time to reconnect with Hugh every night.

So much resonates in this book. It makes me want to write a memoir of the love Michael and I share, of our enduring marriage, of how we've lived our wedding vows -- to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.

My only criticism is the bad theology regarding heaven and hell. Madeleine has a very difficult time believing in a God who would punish us forever. She doesn't want to believe in hell. But of course. We all want heaven for ourselves and those we love. Hell must be for people like Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot, but not good people like us. However, hell isn't some place God sends us, rather we reject God and send ourselves there. Hell is eternal separation from God, the One for whom we long for, even if we do not realize it.

I remember reading Death on a Friday Afternoon by Richard Neuhaus and the first chapter dealing with this very thing. We hope that nobody is in hell, but no one talked more about hell than Jesus. Oh, I pray for Divine Mercy, but today's readings (coincidentally) make it clear that the path through the pearly gates is narrow, that it isn't enough to have faith and be good, that we have to strive to live according to His laws. Msgr. Pope writes eloquently on this. And so, I found myself praying for both Hugh and Madeleine, for the witness of their beautiful marriage and their strong faith. May I meet them in heaven one day.

Parce Domine.


Mirka Breen said...

Those who are fortunate to have a loving marriage have made their fortune. Good for you, too, Vijaya.

R. T. Freeman said...

Lovely commentary on L'Engle's book. I love how she lets the children know what she must do for her husband and their father and they are willing to get themselves off to school, knowing they have her undivided attention when they return. Love really is "the answer."

I, too, sat at Mass today mulling over the readings and listening intently as the Gospel was read. Have you ever read Hans Urs von Balthazar's "Dare We Hope All Men Be Saved" ? One would think it's full of presumption, but that isn't the case at all. I read it years ago, but I am going to dig it out and read it again.

R. T. Freeman said...

Did you see how many times I used the word "read" in that comment? Yikes!

Faith E. Hough said...

I love this book so much, even though it made me sob a few times!
I'm actually surprised that Madeleine reached the conclusion she did, considering her clear opinions about free will, and the way we alienate ourselves from God through our choices. But maybe "conclusion" is the wrong word. One of the most encouraging things about reading anything by L'Engle is that her faith was constantly searching. She was never prideful enough to think she knew it all, and was always open to God's enlightenment.
(And, interestingly, there were early Fathers of the Church who believed that even all the demons would be redeemed at the end of the world through God's great mercy, and others that thought hell would be emptied of sinners. I would say I think this extremely unlikely...but it's interesting to ponder.)

Vijaya said...

Mirka, yes indeed. And the children are our crowning glory.

Rosemary, I've only been recently introduced to Balthasar ... Dubay quotes him extensively in his book about The Evidential Power of Beauty. I don't think I've ever met anyone who has a dusty copy of Balthasar's books :)

Although I pray for Divine Mercy, I am struck by the lines: Seek ye therefore first the Kingdom of God and His justice (note, not mercy), and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt 6:33).

Faith, that is exactly what I love about Madeleine -- her search for Truth. She correctly concludes Our Lord and His ways are a great mystery. That if we were to think we understand it fully, then it is not true. This book is one I will be sharing with the children as they themselves prepare for marriage. It is a great testament to love.

I think it was a lawyer who explained it best to me when I had asked whether we ought to pray for people who are in hell (because wouldn't God gather all His children at the end of time? Do I have something in common with some of the early Church Fathers? LOL). He said the people in hell despise God and do not want to be with Him. God will not foist Himself upon someone who does not want Him. So I pray for Divine Mercy ...

On the other hand, here in the South, people have a tendency to ask "Are you saved?" My answer is yes. But I don't take it for granted anymore, and do pray to be delivered from the evil one. I know I could fall from grace again. Temptations are ever-present.

A book with lots of food for thought. Thank you, Faith.

Marcia said...

I loved this book, too. I think I've read every published word she ever wrote. I too am surprised when Christians conclude there is no hell; it in fact makes me shake in my boots. B/c if there isn't, then Christ died for nothing, and to say that strikes me as terrible blasphemy. There is endless mystery surrounding God, and things too wonderful for us to grasp -- but there are some clear basics, too.

Gary Ludlam said...

The Devil's best trick is to convince us that Hell doesn't exist. If there's no Hell, then we can put down that pesky Cross. It's so darned heavy, anyway.

Next on my bookshelf is Ralph Martin's new book on the subject. I'm looking forward to that.

Christ, however, was pretty definitive on the topic. Pray pray pray!

Ruth Schiffmann said...

What a lovely post, Vijaya. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on what sounds like a beautiful book.

Vijaya said...

Marcia, I think too often, we make Jesus into a 'nice guy' and forget his hard teachings. We believe what makes us feel good about ourselves, no? There is a lot we'll never understand, but there's a lot in the Bible in black and white.

Gary, Lewis did a wonderful job in Screwtape Letters when the devil advises his protégé to make people forget that he exists.

You'll have to review Martin's book.

Ruth, thank you for reading. Madeleine is really a most amazing writer. Such heart and soul.