What A Wrinkle in Time Taught Me About Women, Work, and Motherhood (2018 Review)
This January, an influential pastor and theologian posted a nearly nine minute explanation on why women shouldn’t teach at seminaries. Such luminous opposites as Beth Moore and Rachel Held Evans pounded out pointed rebuttals, but there you have it--this is the world we’re going to church in, being women in, doing our work in, and raising our daughters in.
This is the world we’re raising our sons in: a world that believes women don’t belong.
Nevermind that the creator himself assigned work (the same work, mind you) to the newly-made couple in the garden of Eden. Nevermind that this blatant disregard for a woman's value--in the name of holiness--has created atmospheres where abuse reigns.
There's a Better Story For Us
Fifty-six years ago, a woman named Madeleine L'Engle crafted a story set half on earth, half on other worlds. It was not her first novel and it was rejected 26 times before finally accepted with much reservation. You might call it the ultimate comeback kid, as it’s gone on to win the Newbery Medal. More than ten million copies are now in print.
Can a science fiction story about a girl, written for young adults in the 1960’s, still inspire us?
Can it restore our hope?
Can it fan the flame of our faith, and remind us that women, mothering, and work are not separate, but vitally and importantly intertwined?
Can it give us fresh understanding about the importance of women, and the importance of our work?
I think it can.
What Questions Do We Ask Our Children?
Ava DuVernay’s film adaption of A Wrinkle in Time is set to release any day now and judging by the trailers, it will be a fantastic event. The novel is a brief, straightly told account of thirteen-year-old Meg’s adventure across time to save her father (and then brother).
Since good science fiction, in my mind, marks itself as being just a good adventure with science (and AWIT is good science fiction), I was shocked when I saw DuVernay’s translation of L’Engles' work, and realized the absurdity of what the author asks us to believe.
Stars turned into humans? A pulsing brain with tremendous control? Beauty beyond comprehension? It felt so natural, in the book. Of course there is life on other planets. Of course God is present here, too. Of course beauty and evil and art and hate are concepts that exist outside of earth’s atmosphere.
In Walking on Water, L’Engle writes, “Generally what is more important than getting watertight answers is learning to ask the right questions.”
Like Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (and many others), Meg’s story teaches us to suspend our need for answers:
can I be happy in the space between knowing and not knowing? Can I make my home in the infinite stretch of the unknown? Can I be at home in God, who is beyond my knowing?
The Unlikely Hero
It’s not just faith in the infinite Good that is stretched; we’re also asked to believe in Meg. By all accounts, there’s not much to believe in--or look it. She’s “outrageously plain,” her “dreamboat eyes” hidden behind thick glasses, without which she’s blind as a bat.
She’s stubborn and intractable. Where everyone else in the story is secure in what they offer, Meg--like so many of us--doesn’t know if she has something to offer. She can count her faults but she can’t count her virtues; they come up short.
That’s what’s so compelling about Meg: we find ourselves in her naked vulnerability. When we count our virtues and come up short, also, it's freeing to find we're not alone. The same questions Meg grapples with, we spend lifetimes trying to answer: do we have something to offer this family--this world?
Do we have something in us that matters, inherently, no matter how indescribable?
In the end, it’s this Meg, this thirteen-year-old who has nothing to give, who saves her brother.
The Heart of the Thing
Maybe the whole arc of L’Engle’s story is about Meg finding the strength to be the hero. Isn’t that what we need, as women? To find the faith to believe in our inherent worth; to stop seeing the cross as simply a revelation of our depravity, but also a declaration about the value of our life?
L’Engle's glorious hero isn’t the scientists with the education, it isn’t the all-seeing spiritual guides, it isn’t the brilliant boy, or the wise boy; it's the girl. It's the girl! The girl is the hero! I see my gangly, awkward self in Meg and I am convinced that I can be a glorious hero, too!
I see myself in Mrs. Murray, too--the beautiful scientist (not that part) who has a lab off her kitchen, and warms the family’s dinner stew on her equipment while she finishes her experiment. In later books, she goes on to win a Nobel Prize. She’s a little like L’Engle, herself, who banged out book drafts at her kitchen table while keeping an eye on dinner. She’s a little like me, typing away on a laptop at the kitchen counter while doling out snacks. Gosh, but we matter.
There’s Aunt Beast to see myself in, too, and Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which. If we are to raise strong daughters, if we are to raise strong sons, if we are to be strong women and do good work, we need more Megs, who save their fathers and brothers because of their weaknesses (and not in spite of them).
We need more Mrs. Murrarys, more Aunt Beasts who display marvelous compassion to unknown visitors, more Mrs W’s who choose to be undeniably themselves and enter the fray unabashedly. We need more Madeleines, who undertake the hard work to tell the true story. These female characters, diverse and beautiful, were deeply integral to the story’s outcome. So are you--so am I. Deeply integral to this story’s outcome. We matter.
Jena Holliday, on the artwork she created for this article: "I thought it would be powerful to show Meg looking up while all sorts of everyday women and girls from all different walks stand around her with a hand on each other and a hand on her. They're standing in a cosmic space, like Meg is forging ahead as a heroine and we all join in that in our own walks."
Grab your limited edition print of Jena's AWIT piece here.
Artwork commissioned for this article was created by Jena Holliday. Jena is a mother of two and an artist. She celebrates the motherhood of women of color through her work. If you’d like to see more of her art, you can visit her Instagram account here. If you’d like to see her shop, you can find it here.
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