MICROAGGRESSION: a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype: microaggressions such as 'I don't see you as black.'" -- Dictionary.com
Eight years ago, I experienced a five-month period of unemployment - my first stint of that unnerving status in my entire adult life. To put it mildly, it was a bracing experience, a cold shower every day. I pumped out my resume continually. I made phone calls that were never answered, sent out emails that evaporated in the aether. People who did promise to call back never did. People who did promise to email back never did. And repeatedly I experienced microagression about my age. "We're looking for someone who can attract young families with kids," I was told by way of rejection for the job of pastor at two churches. They said it matter-of-factly, apparently without any intention of insulting me or hurting my feelings. Not only was it illegal and unethical, it was untrue. Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm a kid-magnet, a walking jungle-Jim with small people dangling off my arms and legs. Kids don't care how old you are. They care if you pay attention to them and follow their lead in play and conversation. It's a rare day when I get "age-ist" microagression from children - even now as I'm eight years older and balder.
I am treated very well by others almost all the time. (Surely this has nothing to do with the fact that I'm a white male who grew up in a comfortable middle-class family?) So in the rare moments when that's not the case, I lack practice in responding gracefully. I had to build up new spiritual muscles to deal with disrespect when I was unemployed. If what happened to me was anything like what black and Hispanic people constantly experience as microagression, I can imagine the challenge of managing the emotions these incidents would stir up. Should we be shocked if people who suffer mindless, insulting zingers in everyday conversation don't always respond cheerfully? The cumulative spiritual impact of such incidents adds up to a social problem that is indeed worthy of protest on college campuses and elsewhere.
"MICROAFFECTION: a subtle but endearing or comforting comment or action directed at others that is often unintentional or unconsciously affirms their worth and dignity, without any hint of condescension." -- JimBurklo.com
Part of the response to microagression is education. We need to be intentional about preventing ourselves from unintentionally demeaning categories of people in ways that can make them feel marginalized. We need to listen to those who are on the receiving end of such encounters, so we'll know not what not to say and not to do.
And another response is the cultivation of microaffection: priming ourselves for moments when, spontaneously, we go out of our way to make others feel like they are dignified, respectable, truly beloved members of society. It takes forethought in order to be able to offer kindness without forethought. It takes spiritual discipline to make it automatic for us to share warmth with people just because they're people.
Microaffection came my way last week. I was riding my beach bike across campus. It's called the OMbulance: I put a sign on the front of the basket, surrounded by the symbols of the world's religions. In a spiritual emergency at USC, who ya gonna call? As I was riding, one of my shoelaces got spun around in the pedal. There I was, trapped on my bike at an obscure corner of the campus, unable even to dismount it to fix the problem. A gentleman came along with a big smile on his face and asked if I needed help. "Oh yes!" I answered, and before I could say more, he untangled my shoelace from the pedal and walked away, wishing me well. He helped me in a way that reduced, rather than increased, my sense of embarrassment in my predicament.
I have work to do, myself, to make kindness and respect so ingrained in my soul that they are automatic responses in moments of emotional challenge. Universities and institutions of all kinds have work to do, also, to create atmospheres that inculcate this kind of mindfulness, to prevent microagression and to encourage microaffection.
A boat glided through the glorious scenery of Switzerland and Germany on the Rhine River in the early 1540's. Among the passengers were a Jewish man and a Christian Scotsman who was a leader of the new Radical Reformation movement. The Scot was in exile from religious persecution back home. The two got into a theological discussion. The Scot, George Wishart, started the conversation in an accusatory tone, demanding the Jew to account for his failure to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. The Jew retorted that if the Messiah indeed had already returned, he would have restored the Law of Israel in full, including its prohibition of images of God or God's creations, and also would have abolished poverty completely. The Catholic Church, with its fabulously ornamented churches and wealthy clergy, clearly had failed to do these things. The Jew also pointed out that it was contrary to the Law of Israel to worship a piece of bread as if it were God.
That Jewish passenger humbled Wishart and inspired in him a holy jealousy. He quoted the Jewish man often in his preaching. Wishart embraced the iconoclastic impulse of the Radical Reformation, and also its opposition to the doctrine of Jesus' real physical presence in the bread of communion. I think these reforms were progressive in 1540, but we need further reformation today in order to bring iconography and ritual into our spirituality in fresh ways that are meaningful for our time. Wishart dedicated himself to doing whatever he could to help the poor himself, and to influence other Christians to do the same: an impulse that never should go out of style.
Jealously is holy if it moves us to be better people. Jealousy is holy if it inspires one religious community to mimic the good things that other faith communities do. When I attended the Parliament of the World's Religions a few weeks ago, I experienced holy jealousy many times. I was jealous of the phenomenal hospitality of the Sikhs of the state of Utah, who fed "langar" lunch to 10,000 people free of charge, and with a spirit of palpably holy hospitality. How can my church emulate that example? I was jealous of the evident joyfulness of the Mormon families with lots of children walking through the grounds of Temple Square in Salt Lake City. How can I do better to bring happiness and stability to my own family? (Of course, the families made unhappy by LDS anti-gay doctrines were not there.) I was jealous of the ancient, elaborate, deep traditions of Buddhism in Tibet expressed by the same monks who came to USC recently, as they created a sand mandala in one of the convention center hallways. How can I steep myself further in my own Christian artistic spirituality? I was jealous of the theological creativity of the Community of Christ, which had a table in the display hall. This group grew out of the branch of the Latter Day Saints that stayed in Missouri when Brigham Young led most of the Mormons to Utah. It's evolved steadily into an exceptionally interesting progressive Christian denomination. How can other progressive Christians emulate their ability to show respect for tradition while incorporating new theological insights?
Here at USC, I was jealous of the Hindu students on our campus last night as they celebrated Diwali, the festival of light. The event included a puja to Lakshmi, one of the Hindu manifestations of the divine. As I joined four hundred students in chanting "om shanti", I was jealous of their communion with a 5,000 year old tradition that I can only appreciate as an outsider. How can I, as a Christian pastor, help other Christians find enlightenment through the practices of ancient Christian spirituality?
A few years ago, I mused about another interfaith encounter that had enduring consequences: the meeting of Ignatius of Loyola with a wandering Muslim Moor. It was another case of a religiously prideful Christian being humbled in the process of defiantly defending his faith. Ignatius was furious at the Moor for a perceived insult against the Virgin Mary. But he decided to let his mule choose whether or not to chase after the Moor to exact revenge. The mule wandered away from the path of the Moor, suggesting that a beast of burden was more attuned to the God of love than the founder of an order of Catholic priests! I have holy jealousy for the soul of that mule, whose positive spiritual influence continues today in the peace and justice witness and interfaith engagement of Jesuits like Pope Francis.
On that boat on the Rhine, the Jew and the Scot started their conversation with a bitter theological dispute, but ended it in divine humility. At best, interfaith relationships inspire a holy jealousy that leads faith communities to be at their best and to emulate what is best in other religions.
To all progressive church leaders: PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANS UNITING - PCU-LA.org - is
We are working to expand the map of progressive congregations and communities on the PCU website beyond southern California. This is a great way to increase the visibility of your congregation and make it possible for people who are searching for progressive Christian communities to find them. If you can speak on behalf of your community and would like to add yourselves to the map, here are the four criteria:
1) actively works for social justice
2) fully affirms LGBTQ participation in church life
3) respects the wisdom of other religious traditions
4) seeks to embody Jesus' way of compassion and justice for our world
If these are true for you, send us your church name, web address, contact email, and address and we'll add you to this growing resource: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fall sunlight streamed through stained glass, warming the faces and the souls of the people who filled the simple old white-steepled sanctuary. This past Sunday afternoon, we gathered at Soquel Congregational Church near Santa Cruz, CA, for the memorial service of our mother, Barbara Lee Deemy Burklo, who died over a month ago, peacefully, at the age of 88. My mom's relatives, friends, fellow parishioners, and friends of her children gathered in the church, founded in 1868 and built of old-growth heart redwood by a shipwright who pitched the floor like a boat deck so that the pews tilt to port and starboard away from the center aisle.
We four siblings spoke, our short speeches punctuated by the congregation singing Mom's favorite hymns. We talked about who Mom was to us. We told it like it was. We cried, we laughed, we told stories. We made time for an "open mike", and people who loved Mom stood up and shared charming and pithy anecdotes that captured glimpses of what she meant to them. Any theology expressed was implicit, at most: there was no altar call, there were no platitudes about the hereafter.
The church's catering team, a well-oiled machine of volunteer cooks and servers whose work raises money for the church, did a wonderful job of hosting the party afterward. They handled everything: the tables, the chairs, the decor, the food and drinks, the cleanup. They liberated our family to do what we needed to do: hug our Mom's fan club members, hold them as they wept, and let them hold us as we wept.
The memorial service was a deep service to our whole family, greatly helping us to grieve - to feel and to express our jumble of emotions.
The occasion was a testament to the healing power of ritual. Too often the word "just" is associated with "a ritual", as if these ceremonies are nothing more than habits, no more than going through expected motions in order to satisfy conventions of social propriety. But at their best, rituals are mirrors that we hold up to reflect upon life's passages. The back and forth of this reflection amplifies our emotions, and reveals and clarifies the meanings we find in the turning-points of our lives. Births, graduations, weddings, deaths: the events themselves can be so overwhelming that we cannot see them for what they really are to us. We need to set aside ritual space in order to be able to know them much more fully. Seeing a big black-and-white picture of Mom as a young woman, smiling at us from the altar in the church, brought home to my soul the fullness of her life and the depth of my loss of her life from my own. Hearing a woman speak about how Mom had been a second mom to her in her teen years, choking up with tears as she spoke, choked me up with tears as I listened. That woman needed a second mom when she was young. I did not, because my Mom was all the Mom I could ask for, for my whole life. I was overwhelmed with thankfulness I might not have felt so intensely except for the gift of that memorial service.
At its best, Christianity is a vessel for carrying the most potent moments of our lives. At its best, the faith does not impose on us a dogma to recite or a doctrine to which we must give assent. Rather, at its best, it gives us a sanctuary in which we can contemplate the turning-points in our lives, become mindful of our emotions, and reflect on the meanings we find in our stories. Our religion gives us a language to use to express the significance of the events of our lives. Our religion is not prescriptive, but rather is a means for us to be descriptive about what matters to us, and why. On Sunday, the church offered my family a mirror into which we could gaze and reflect on all that Mom was and is to us, and for that, I'm very grateful.
Last week I attended the Parliament of the World's Religions, a gathering at Salt Lake City of 10,000 people from around the world. My first impression was amazement at the variety of headgear on display as I wandered the halls of the gargantuan Salt Palace convention center, located just a block from the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at Temple Square. Visible were turbans of all colors, skullcaps, various forms of the fez, hijab scarves of many styles, feathered head-dresses, yak-fur-lined Tibetan caps, and baseball caps like the one I wore. One of the huge assembly rooms had been turned into a "langar" hall, where the Sikhs of Utah fed all comers a tasty Indian vegetarian meal, for free, at noontime. Everyone was asked to cover their heads with their hats or with scarves the Sikhs provided. At the langar, I met a former USC student who had been part of our Interfaith Council. In the years since she graduated, she's practiced a blend of Sufi Islam, White Sikhism (3HO - Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization based in Espanola, NM), and a version of Japanese Buddhism. As we gazed around at all the hats and scarves, she explained to me that the head should be covered to protect the crown shakra, to keep the kundalini energy contained.
That conversation epitomized the blend of interfaith and innerfaith encounters that characterized the Parliament. It seemed to me that despite the abundance of head-coverings, kundalini energy was flying free. There were many in attendance who were committed practitioners of historic faith traditions. They came to engage in serious dialogue with others doing the same through other traditions. And there were plenty of folks at the Parliament who came to taste the nectar of many flowers in the course of their own eclectic spiritual journeys. Anybody could attend, and sure enough, everybody did, including the fellow who wandered the halls wearing a pointy felt elf hat on his head as with his hand he gripped a stick from which a disco mirror ball dangled by a string.
For me, the event primarily was a great opportunity to hang out with dozens of people with whom I've engaged in interfaith work for many years in the US and beyond, and to meet people with whom I might collaborate in the future. The annual meeting of religious affairs professionals from US colleges and universities happened in Salt Lake City the day before the Parliament began, so I had a chance to catch up with colleagues and learn about their best practices. One evening I convened a joyful dinner reunion of graduates of USC's student Interfaith Council. Three of them were workshop presenters at the Parliament. It was so gratifying for me to see our graduates creatively growing the movement for interfaith understanding and cooperation.
I went to a workshop which presented an attenuated version of the Cosmic Mass. Matthew Fox, the Catholic-turned-Episcopal priest and writer/teacher, was there to host this Christian eucharist performed in the manner of a "rave" techno-music-media-dance concert. I watched the same Tibetan monks who created a sand mandala at our office at USC do their thing at the Parliament, surrounded by a constant swirl of passing attendees. I watched Tibetan dancers in traditional garb dancing and singing, and marveled at how similar they seemed in appearance to the Native Americans who were ceremonially smudging attendees with the smoke of burning bundles of sage before they entered the building. Taeko drums pounded, Navajo flutes wafted, the meditative drone of Sikh kirtan floated through the vast hallways.
The event was more salad than soup, more an occasion for palaver than a real parliament. The solidarity created there was not institutional, doctrinal, or political: it was community, not unity. It gathered people with very different identities and practices to share and learn what they could, celebrate their differences, and take home inspiration for creating and maintaining interfaith harmony in far-flung places. It was a place to wear your hat, not to hang it - and to marvel at all the other hats!
Re: the Oregon mass shooting: "Harper-Mercer's mother, Laurel Harper, shared her son's passion for guns... In online postings, Harper talked about her love of guns and her son's emotional troubles, but there were no hints of worry that he could become violent, the Associated Press has reported. "I keep two full mags in my Glock case. And the ARs & AKs all have loaded mags. No one will be 'dropping' by my house uninvited without acknowledgment," she wrote in a post three years ago."
"...the fantasy many of us have of facing down an intruder with a firearm is belied by the fact that a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense." (from "Firearm Fantasies" editorial by Michael Shermer, presidential fellow at Chapman University.)
I pray that all people of faith - whether from a religious or non-religious source - will keep the faith in working for culture change regarding guns in America, and in pressing and voting for sensible, serious gun control. As national elections approach in a year, let us keep this issue at the top of the political agenda. What happened in Roseburg won't stay in Roseburg until as a nation we match the money and the voting power of the gun lobby. Here are ways to get involved: Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence (National Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend: Dec 10-14, 2015) - Everytown for Gun Safety.
I was so appalled by the Roseburg incident that I needed to deal with my despair by flying my fingers across my computer keyboard. This is the result - a spoof on the absurdity of owning guns for self-defense:
WHY I OWN GUNS
By N. R. Addled
I need a pistol to protect myself from bad guys. Surely any self-respecting bad guy would give me time to see him coming, and then give me time to reach for my pistol and shoot him, before he would shoot me with his pistol.
I need a pistol to protect myself because I’m afraid of people who are afraid of me because they know I have a pistol. There’s nothing scarier than a scared person, after all.
I need a concealed gun to carry in public so that when I am robbed at gunpoint by another gun owner, I’ll have a valuable gun that the robber take in exchange for my life. The poor thief couldn't afford to buy a gun: that's why he robbed me, so he could be a proud and patriotic gun owner like I am!
I need to carry my pistol openly in a holster on my belt when I go to the supermarket so that people will know that I am in favor of the right to carry guns openly. My worst fear is that other people might think I voted for a politician who favored any kind of restrictions on gun ownership, so I need guns to protect me from that awful fate.
I need to carry a gun in public so I'll be ready to protect others in case of an attack by a terrorist or a crazy person. In less than a second, I'll conduct a thorough investigation to determine who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, in the midst of an extremely chaotic incident. Then I'll fire my weapon to save the day. If I accidentally kill some good guys, surely everyone will understand that I did the best I could under the circumstances. God will sort out the good guys from the bad guys in the afterlife.
I need a gun in every room of my house in case a thief comes into my house to steal my guns, so I’ll be armed and ready wherever I am in the house. I am sure that my family and friends feel safer when they see loaded weapons everywhere in my house.
I need an assault weapon to protect me from the assault weapons of the government that might try to take away my assault weapon. Since I interpret the right to bear arms as referring to individual gun owners and not to "a well-regulated militia" as the Second Amendment clearly says, it'll just be me, a rugged, unregulated individualist, fending off the full force of the well-regulated militia of the United States. Since the government knows I have a cache of high-powered weapons, they’ll be forced to attack me by surprise with assault weapons. So I probably will die before I get to my assault weapon to fight back, but when they find my dead body reaching for my assault weapon, they'll know that I was a red-blooded patriotic American defender of the Second Amendment.
If a politician who favors gun control gets elected, then I will buy more guns. If they keep electing people like that to public office, pretty soon I'll have a huge arsenal in my house. Surely that will convince politicians that gun control is a bad idea.
The way to stop mass murders committed with assault weapons is for everybody to have assault weapons, and to point them at each other all the time so we can open fire when somebody looks like they might open fire. Because if the bad guys shoot first at 13 rounds per second, it’s all over for the good guys.
(My office hosted a group of Tibetan monks, who made a mandala in our Fishbowl Room at the USC Office of Religious Life. I watched them create it over the course of a week, and then watched as they ritually destroyed it in an elaborate ceremony. As I watched them sweep their creation away, I wept for mother, who had died the week before. After 88 years of creating her life, it was swept away like the sand of the mandala.)
Rasping a brass stick across grooves on a narrow brass funnel full of sand,
A monk, leaning over a table, listening to a recording of deep, throaty Tibetan chants,
Deposits a few grains at a time onto an emerging symmetrical pattern,
Ordering the soul's cosmos into an intricate mandala.
Across from him, another monk in a robe of cardinal and gold
Rasps out a tiny line of a different colored sand, reflecting a pattern etched in memory.
It takes a week, or an eternity, depending on how and if one counts,
Moving from the inside out in four directions bounded by a circle.
Students arrive on their beach-bikes, lock them up outside,
And give themselves a minute to observe the monks,
But end up staying longer - half an hour? an hour? - lost in the sand,
Vibrated away from assignments, test anxieties, computer screens,
Smart-phones, schedules, and expectations.
The mandala focuses them on the universal here and the eternal now,
On a constant indefinable center surrounded by change.
Reaching the outermost circle, the monks lay down their brass funnels,
Don their golden crescent head-dresses,
Lift ornate brass horns to their lips,
Close their eyes to chant from the bottom of their voiceboxes,
And wave their whisks through the ordered sand in spirals of release:
In clear and sun-warmed air I stood on the shore and stared at crystal water rolling over a rock in the bed of the Deschutes River in central Oregon last Sunday morning. The shape of the water rushing over and around the rock was constantly changing. Imperceptibly, the constant current was changing the shape of the rock, as well. What I was watching was neither noun nor verb, adjective nor adverb. No word in English could capture it, regardless of its part of speech. The roar of the river, cascading down from the mountains to the west, drowned out my certitude and wore away my definitions.
My mother, Barbara Burklo, died the morning before. A few days ago, she talked about death in a way she'd never done before. "I am going to show you how it's done," she said to me on the phone. I asked her to say more, but she changed the subject. At the age of 88, with short-term memory loss due to Alzheimer's Disease and some other health problems, her mind-body suddenly knew that death was imminent. I did not make it from Los Angeles in time for that sacred moment. It was a blessing that my youngest sister Donna was there when her life slipped over, around, and away from her with the same grace and peace I sensed in the water passing over that rock in the river.
We four siblings, with our 18-year-old nephew, gathered in Bend, Oregon, in memory of Mom and in support of our 87-year-old Dad. He lives in the retirement center located next to the Deschutes River where they had moved a year before. Our grief brought tears, laughter, numbness, moments of silence, and many hours of physical activity as we sorted out and moved our parents' furniture and belongings. The day Mom died, she was scheduled to move into the retirement center's nursing unit after a stint in a rehab facility for physical therapy, and Dad was scheduled to move to a studio apartment in the same center.
When I got home, I realized that in my haste to go to Oregon, I'd forgotten to unplug my new toy: a rock tumbler. Over a week before, I'd loaded it with a big handful of agates, petrified wood, and obsidian "Apache tears". Our nine-year-old granddaughter, Rumi, was at the house when I remembered that I needed to empty the tumbler. "Come with me!" I said, and down to the basement we went. She was thrilled to see that the sharp, angular rocks that began the process came out smooth and slightly shiny from the gooey grey mud of the tumbling slurry, ten days later. We're both hooked on this hobby now!
My mom was a journalist, a tumbler of words who got me hooked on the craft of writing. She was also accomplished at watercolor painting. A bright and beautiful floral piece of hers graces my office wall. As we distributed her paintings among us siblings this past weekend, I chose one I've always loved, depicting the Merced River tumbling through Yosemite. Mom, you are neither noun nor verb, adjective nor adverb: I will always be at a loss for words to describe you, and what you mean to me as I let your life flow around and under and beyond me, forever.
Last week I tessered through time and space, recalling my first exposure, as a high school senior, to the progressive Christian serigraphs of Sister Corita in the 1960's. This week I tessered again, through a novel that left a deep impression on me when I was eleven or twelve years old: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1962). More than recalling the plot, I have always remembered the feeling I had while reading it: a sense of wonder, fascination, and warmth. All that came flooding back through me as I read it for the second time a few days ago.
I pulled a yellowed paperback copy of it out of my library, because soon I will give it to our nine year old granddaughter, Rumi. At her Waldorf school, she crossed the "rainbow bridge" a few years ago, holding a rose in her hand as she went from the land of fairies and stories to the land of letters and numbers in a ceremony with her graduating kindergarten classmates. Since then, she's taken a joyful ride on her exponential learning curve into literacy. What a pleasure it's been for us to listen to her reading to us aloud, haltingly at first, and now with fluency, as if she knew how all along! She may not be ready for this book quite yet, but I figure it's good to err on the side of challenge.
In order to be able to discuss the book with her, I decided to revisit it myself. I discovered that it is a sophisticated yet simple meditation on mystical, progressive Christianity - and on religion and spirituality in general - for children. While it contains sexist language and plot lines, and contains some linguistic anachronisms, it was far ahead of its time in 1962 and remains ahead of our time in many ways, as well. How much of my perspective on Christianity can be traced back to this book, I wonder? Clearly, fifty years ago, Madeleine L'Engle's book planted seeds in my soul that are still sprouting.
In A Wrinkle in Time, an awkward tweenaged girl named Meg lives with her scientist mother, her handsome and well-adjusted younger brothers, and her awkward and brilliant five-year-old baby brother, Charles Wallace. Their father is also a scientist, but for mysterious reasons he's been absent from the home for over a year. The baby brother wanders off to a mysterious old house near their home in the country, and there encounters a strange old lady named Mrs. Whatsit. When Meg meets her, the old lady mutters something about the reality of the tesseract: the act of traveling through the fifth dimension beyond space and time. (The explanation of tessering clearly was lifted, in part, from another of my favorite books, FLATLAND - a nineteenth century novel about a world in which a three-dimensional object passes through a two-dimensional world. It's a matheomatical allegory about our human inability to conceive fully the spiritual dimension.) An athletic, gangly fourteen-year-old named Calvin appears on the scene, drawn for reasons he cannot explain to the home of Mrs. Whatsit, where they meet one of the old lady's friends, Mrs. Who, who is given to quote constantly from classical literature. Suddenly Mrs. Whatsit's third friend, Mrs. Which, appears, and in an instant, the three old ladies "tesser" with Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin to an idyllic planet called Uriel. From there they get a view of the Dark Thing in the stellar distance which shrouds the planet Camazotz, to which the kids' father had traveled by tessering as part of a top-secret scientific experiment - never to return. It becomes clear to the kids that the three old ladies are angels: protectors and guides in their quest to save their father. Mrs. Who lists the great spiritual heroes of humanity as fighters protecting Earth from the Dark Thing. She quotes to the kids a passage from the gospel of John:
"And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." "Jesus!" Charles Wallace said. "Why of course, Jesus!" "Of course!" Mrs. Whatsit said. "Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They've been lights for us to see by." "Leonardo da Vinci?" Calvin suggested tentatively. "And Michelangelo?" "And Shakespeare," Charles Wallace called out..... "And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha...."
After a rest on Uriel, the kids are sent on their own, with blessings from the old lady angels, to tesser to Camazotz, a grim planet centered on a grim city by the same name. There everybody does everything the same way every day, at the same time. It appears to be modeled on Moscow in the Soviet era, or Berlin in the Nazi era: a state controlled by a massive entity called CENTRAL Central Intelligence. Surely L'Engle was swept up in the American reaction to communism at the time, but her characterization of Camazotz goes to the heart of the problem with totalitarianism in all its many forms: missing from Camazotz is creativity, the very thing that L'Engle used to describe the planet. And missing from Camazotz is love, which generates the creative urge. Into CENTRAL's enormous edifice the kids enter with trepidation, and make their way deep inside to confront a quivering, pulsing brain which controls the behavior of everyone on the planet except them. "IT" attacks the kids with an overwhelming temptation to give over all willpower and choice-making ability. Charles Wallace, thinking that by yielding to "IT", he can get closer to his father somehow, succumbs and becomes an automaton, telling Meg that it is good that in Camazotz, everybody is equal to everybody else. "Like and equal are two entirely different things," she thinks, fighting against the mental force of "IT". Meg and Calvin try mightily to snap Charles Wallace out of the spell, and in the process, the little boy leads them to their father, who is trapped in a force-field in the building. Meg puts on Mrs. Who's glasses, which the angel had given her, and thus is able to get into the force-field to free her dad.
The father, the daughter, and Calvin tesser to a safe planet, unable to take Charles Wallace with them. There they plot how to rescue the little boy. The three angels return to coax Meg gently into taking on the task by herself. Mrs. Who recites scripture to her: "The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are." The one force "IT" doesn't know, and can't overcome, is the power of love - even the love of the weak for the weak, Meg realizes. She tessers back to Camazotz and by intensely concentrating her love for her little brother on him, she breaks the spell. They all tesser back to earth, where the angels take their leave as the family reunites.
In 1980, Madeleine L'Engle, an active Episcopalian, published another book. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art is a profound exploration of the intersection of spirituality and creativity. I was especially impressed by her observation in the book that some of the worst art, and least inspired artists, call themselves Christian, and that some of the most profoundly religious art is made by people who are not religious. The gospel can be found in highly evocative forms in paintings and music and dance created by atheists. A Wrinkle in Time makes no pretense to be a Christian book. That's the last thing the author wanted. In her novel, L'Engle hints at her pluralistic approach to religion. For those who have eyes to see, they will discern the gospel in the story, delivered in a fresh mythical form. For those who don't, L'Engle would have been satisfied to know that the story touched their hearts, for the good, in an unseen gospel-shaped place in their souls. For her, Christianity wasn't just for Christians. And the gospel didn't have to be known as the gospel in order for it to do its mythical, depth-psychological, mystical work. L'Engle trusted children to travel freely in the fifth dimension with these insights. She even let adults in on these secrets, too, if they picked up her book to see what their kids were reading.