Tuesday, February 14

The moon was bright this weekend

If you’ve ever looked at a Madeleine L’Engle bibliography and thought, “The Chronicles of Narnia reading-order debate is nothing to the confusion of the Murry-O’Keefe-Austin storylines,” do not be alarmed. You are not alone. I read the “time quartet” about the Murry family (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, Many Waters and A Swiftly Tilting Planet) years ago, and decided last week that it was time to tackle the other stories. After some internet research to clear up the mystery of In What Order Do I Read Madeleine L’Engle’s Books, I bravely selected The Moon by Night and took it to the library front desk. I say bravely because I’ve chickened out of checking out this particular book before, embarrassed by the 80’s teenagers holding hands on the cover.

Yes, Madeleine L’Engle does write in the “teen fiction” genre—in The Moon by Night a 14-year-old girl is pursued by two 18-year-old guys—but she transcends it, and what would be forgettable fluff in someone else’s hands becomes something to contemplate. Especially when your pastor preaches on the very same ideas the next day.

The Moon by Night takes its title from Psalm 121:
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

While on a cross-country camping trip with her family, Vicky Austin meets Zachary Gray, whose background and philosophy are very different from everything she’s grown up hearing. In the course of the story, Vicky tries to reconcile the evil that is so obviously in the world—the Jewish holocaust, for example—and the Biblical promise that God will watch over his people. Anne Frank’s mother prayed this psalm, and she died in a concentration camp. So while the book is a coming of age/summer romance story, it is also a meditation on the sovereignty and goodness of God. How can a good God allow these things to happen, and how can a God who allows them be good? L’Engle doesn’t answer these questions neatly, but allows room for the eyes of faith to see things differently.

I had been mulling over these things all weekend when I sat down in the pew on Sunday evening. So I couldn’t help grinning when our pastor began his message on what psalm? 121. The sovereignty of God, huh? He went on to say that we lie when we say that there is no danger, or that we have no fears because, after all, we’re Christians. We lie when we think those problems we do have can be solved with a formula (most “Christian fiction” is particularly bad about telling us this). We also lie when we think that God doesn’t care. God is too wise to be mistaken, and too good to be unkind.

In thinking about Zachary Gray, who is probably my favorite character in The Moon by Night despite his flaws, I realized that to communicate with an unbeliever—or anyone, really—we need to be honest and quick to listen. Zachary was drawn to Vicky, even though he thought faith in God in the face of evil was absurd. Would he have kept hanging around her if, the moment he challenged her belief, she started quoting scripture that “proved” he was wrong? When I was reading, at first I thought, “Come on, Vicky. Say something. There are answers for these questions.” But now I’ve come to see that listening was one of the best things she could have done.

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