The Red Couch: The Irrational Season Introduction

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Madeleine L’Engle may be best known for her fiction, but she has a rather impressive body of nonfiction books as well–the Crosswicks Journal books chief among them. The four books cover a variety of topics ranging from motherhood to loss. The Irrational Season is the third book in the collection and it deals with these same topics through the lens of the church calendar.

The first chapter meets us in Advent, then cycles through L’Engle’s reflections on Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and so on.

Today is Epiphany. (Chapter 4 in the book.) I am still new to the church calendar and there are many holidays I know little to nothing about. I grew up in mostly non-denominational churches but something about liturgy always resonated with me. There’s something in the tradition and the rhythm, something about knowing people have been observing these holy days for centuries.

Epiphany marks the twelfth day after Christmas and celebrates the wise men’s visit. Many churches mark this celebration with a feast. Whether or not you observe Epiphany, we will be feasting on L’Engle’s words in the coming month.

L’Engle’s writing means so much to so many. It is layered with depth and nuance. It allows for doubt and calls forth grace and trust. It honors the everyday.

The structure of The Irrational Season follows the church calendar, but this is more of a leaping pad for L’Engle to muse about her marriage, giving birth, motherhood, and work. Sprinkled in between these thoughts are her poems.

It may surprise you to learn your Red Couch Editor finished reading this book just in time to write this post. In fact, I haven’t read any of this year’s selections yet. I want to experience as many of them in real time with you all as possible. (This will be eased by the addition of several contributors, who will take over most of the introductory posts hereon out.)

Every one of our selections existed on my lengthy To Read list or were added in short order once a team member nominated it. I believe strongly in each book we selected. There is a lot for us to learn and discuss about each one. You may not end up loving each book, but I believe each one will change you in the best of ways.

Case in point.

I did not love The Irrational Season. This is a risky admission. I have adored L’Engle’s writing ever since I stumbled across A Wrinkle In Time as a young girl. I have heard rave reviews about The Crosswicks Journal for several years. I expected to love this one.

But a few pages in, I realized the problem. Every friend who raved about The Crosswicks Journal is married and a mother. It is no wonder they viscerally related to L’Engle’s words. It is no wonder I did not.

Now I hasted to add there is much I can learn from someone’s thoughts about being married and a mother. I do not shy away from reading on these topics, but I am also mindful about when I do so. I am keenly aware of my singleness during the holidays and as such, I try to avoid anything that reminds me of it.

But. I’m the editor of this book club. And I was slated to write the introduction, so I persevered.

You know what? It was worth it. Even though I muttered to myself in places (she didn’t feel she was an adult until she got married at age 27?!), the rich insights were there. What she wrote about community in chapter 10 resonated deeply. “A family with closed doors is not a family.” YES, Madeleine! Though it will never be a favorite of mine, I could finally see why my friends loved this book.

I can see why it will provide us with good discussion at the end of this month.

I suppose this is my hope for you, dear Red Couch readers. Even if you think a book isn’t for you, try it anyway. Even if you rub up against ideas you don’t agree with, keep pressing on. We need to hear your thoughts, too. I never want this group to become a vacuum of echoing voices. I want our discussion to be deep and respectful and nuanced. I want us to teach each other.

Wherever this finds you, read on.

Come back Wednesday, Jan. 27 for our discussion post. Join the Facebook group to discuss the book throughout the month.

Our March book is Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The Nightstand at SheLoves Magazine

A Circle of Quiet– Madeleine L’Engle

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother– Madeleine L’Engle

Two-Part Invention: The Story Of A Marriage– Madeleine L’Engle

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways Of Meeting God– Lauren Winner

Found: A Story Of Questions, Grace, And Everyday Prayer– Micha Boyett

The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year– Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace– Anne Lamott

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy & “Women’s Work”– Kathleen Norris

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World Emily Freeman

At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time Sarah Arthur

*Recommended by Leigh Kramer, Sarah Caldwell, and Annie Rim

 

Are you reading The Irrational Season with us? Share your thoughts so far in the comments.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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Leigh Kramer
Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee, followed by San Francisco, quit steady job as a social worker to chase her dreams of writing, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at LeighKramer.com and on Twitter at @hopefulleigh.
Leigh Kramer

Latest posts by Leigh Kramer (see all)

Leigh Kramer
  • Thank you for starting us off, Leigh, even though it wasn’t easy. I have started the book and, to be honest, I am one that is loving it. But it probably has a lot to do with where I am on my journey right now. I am discovering the liturgical year for the first time and it seems everywhere I turn God is showing me more, opening my eyes. This book is yet another glimpse for me. I can’t wait to dig in some more! And now you have made me add about half a dozen more books to my to-read list with the nightstand selections:)

    • I’m so glad you’re loving it, Nicole! I know my response will be in the minority and is likely a product of where I’m at right now. It’s amazing how we can read books at different times in our lives and have vastly different responses. So interesting to see the ways God is using the book to teaching you more about the liturgical year!

  • I love that you’ve admitted to feeling “eh” about Madeleine. Can I be honest? I like her, but haven’t found a book that I Love yet…. Maybe one day. Maybe not. I appreciate the challenge to read books that stretch beyond ease or comfort zone – I often pick books that I’m fairly certain I’ll like or resonate with. Yet, the ones that seem from left field are often the ones that sit with me later. Looking forward to this discussion!

    • Thanks, Annie! It’s tricky to figure out the balance between books we know we’ll enjoy and books we know will stretch us. We need to make room for both but I also think the latter category often requires some kind of accountability, like a book club or a reading challenge.

  • So fascinated by your response for a couple of reasons:

    1. I didn’t “discover” Madeleine until after I was married.

    2. I was also 27 when I got married, but –maybe you won’t like this either: I don’t really feel as if I “grew up” until after the birth of my first son at age 31. Not a very pretty thing to admit, but I think that it had more to do with coming out of my entrenched selfishness than anything mystical like milestones or the birthing experience.

    Here’s something that I was bothered by as I read The Irrational Season this time: Since her death in ’07, there has been a Madeleine biography released as well as a thorough piece in the New Yorker, all of which point to the fact (allegation?) that Hugh was pretty much a stinker in his unfaithfulness over the years and Madeleine was pretty much in denial about their relationship issues. I don’t even want to look at that, but there it is. How much of Madeleine’s ponderings are strictly tied to reality and how much is beautified to make glorious prose?
    Here’s a link to the New Yorker piece: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/alt.obituaries/gmm5RKqrepw
    It feels very disloyal to raise this topic. I have looked to Madeleine as a book-mentor for two decades. But I don’t want to fall into this same error in my own small writings.

    • Liana

      Thanks for venturing to post the link to that article Michele! I think it is fascinating and I appreciated being able to take her “perfect” domestic life with a grain of salt.

      • In so many ways, Madeleine was vulnerable. I have to wonder what percent of the discrepancy was SELF-deception rather than a desire to be incongruent. Or maybe I just want to think that way . . .

    • I read that New Yorker piece sometime in the last year and really didn’t know how to feel about it. I’ll read the biography at some point. It made me realize I prefer my memoirs to be as truthy as possible, which is why there are some I’ll never be able to read since the authors subsequently admitted to outright lying about certain stories or embellishing details. It’s interesting to consider L’Engle’s fiction may have painted a truer picture than her nonfiction.

      • Interesting and sad. I’m working on a review of The Irrational Season for my blog, and I really had to turn my face away from that whole aspect of her life and just let myself appreciate her contribution to Christian thinking and writing.

      • ‘…I prefer my memoirs to be as truthy as possible…’ YES! Amen to that Leigh I wholeheartedly agree. And thank you so much Michele for posting this. I’ve had mixed feelings about ‘The Irrational Season’ so far. Some thoughts and phrases have really jumped out from the page, which I’ve loved or have stretched my thinking. But there have also been some parts that have been quite blah for me, and some which have left me with an uncomfortable feeling I get sometimes when reading about women who somehow manage to balance work, marriage and family life with an ease and confidence I simply don’t possess. Old feelings of inadequacy seep in, and I wonder if I’m just really inept, or maybe they are not telling the whole truth.

    • Katelyn Woodard

      I really appreciate you sharing this, Michele.

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    I love Madeleine’s work, but I struggle with The Irrational Season. I love a couple of its chapters – Advent especially – but some others strike me as esoteric or just odd. I do really love A Circle of Quiet and Two-Part Invention (I am married, but don’t have children). But she does provide lots of food for thought.

    • Yes, there were a couple of chapters that felt disjointed to me too. I would like to read the other Crosswicks Journal books eventually but I think I’ll wait a while.

  • Jamie

    I haven’t started this one yet, but your post really intrigued me! I’m in the in-between, married but without children, so I wonder how much will resonate with me and how much won’t. It’s an especially interesting time for me to read/talk about marriage and children since the children end of things is like an impending decision waiting to be made in our marriage. We’ve been married for more than six years and never really decided about kids, and it feels like EVERYONE around us taking that step. We’ve had many discussions about how we feel, how we wonder if we’ll ever really want kids, how the pressures of our friends and family play into it, etc. I have no idea if this book will address any of this or give me any insight on this topic, but I’m excited to find out!

    • Jamie, I’ll be very curious to hear what you think after you’ve read it.

  • LOVE this post Leigh! I also love that you shared your honest thoughts about this book – I don’t think its realistic for everyone to love every book we read–thank you for your down to earth and REAL perspective! Its interesting–I first read Madeleine’s Crosswick journals in my 20’s–when I was as single as one can be, and without children or a lot of family–and I am now surprised that I still resonated with these books so much at that point in my life. I think it was more about Madeleine’s writing voice–I hadn’t discovered memoir like hers before. So even though she was discussing most things I wasn’t experiencing, her voice and tone intrigued me. (And I also read the other Crosswicks journals first–Circle of Quiet and 2 Part Invention. I just realized this year I never finished Summer of Great-Grandmother, because there are so many themes about loss and death, and that’s a tough one for me–given that I’ve lost a lot of family.) And I’ll be the first to admit as well–this book was the one in the Crosswick series I first abandoned, and didn’t connect with at all initially! Re-reading it this year was so timely for me, in terms of wanting to have more of a liturgical rhythm in my life, and being married–though I married quite late in my own definition of things. Not having children though, and struggling with infertility, I thought her words on children and family would be lost on me, but they were oddly comforting, and I have no idea why. Can’t wait to hear the discussion on this one–thanks for such an awesome start to the Red Couch this year!

    • Thank you, Sarah. I don’t think it’s realistic for everyone to love our book selections either but it was unsettling to be the editor and feel that way. Looking forward to everyone reading your discussion post at the end of the month!

      • I can understand that. Excited people are reading this book, and I’m with you–can’t wait to hear everyone else’s thoughts! 🙂

  • carameredith.com

    I’d rather you be honest and own it than skirt around untruths. Bravo. Bravo.

  • Katelyn Woodard

    I appreciate your honest voice – it’s so important to recognize that truth is found in the collective experiences of all people, not just our individual feelings. The world is so nuanced and confusing, but maybe a little less so if we spend time listening to one another’s stories, experiences, and reactions. And so, you are gifting us with your thoughts and feelings. Thank you.

    I’ve just read the first few chapters, and although I’m 28 and unmarried, no kids, and have definitely already felt the ache that always comes when I live for awhile in the heart of a wife and mother, I can’t get past this feeling of just swimming in her language. It’s some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read.

    • Thank you, Katelyn. I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying this one.

  • Hi, I started reading The Irrational Season after Christmas. It is my first book of Madeline’s to read. I connected with her voice and tone. I often write in my journal about different thoughts, feelings, and stories, and then it turns into a poem half way through. So I liked that part!

    Also, I just took my first trip to New York City this past fall, and this is the third book in a row that in some way discusses the writing life in New York City. It is fun to imagine that life and get a glimpse into the world. I just finished reading the artist way, and the emily trilogy by L.M. Montgomery. Emily decides not to move to New York to write, I kind of like that! Reminds me of Emily P. Freeman’s Simply Tuesday book and the idea that our own little cul-de-sac’s are sacred and full of life- not just the city. But in the Artist Way and the Irrational Season both books start out describing New York. It is kind of fun to dream of having home in NYC and a country home too!

    Sad to hear about the unfaithfulness in her marriage, that was mentioned in the comment above. Still, her voice and poems are lovely.

    Also, when she wrote about her running, piano practicing, writing, cooking, and mothering I thought about how I am nowhere close to that disciplined….oh man! So anyways, I will keep reading more of the book. Love and Hope and a hug! Melissa

  • Thank you so much for this thoughtful honest introductory post Leigh. In the past I haven’t felt like chiming in when books haven’t resonated with me, but this is such a good reminder that we all need to bring our stories to the table, and this is a really safe space to do that. Your invitation to all of us is a great way for Red Couch to kick off for 2016.

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  • Miah Oren

    I’ve read almost all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books – but not that one. I even own it, but I’ve avoided it because I kept thinking that since I’m not married, I don’t need marriage advice. I’m glad you reviewed it! I’ll take a look now 🙂

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