Faith and Fiction Round Table Discussion: Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

I quite liked Certain Women, my first foray into the adult fiction by Madeleine L’Engle. The book sets up the mid-century family sired by actor Dave Wheaton as a counterpoint and entree into a closer look at the biblical David. And yet the book is really more about the fictional family. Told from the perspective of daughter Emma, quite a bit of the story centers around the stage, since acting is something Emma and her father share. (The family also includes producers, directors, musicians….)

This was the first time I’d seen the phrase (exhortation, really) in print: Serve the gift. In Certain Women, it’s almost a thread running through the entire story.

‘David truly believed that although he himself was the Lord’s anointed, so was Saul, and the Lord’s anointed must not be dishonored.’

‘The Lord’s anointed,’ Emma mused, pressing closer to Nik as a gust of west wind made her stagger slightly. ‘Do you believe that?’

‘The anointing of kings?’ Nik raised his dark brows. The wind from the river was ruffling his hair. ‘Maybe, when being a king was a talent and a vocation, not something political.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘What about your father? Isn’t he in a way also the Lord’s anointed? Where did his incredible gift of acting come from? Granted, he serves it well, he hasn’t wasted or perverted his talent as some artists do, but what about the talent in the first place?’

‘Is it maybe genetic?’ Emma asked.

Nik shook his head violently. ‘I don’t want all our gifts relegated to genes and chromosomes. Although I’m sure that would have satisfied my father.’

‘And your mother?’

‘She believed in gifts. And that I have one as a writer.’

‘You do.’

‘So all I can do is serve the gift. I’d give anything if I could serve mine as well as your father serves his.’

‘He tries,’ Emma said slowly. ‘When he’s working on a role it has nothing do do with his private life.’

Certain Women, page 163

The phrase, the idea, stuck out to me because it was hammered on at Hutchmoot last year, and it’s not really left me since.

As I understand it, it means that the artist has been given this giant gift, but with it comes a big responsibility. Not everyone has this gift, and so to be worthy of it, to do right by that gifting, the artist must throw himself into his work, must prove himself worthy of the gift almost.

Which … is something I’m not sure I believe. We’ve all been gifted, with talents, skills, abilities. Why would those in artistic arenas be held to a higher standard? In my head I’m connecting this to the artist-as-genius mentality.

Now, L’Engle draws a line between serving the gift and dying to yourself, which can be seen in the quote above. But still, I’m not convinced this is right.

Maybe, despite all that, I can buy into the serve-the-gift concept, though. Perhaps the phrase draws on the idea that creativity is part of being an Image-bearer, being one made in the image of God. Enh, I’m still not sure.

What do you think about serving the gift? What does it mean to you, do you agree with the idea?

For more posts on Certain Women, please visit:
My Friend Amy Book Addiction, Book Hooked Blog, Books and Movies, Crazy for Books, Ignorant Historian, Linus’s Blanket, My Random Thoughts, One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books, Roving Reads, Semicolon, The 3R’s Blog, Tina’s Book Reviews, Victorious Cafe

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14 responses to “Faith and Fiction Round Table Discussion: Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

  1. See, that’s what I love about these Faith and Fiction discussions, because you’ve taken a conversation in the book that I simply glossed over and brought it to my attention in a new way! I’ve been sitting here thinking about that idea of actor or artist as genius and held to a higher standard for a while now, and I really don’t agree.

    First of all, the only people in the Bible held to a higher degree of accountability are teachers and prophets, because of the degree of influence they have over others. As for the rest of us, we all have to be accountable for what we’re entrusted with – whether it is a gift or talent or our children, our time, our money, our marriage, etc.

    Thanks for getting the old mental wheels turning this morning!

    • Right! As I was writing this I was thinking about how, in the Bible, teachers and prophets (those in authority) are the ones held to a higher standard — but that didn’t exactly get to the page. Thanks for helping elucidate my meanderings!

      Augh, I really need to write out my notes about artist-as-genius from Hutchmoot, because it was presented from a new perspective (for me, anyway) and it helped me understand why the idea is so wrong — and painful, hurtful.

  2. Love that Hannah – Serve The Gift. What a great theme to pick up on. I think I read the book over too much time (picked up – put down, etc…) to capture that theme and now that you mention it I am like “oh yeah” :)

    I am going to think on this more… what Serve The Gift fully means.

  3. Serve the gift–or The Giver? Our focus should not be on self, nor even on the gifts we’ve been given, but on yes, being an Image bearer, doing whatever it is we’re called to do as well as we can. Sometimes Madeleine L’Engle did seem to place artists—of whatever medium–above and beyond lesser mortals. Whereas I think artists are just normal broken human beings trying to express the message and gift they have been given as best they can.

  4. I definitely didn’t hone in on this the way you did, so I’ll have to contemplate it further – thank you for that! Perhaps those with artistic gifts might be held to a higher standard in “serving” them because genuine gifts in those areas – as distinguished from honed talents or learned skills – are relatively rare, as is “genius” to begin with? I don’t know. I agree with you that we all have gifts and talents, but some people do seem better at cultivating and serving them than others – perhaps that’s a gift in itself.

  5. Im really glad you liked this one…:D It was nice to know that this book moved others in the group. I couldnt mesh with this one, but not all books speak to all readers.

  6. I still can’t believe I actually read this book. I keep seeing posts about it around and the more I read them, the more I am amazed I finished it. I don’t think I would like it now…

  7. Pingback: Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle | Word Lily

  8. Pingback: Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle | Semicolon

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