The Book That Changed My Life: Walking on Water
The first of my writer friends up is the great Christiana. I love her for her whimsy, spiritual insight, and her story that spans great swaths of American life. I really resonated with this portrayal of how books shape us when we are in college--how some pieces fall away while others (somewhat inexplicably) remain. Also, St. Madeline, right????
Walking on Water Guest post by Christiana Peterson
C.S. Lewis said that those of us who are life-long readers don’t often grasp how indebted we are to authors for their part in the “enormous extension of our being.” Our worlds have been so expanded by reading that without it we would feel stifled. Through reading, our capacity for compassion and understanding of others is magnified along with our knowledge of self. Lewis says, “My own eyes are not enough for me. I will see through the eyes of others…in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.”
That is how I see so many of the wonderful books that I’ve read. Not every good piece of writing has changed my life but many of them have flowed into the sea of my life that was changing not wave by wave but drop by drop.
But there are some books that fit just so into that sea of change that they cause a storm, setting me on a course for uncharted waters.
When I was studying theology in grad school, I would huddle against the cold, stone, walls of my Scottish dorm room (I know, feel sorry for me), clutching my hot water bottle, and wondering what I believed anymore. I grew up in a close Christian family, went to a small Christian school on the same property as our church, and had never met an atheist until my lovely South American roommate in Scotland.
I never knew that people studied religion from a non-religious perspective. Therefore, I was unprepared to have post-Christian, agnostic, and multi-religious classmates studying Christian philosophy with me. After graduating from a Christian college in Texas, I was also unprepared for my grad school professor (who was himself an Anglican priest) to shut down my naive talk of faith in the classroom.
Many times during those years, I could picture all my old beliefs as thousands of marbles that had been tossed up into the air. I scrambled to catch those old beliefs as they fell and often wondered if I even wanted to catch them at all.
And then came St. Madeleine.
When I read Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water for the first time, I felt a lifeline had been extended to me. I didn’t have to catch all the marbles that fell but then, I didn’t have to let them all go. And sometimes, there were new beliefs and thoughts that collected, ideas the hues of the Scottish sea, grey like the stone path out to the raging waters, and white like the huge dipping moon.
Madeleine gave me permission to rest in faith and doubt, to see those new colored marbles as part of the beautiful nuance of Christian faith.
In one of my undergraduate writing classes in my Christian university in Texas, I was essentially told that we weren’t going to write YA fiction because it was not real literature. I had always wondered a bit if the sense of longing I felt while reading a quality piece of fiction or a wonderful YA book was just my way of escaping the real world into my own imagination. This writing teacher’s words confirmed that for me: that there was somehow something bad in me that wanted to delve into fiction, fantasy, and literature for children.
But a year after reading Walking on Water, I enrolled in a creative writing program in Scotland to begin a YA novel that had been rolling around in my imagination for years. L’Engle’s words about faith and doubt, about the beauty of writing for children, and the importance of this longing that fantasy and myth stirred inside me, legitimized my own longing to write YA.
I can’t say that I’ve had a long career in YA fiction (not yet anyway), but I learned so much about myself and my place in creation during those subsequent years in Scotland, that I truly believe L’Engle’s book changed my life.
Christiana N. Peterson grew up in Texas and received a PhD in Creative writing from St. Andrews University in Scotland. She has published poetry at Catapult, Curator, and Literary Mama as well as articles on farm life at her.meneutics and Flourish. She lives with her family rural Illinois where she feels the daily call of farm life, folly, food, and occasionally fairies. You can find her blog and links to her other writing at thebeautyofthishour.wordpress.com or you can follow her on twitter @renewsustain.