The Great Unseen
The Great Unseen: Faith meets imagination in A Wrinkle in Time
I can’t help but feel like a fifth grader as I title my page “A Wrinkle in Time.” After all, the Time Quintet is for children, right? While my choice for this book, and the other children’s literature I’ve read recently, has sprung out of the familiarity of a childhood favorite, I’ve really come to appreciate the story with fresh eyes. I wanted something absorbing, fast, adventurous, and meaningful. L’Engle provides that for all ages.
Whether you’ve read it as a child, a young adult, or have seen the new movie, you must be awed by L’Engle’s imagination, grounded in the real world. She tells a captivating story of a misfit girl set on a quest to save her father, and later brother. There is tenderness, there is fear, there is hope: compellingly familiar things all within an admittedly weird universe.
I think the weirdness of the story hit me the most as a kid, as much as I enjoyed reading it. A giant brain? What’s a medium? Why does Charles Wallace have super powers? On this re-read, however, perhaps 10 years later and a little wiser, I could see more deeply into the tale.
Fantasy has a particular power to stretch our imaginations, to help us visualize worlds unseen. And like all stories, children’s fantasy can help the reader see the real world with new eyes. L’Engle’s story does this by infusing fantasy with Christianity, helping us to understand Christian truths, even if the recently released movie glosses over this foundation. Her fantasy story can also aid faith by helping us to exercise our imaginations, as we can use our imaginations to contemplate the truths and stories in the Bible.
Both L’Engle’s work and the Bible are based in stories, but using the term “stories” doesn’t imply falsehood. An obvious but important distinction must be made: some stories are true, and some are fictional. The Bible tells true stories and historical events, no matter how fantastic they may seem, whereas A Wrinkle in Time tells fictional stories and events. But even the fictional events have elements of truth that connect the story to the real world. Take the basic message of a story: the morals and values are not invented by the author, but instead draw on values that we can identify in the real world. It is these connections that make the wildest fantasies relatable, and it is from these elements that we can learn.
Storytelling is an important device in the Bible: every chapter from the creation story to Jesus’ resurrection and beyond, to parables, to the arc of the Bible in general, is told by story. This is good news for us: stories are easy to remember, to relate to, to be a part of. Imagine for a moment that the Bible were written in the format of your chemistry textbook. Each page of facts, figures, and lists of rules would still be important, but remote. Instead, the Bible presents a living story.
Any story, whether true or false, fictional or otherwise, requires imagination. Imagination is not just visualizing the make-believe worlds of your childhood or conjuring up images of Mrs. Whatsit, Who, and Which. Imagination happens when you think about anything that isn’t directly in front of you. You imagine how you slipped on ice last winter, you imagine how your meeting will go tomorrow. You can imagine the atom, you can imagine the ancient Egyptians. It can be things that really did happen or will happen. Imagination is limitless, and more importantly, it is not confined to fantastical, made-up events: it can illuminate everything.
Imagination then plays a role in true stories, because imagination aids in visualization. We can’t even imagine not having the power to imagine and visualize (go ahead, try it). Without our ability to visualize the apple or the cross, there is no story, no meaning, only words in an old book. How much richer are Bible stories with our ability to visualize the events that happen in them!
For some, it may be tempting to separate A Wrinkle in Time from its Christian foundations. It is, after all, an enjoyable piece of science fiction. But there is something of more meaning behind that, that shines through L’Engle’s imaginative universe, that hinges on the truths of Christianity. The whole story is a quest to fight the encroaching evil darkness, following the example of Jesus. In the novel, Jesus is acknowledged as one who fought the darkness, with the phrase, “the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not,” appearing both in the Bible and the novel.[1, 2] Note the image that comes to life in these words, the hope that is given, because we can picture from the novel that the darkness will not win. The same metaphor of light and darkness is used repeatedly in the Bible. As the characters also find their purpose in this fight against darkness, they follow the one who defeated darkness, and take us, the readers, along on that journey. This is the power that A Wrinkle in Time can give to how we imagine the Bible and the real world, and an immense depth is lost when it is separated from the Christian story.
These stories can develop our imaginations. And if the stories have Christian roots, this developed imagination can help us to understand the truths of the Bible more fully. Children’s fantasy such as The Narnia Series and the Time Quintet all have clear, powerful, and refreshing messages. They present creative interpretations of a world beyond our own. For any age, they can fill us with a proper sense of wonder long after we’ve grown up, allowing us to become like a child seeing the ocean for the first time––a realization that there is so much more to the world than what we’ve already seen. And these Christian-inspired stories, while not biblically allegorical, create a universe in which biblical-style miracles happen.
Imagination in fictional stories can enhance how we visualize the Bible. But more than that, faith can be enriched by the power of visualization that comes from this imagination. Faith requires us to trust in the unseen, to imagine events that took place hundreds of years ago, to imagine a new world. In one scene in the novel, Meg talks to Aunt Beast, an alien of a species that has no eyes. They discuss how they perceive the world differently, and Aunt Beast of course relies entirely on senses other than vision. In talking about their differences in perception, Aunt Beast says, “Good helps us, the stars help us, perhaps what you would call light helps us, love helps us…We look not at the things which are what you would call seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal. But the things which are not seen are eternal.” This is almost a direct translation of 2 Corinthians 4:18 (KJV).
Faith is connected to what we do not see; it requires imagination. One doesn’t have faith that it’s raining, one knows by experiencing it. In contrast, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is trusting what is said, even when our visual-loving, logical minds might disagree.
How do we love an invisible God, or keep our minds on eternal things, have faith, when it is so much easier to focus on what is right before our eyes? L’Engle understands that it’s difficult to understand the unseen. It’s impossible for the logical, intellectual mind to comprehend.
C.S Lewis was familiar with this conflict between faith and reason, explaining, “Such, then, was the state of my imaginative life; over against it stood the life of my intellect. The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow ‘rationalism.’ Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.”
Like Lewis, we may often be conflicted between the intellectual and imaginative. I must be honest; I don’t understand Christ’s miracles. I want to rationalize them with my scientific mind, or rely on my eyes, like Thomas who didn’t believe the resurrection until he saw Jesus and his wounds. Our rational minds are gifts, but they can’t do it all. Jesus doesn’t say “If you think about this long enough and figure out how everything makes sense, then you may follow me,” Instead he says, “have faith.”
Lewis also once wrote, “Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” This adds another dimension to our understanding of imagination: it provides meaning that complements our rational reasoning, instead of conflicting with it. In this way, the meaning that we get from imagination works with the reasoning and logic within the story. The two combine to form our understanding of stories and the world around us.
The beauty of the unseen eternal world is that there is so much we don’t know and cannot comprehend. We cannot wrap our heads around it, we cannot rationalize, we can only imagine. And this is where our imagination has been trained, by works of fiction, to encounter truth well. The joy for the Christian is that she can imagine, with faith, a world where they will one day be with the ultimate imaginer, God.
Faith can be a difficult concept to grasp. How can anyone write about something they don’t fully understand? But Lewis and L’Engle have the right idea: they take inspiration from the truth, not seeking to confine it or rationalize it, but create worlds that have windows to it. Their use of storytelling brings the reader into a new world, and then releases them back to reality with new ways of imagining the unseen. They don’t argue for faith; they guide the reader through an imagined world where faith is integral. When the reader closes the cover and returns to reality, and to the true stories of the Bible, to the question of faith, the unseen world seems a little closer.
1 Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time, (New York: Square Fish, 2007), pg 100.
2 John 1:5 (KJV)
3 Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time, (New York: Square Fish, 2007), pg 205.
4 2 Corinthians 4:18 (KJV)
5 Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)
6 C.S.Lewis, Surprised by Joy, (San Francisco, HarperOne, 2017), pg 207
7 John 20:24-29 (KJV)
8 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (San Francisco, HarperOne, 2015)
Abigail Bezrutczyk is a sophomore from Long Island and is studying Environmental Science. She loves being outdoors, especially when it involves writing, tea, and goldfish crackers.Tags: allegory, beauty, faith, fantasy, fiction, literature, love, Madeleine L'Engle, reason