Somewhere in the journey of childhood, I came upon the 20th-century American author Madeleine L’Engle. Featured in the newsprint pages handed to us for school book orders, the cover of her novel, “A Wrinkle in Time,” seemed strange and distant. Horrors — I never read it. It remains on my list of “maybe somedays.”
But her essay “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art,” originally published in 1980 and reissued in 2001, arrived in my mental and spiritual landscape at the right moment. I was ready. She had a message. I wanted to receive it.
As I am apt to do, I marked certain passages to draw my eye and spirit quickly. Gratitude stirred when I came across this one: “So we must daily keep things wound: that is, we must pray when prayer seems dry as dust; we must write when we are physically tired, when our hearts are heavy, when our bodies are in pain.”
The different pronunciations of “wound” and “wound” are so very close in terms of letters and syllables, but their sounds and meanings can be so distinct. “Wound” is the past tense of the word “wind,” meaning, “to turn or to cause something to turn.” On the other hand, “wound” is “a damaged part of the body” or “a great unhappiness” or “to cause someone to feel upset.” I suppose, one could write both in the same sentence: “She was wound up in knots over the deep wounds she felt.”
At first glance, L’Engle may have intended to capture both senses of “wound.” Dry as dust. Tired. Heavy. Pain.
On rereading, I think it’s more likely that she means “to keep in practice,” to keep turning, to keep in action. My parents have an old clock. To keep it functioning daily, it must be wound by hand. The chimes ring the quarter, half and whole hour. By day’s end, one winds it back up. It is a regular effort. Like prayer, like writing, like relationships, like exercise.
Sometimes, I want to stop winding, to cease effort, to quit trying. I want simply to be. Being is essential. Rest is a central part of being human. Still our bodies and spirits are made to engage in motion and purpose. When we are dry as dust, we may need to start, even with rough and jagged motion like a car long stalled jerking back into motion. Or like the Valley of Dry Bones coming back to rattling life with the Breath of God moving.
What are you winding? Where are you dry as dust? What practices will help enliven you? Where do you need to let go of control?