My Weekend with Madeleine
Our small study group suddenly had the golden opportunity to spend a weekend in Santa Barbara. But no ordinary tourists were we, for we were spending a weekend in January 1993 in the presence of Madeleine L’Engle, the author of “A Wrinkle in Time.” We had read, studied and discussed several of her Crosswick Journals (memoirs) some of which are “A Circle of Quiet,” “The Summer of the Great Grandmother” and “Two-Part Invention.” We had come to look upon her as our mentor and idol. She was leading a retreat at a Holy Cross Monastery of which she was an associate.
The monastery belonged to the Order of the Holy Cross of the Episcopal Church and was built on the very top of one of the hills overlooking Santa Barbara, thus known as Mount Calvary. Less than a half mile from Mount Calvary were the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Four of us were from Tustin, and along with eight women from the local area, we formed an immediate bond. We had all come because of Madeleine. She was our glue. We were introduced to her at supper on Friday evening. She seemed quiet and aloof, but the reality was that she had already stepped into the rhythm of the monastery and a Silent Retreat. These retreats for a group of women are usually quasi-quiet as we are by nature chatterboxes. But this one was different. Here was a tall, stately lady who exuded grace and peace. It wasn’t difficult to honor the silence.
The retreat gave us all spiritual food beginning on Friday night and throughout Saturday as we meditated on Madeleine’s messages and attended nearly all the daily monastic services. She was like a shadowy presence in our midst, for the most part keeping her messages short and to the point. “Fear not” was the focus of the weekend.
Sunday morning was the culmination of the retreat with Holy Eucharist and a final address by Madeleine. Then came the breaking of the silence and she became animated and entertaining. Some of us had brought a few of her latest books for her autograph. She met with each of us individually and we rejoiced in this newfound friend. When she passed away at the age of 88 in 2007, I felt the pain. Her contributions to literature will hopefully outlast even her memory.
Addendum: In 2008, the Mount Calvary Retreat House and the chapel were burned to the ground by a raging forest fire. Luckily for the Brothers they were able to carry on their good work at another retreat house in Santa Barbara, which the order now owns.