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Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace Paperback – March 16, 2016
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"By the light shed by this book, we are better able to see our own God-imprinted lives as they're marked by penetrating mystery and indelible grace. Turn the page and engage the adventure!" (Susan S. Phillips, Radix, Vol. 39, No. 2)
"Halfway through Thumbprint in the Clay, I wasn't sure what I was reading. I only knew I wanted to absorb this writerly book with its lyric descriptions that awaken wonder. . . . You know she means it when she writes: 'I long for you to share my wonder and respond. I can point it out to you and believe that you will see it, too.' Shaw seeks a 'theory of everything' that includes Christian faith. She beckons the curious reader to dream awhile, drink deeply, and see the story we each inhabit as sacred." (Alice Camille, St. Anthony Messenger, June 2016)
"Shaw's practical book is inspiring and will give readers encouragement. Highly recommended." (CBA Retailers+Resources, April 16, 2016)
"Luci Shaw has spent a writing lifetime finding thumbprints in every square inch of creation and then pressing down more than a few for us to discover on our own. The glory of the prints she explores in this new collection of essays and occasional poems is attributable to the hand of the Creator. But what Luci does in Thumbprint in the Clay is what she always has done for the rest of us: she teaches us to see." (James Calvin Schaap, author of Reading Mother Teresa and Romey's Place)
"What a delight when someone has something really good to say, and then says it with such style and grace. Such is Luci Shaw! She sees and describes the divine thumbprints well." (Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action and Contemplation)
"Luci Shaw is a friend, seasoned soul and wise 'lady of letters' who writes 'from the edge of the known world.' Her inspired, enlightened, well-crafted essays guide us toward recognizing the marks of the maker in everyday life as she illustrates on each page how to take 'a long, loving look at the real' and find God there." (Dick Staub, author, broadcaster and founder of The Kindlings)
"Luci Shaw is a treasure, and Thumbprint in the Clay shows us yet again precisely why: this book is wise beyond measure, the writing beautiful beyond compare, and its heart a reflection of the one true God. We see the evidence of Christ everywhere around us, and yet we seem determined at times to overlook his proof. This meditation allows us to pause, ponder and bring close to our hearts the fact of God's design, his love and his purpose for our own lives. This is a beautiful, ruminative and necessary book." (Bret Lott, director, MFA in writing, The College of Charleston, author of Letters and Life)
"Luci has thrown clay upon a wheel yet once more and fashioned it into a delightful vessel filled with my favorite drink: the ambrosia of art, faith and creativity. Yes, I am besotted, but who can turn away from the poetry of a life lived so beautifully in service to God?" (Leslie Leyland Fields, author of Surviving the Island of Grace)
"What a joy it is to see life again through Luci Shaw's artistic vision. Thumbprint in the Clay is marked by the particular beauty of her ingenuity―wisdom kilned into her through years of fully engaged living, poetry that flows forth from her creative magnanimity, and her attuned, sensuous awareness of hints of the Creator's presence in every nook, niche, name and soul that kneels before the Holy. Shaw invites us into the God-imprinted adventure of incarnate life, not a 'narrow destination.' Illuminated by this book, we see that the imprinted life is an experience of penetrating mystery and indelible grace." (Susan S. Phillips, New College Berkeley, author of Candlelight and The Cultivated Life)
About the Author
Luci Shaw is a poet, essayist, lecturer and writer-in-residence at Regent College, Vancouver. Widely anthologized, her writing has appeared in numerous literary and religious journals and she has coauthored three books with Madeleine L'Engle. A founding member of the Chrysostom Society of Christian Writers, Shaw is the author of ten volumes of poetry and other titles such as Adventure of Ascent, Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination & Spirit, Harvesting Fog, Scape, Water My Soul: Cultivating the Interior Life and The Crime of Living Cautiously. Shaw is a frequent retreat facilitator and leads writing workshops in church and university settings. She has lectured in North America and abroad on topics such as art and spirituality, the Christian imagination, poetry-writing and journal-writing as an aid to artistic and spiritual growth. She is poetry editor and a contributing editor of the quarterly journal Radix that celebrates art, literature, music, psychology, science and the media. She is also poetry and fiction editor of Crux, an academic journal published quarterly by Regent College. In 2013 she received the Denise Levertov Award for Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University and Image, and her papers are preserved in the Luci Shaw Collection at Wheaton College's Buswell Library. Shaw lives in Bellingham, Washington, with her husband John Hoyte.
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This book did not really begin to speak to me until I went out into nature this last weekend, hiking up to Tahquamenon Falls in Paradise, MI and ferrying across Lake Huron to walk the clear beaches of Mackinac Island. It was there I realized how much Luci Shaw’s Thumbprint In the Clay had infiltrated my perspective. Everywhere I went was like a scavenger hunt, looking for Divine marks on the landscape. Beauty does something to your heart; listen to Shaw's arresting definition:
“Beauty...the appearance of something of such supreme worth that it begins to make sense of all the breakage, the heartache and distress of our world.”
Finding glimpses of beauty, evidences of God’s presence and His goodness, ushers in a hope and healing that has the rare ability to push through the muddle and despair we so easily fall prey to. I, at least, cannot separate finding beauty from finding God.
Strikingly, Luci’s hunt for these treasured glimpses is not limited to nature or to things that immediately strike us as beautiful. She stretches, turns over, and wrings out the concept of God’s imprint till it’s sheer. His hands surely fashioned mountainous vistas, and his lips spoke life into mankind, marking him by diversity and unique gifting. Yet, sometimes God's mark takes the form of a wound in a side (like Adam) or both a humbling and empowering limp (like Jacob afterwards called Israel). Imprints can be emotional like a memory, or physical like the direction a painter strokes his brush. The marking of a signature bears witness to authenticity, authority, and pride. Nature remains an ever-rewarding place to start the search, but Shaw casts a much larger vision.
Many of these ideas Shaw leaves open, like gifts unlaced from their bow. You must draw your own conclusions about how exactly forensics reveals God’s identity, or how emotional imprints are sign-posts beyond ourselves. But would you ever have thought to look there?
On the other hand, woven in to her prose reflections are poems that shed a slant of light at a different angle. Many of these poems were gathered from the repertoire of Shaw's history, so, in a sense, this book trails her personal journey to see God through life's seasons. Along with recounting her time at a Mountain Advance gathering, she contemplates finding new eyes through the gift of images and metaphors:
or perish. Thrust out now
the unseasonal ripe figs
among your leaves. Expect
the mountain to be moved.
Eye-less, learn to see
truly. Find in my folly your
true sanity. Then, Spirit-driven,
run on my narrow way, sure
as a child. Probe, hold
my unhealed hand, and
bloody, enter heaven.”
With her images she gifts to us glasses shaped by faith.
Putting on Luci Shaw's glasses reveals that being marked by God is not limited to that seal he put on his own for salvation. His markings grow and deepen over a lifetime, and can be found under every upturned rock of our own lives, and every outward ripple. It’s good to be reminded to keep looking.
*Review copy courtesy of InterVarsity Press*
That sounds like a delightful book. I loved her way with words: “Dandelions, small sunbursts on every bank, wanton and innocent, without evil intent, uncanny in their abundance, feeling no need to justify their existence.” Her essay on beauty is stirring.
At times, though, I felt adrift. Where was she going with her thoughts? Hiding bread crusts under the table as a child? My mind would wander and I’d lose the point. I had expected more poetry, or maybe I didn’t recognize it in the kindle version.
The prose works as an overture for the climactic poem in each chapter, and quiet often I was unexpectedly moved to tears by the worshipful, heart-ful words. This is a book to be read slowly, preferably outside – recommended.
In four places in Scripture, God is identified metaphorically as a potter, and, made in His image, we also delight in the creation of useful and beautiful things. This response to beauty should not surprise us, for it is a “mark of the Maker,” and Luci Shaw has concluded that “beauty doesn’t reside simply in what we observe or the fact that we can see and take note, but in how we perceive and distinguish with all our senses.” The glory of this is that as seers, we become “partners in revelation to bring beauty into view.”
A collector of pottery through the years, Luci invites her readers to consider the beauty that results when something is imprinted or stamped upon clay — or upon a life. Impressions are made and influence has its “in-flowing” way with us and we are changed. As reflectors of the image of a creative God, all believers (and artists in particular) are called to reflect that image authentically so as to impact culture. By way of illustration, Luci shares a heart-warming story in which she helps a homeless woman, and the happy-ever-after just doesn’t come true. The help of one person was not enough to fix the “sad, smeared print” of a whole life, and yet out of that untidy tale of disappointment has come a more informed community of believers who are working together to help the needy.
Luci’s generous sharing of the sting of inadequacy (“Oh, God of living compassion and tender mercy, what could we have done differently?”) gives me courage to view my own failures with more grace, perhaps as part of God’s marking and molding of this lump of clay. Certainly God used various methods in Scripture to mark His people: Jacob’s limp from wrestling with God never left him; Miriam was marked with leprosy and Moses with radiance in direct correlation to their demonstration of faith; Zechariah was stamped with a nine-month silence.
Most joyful and inspiring is Thumbprint‘s underlying narrative of Luci’s own yielding to the Potter’s shaping and molding. Her heritage of “missionary blood” with all the baggage and expectations that cling to it, her wrestling with faith and doubt (something she reminds me that one cannot do from a distance), and her ever-curious approach to life through travel, outdoor adventures, and asking the questions have all marked her. Poems sprinkled liberally throughout the pages serve to document her progress and to pull me into the quest for fresh ways of saying the ancient Truth. I’m challenged by this observation about words and The Word:
“. . . we must be prepared to open our eyes, to move from what has become a well-worn bit of dogma in our minds to a vivid picture vigorous enough to freshen a relationship with God.”
I can just barely imagine the experience of being present when THE wardrobe from C.S. Lewis’s home arrived at the Marion E. Wade Collection in Wheaton, of finding his coat still hanging inside, of looking for tufts of Aslan fur. Insights into Luci’s formative relationship with Lewis scholar Clyde Kilby and Luci’s creative collaboration and friendship with Madeleine L’Engle are a treat for those of us who have followed Luci’s career (and say that we want to BE Luci Shaw when we grow up!).
“Generativity” is a word that shows up in one of Luci’s books, a word about growth and pushing forward into the future, and the reality of that word emanates with blazing brightness from between the lines of Thumbprint in the Clay. Having been imprinted by Christ, the questions to His followers hang in the air like a challenge:
•Can we live in awareness of the rich evidence of purpose, the fingerprints of God upon His world, and then invite others into the creative process?
• Can we listen and respond to the voice of God as He speaks Truth to the world (and directly to our searching hearts) through beauty, order, and grace?
•Can we view the circumstances of our lives (whatever they may be) as the continual reshaping and remaking of our Potter God?
** I never read a Luci Shaw book without gaining a new word. Naturally I had to show this one off. It literally means “thisness”and refers to “the essential unique quality of every created thing.” The idea was proposed by 14th century philosopher John Duns Scotus and is demonstrated well in the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”