Monday, April 18, 2016


In 2014 I reviewed a book entitled Adventure of Ascent: Field Notes From A Lifelong Journey by Luci Shaw, an account of a woman getting older that recorded the challenges and opportunities of “the stages of aging and as a mountain-climbing experience.” A few days ago I received another book entitled Thumbprint in the Clay by Shaw in which she explores the idea of finding thumbprints in creation – explorations in faith, art, and creativity. She discovers God’s presence in “imprinted adventures" and records, in essays and poetry,  her awareness of the Creator in her physical surroundings and in “living clay.”

Her ruminations about poetry and its imprint on humans speak to me as she writes that our senses allow us to observe, sort out and differentiate, and poetry brings them into clearer focus. Shaw’s delight in the ordinary is contagious. She devotes an entire chapter to coffee mugs, hand-thrown pottery such as fruit bowls, salad bowls and jugs, trays – vessels for storing, serving, holding and pouring. Each of her vessels have a history, but it is the look and feel of their shape and texture that enchant her, “combining earth and human eye and muscle with individual design, skill, and intense heat…” Fascinated with the art of pottery making, Shaw once enrolled in a ceramics class and found that manipulating clay on the wheel was sensuously satisfying. She refers to each of the pieces of clay she has collected as “examples of a kind of incarnation – a unique physical expression of the potter’s skill and artistry…a reflection of the artist’s soul… embodied in the individual’s creation…”

In an outstanding chapter of Thumbprint in the Clay, Shaw focuses on “Beauty,” and covers terrain showing God’s thumbprint that has always inspired me – the landscape of Big Sur, California.  At a monastery high on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Shaw spent retreat time to recover after assiduously pursuing her writing career. She felt unsatisfied because she had experienced a disconnect with her spiritual life; however, in the monastery she gained fresh insight and was able to open herself to wisdom from beyond, finding God’s imprint in her surroundings that pointed her back to him…and to her work.

Shaw encountered Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was provided with an elemental example for enlarging her contemplative life. While she and Rohr sat at a table, gazing out a dining hall window and focusing on a poplar tree in front of them, Rohr told her that he could sit for hours and contemplate the tree. “‘Those leaves. Even that one leaf in particular’ (he points). He suggests to me that when my mind complicates or questions what I believe, I might choose an object – rock, leaf, a pool of water – for quiet contemplation. When your mind wanders, as it will, return to focusing on what is there in front of you. Let your gaze stay with the awareness that God is in you and in this object that you are both part of a universe that is an ongoing creation of love. He called this a long, loving look at the real.” This chapter resonated with me and evoked my memory of sitting in a chair on the patio of a small motel in Sedona, Arizona, gazing up at the cliffs of red rock that mark this area. I sat there for several hours, in one of the most non-thinking times of my life, enfolded in the texture and color of this particular “thumbprint” and feeling at one with my surroundings.

One of the last chapters in Thumbprint in the Clay, “God-Printed People,” includes a portrait of Madeleine L’Engle, renowned author of children and young adult books, and both fiction and non-fiction books regarding the spiritual life. Shaw and her husband befriended L’Engle and published her first book of poetry, The Weather of the Heart, and Shaw writes of how a friendship burgeoned, despite differing theological views – L’Engle was a liberal, left-leaning Episcopalian, and Shaw was a conservative, right-leaning evangelical. “Somehow, [by] the grace of God, we met in the middle, learning much from each other, influencing each other and being enriched in the process,” Shaw writes. Later, Shaw Publishers became L’Engle’s publisher for eleven of her religious books. When L’Engle moved into a nursing home in Litchfield, Connecticut, Shaw flew out from Bellingham to see her and was dismayed that her author friend seemed locked into herself; however, a month later, she was able to connect with L’Engle before she died and wrote a poem honoring her, a poignant tribute to a woman who had created a lasting impression in the world of spiritual writing: “…Fog has rolled in,/erasing definition at the edge. Walking/to meet it, she hopes soon to see/where the shore ends. She listens as/the ocean breathes in and out in waves./She hears no other sound.”

Luci Shaw is an inspiring co-creator whose thumbprints in poetry and prose help readers to see the marks of beauty and inspiration everywhere in the Creation and to ruminate on the markings of human artistry and skill. She is the author of ten volumes of poetry and other books, and co-authored three books with Madeleine L’Engle. Her papers are housed in the Luci Shaw Collection at Wheaton College. She lives in Bellingham, Washington.  


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