If it is true that, as we age, we become even more of whatever we have been all our lives, then Luci Shaw is becoming more and more difficult to “shelve.” A poet and essayist well into her eighties, she continues to tackle topics ranging from quantum mechanics and the incarnation to the haecceity** of things and what it means to “doubt faithfully.” Thumbprint in the Clay examines these themes and more within the context of Luci’s decoding of the rich presence of purpose, design, and beauty in the universe in which we see God’s fingerprints and His invitation to become part of the creative process.
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.”
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