When I first heard Luci Shaw described as “a poet sorting socks,” I was just coming into my own career as a sock-sorter. Her poetry, harvested from the everyday of enjoying nature, relating to family and friends, and living the questions about her faith was soul-food in the midst of all the sorting out that came with this mothering life of mine. I received Writing the River as a birthday gift the year my oldest son was born, and I mined it like a prospector, treasuring “Trace” during our family walks on the beach, smiling at the sight of tiny boy prints on Atlantic-smoothed stones.
We look in vain
for a wet mark
from the ball
of your foot
a lick of
on the stone.
As our family grew, boy upon boy, and we began to homeschool, I found that a haiku about Queen Anne’s lace was just right for penmanship practice which would also complement a drawing in a nature notebook and so, surreptitiously, we made poetry a part of everyday life.
It lifts its lovely,
loose exactness — like fireworks,
outstarrings of God.
As my Luci Library grew, my holidays were enhanced by images of the incarnation and a kinship with Jesus’ mother that extended beyond her teenage identity to the middle-aged widow standing at the cross: “for him to see me mended, I must see him torn.” Every Good Friday, part of my mind finds a way back to “Judas, Peter” as I am reminded that the only thing that sorted their divergent outcomes, and the only reality that will bring Easter to my heart is “the grace to cry and wait.”
Luci’s journey through grief after the loss of her husband in 1986 (when she was only 57) was both gritty and genuine. It also blossomed into her first work of prose: God in the Dark. For several years it sat on my nightstand, re-visited at least annually, because I needed the reassurance of her pendulum-swing between eloquent expressions of faith and mournful seasons of despair.
With decades of written data to support my conclusion, I draw a straight line between Luci’s depth of expression and her curiosity, her honesty, and her willingness to push against and palpate faith, beauty, and quirky human nature. Her words on paper have been a silhouette of her hiking-boots-on-the-ground living. Years of spiritual journaling found their way into Life Path, a guide to personal growth through journaling. Her “following hard after God” is the spirit behind Water My Soul, which, rich in metaphor, is a book about “cultivating the interior life” and reveals Luci’s photographer’s eye in its delightful descriptions of sunlight, pumpkins, ripe berries and tilling the soul’s garden. Luci’s readers are enriched by her friendships of the heart. A game of “postcard tag” with a fellow poet shines its way into What the Light Was Like, and decades of prayer and faith-building with Madeleine L’Engle birthed A Prayer Book for Spiritual Friends.
Then there was the day that Luci Shaw went bungee jumping in New Zealand — in her seventies! While the video has apparently vanished from the internet, the manner of living that inspired the jump has breathed itself into The Crime of Living Cautiously. Luci writes with humor and courage about the aging process. Adventure of Ascent is a God-struck memoir that displays the brave and positive voice which has followed Luci into her ninth decade.
As for me, I’m still sorting socks, but once in a while I write a poem these days. The idea that I should, the impression that I must, and the courage to share my words have been fed by my reading of Luci Shaw’s words. I love the agony of wringing out the next word like condensed fog from an over-night clothesline and the triumph of “having written,” which, in the words of Dorothy Sayers, feels like “God on the seventh day.” I love the boldness of words that change me even more than they change my readers and the fine shades of meaning that come with a slightly better adjective. In her career of writing, publishing, and editing, Luci Shaw has made contagious her pleasure in language and her enjoyment of God.
“This idea is burning in my own mind
Here, let me light a wick in you.”
Consider it done, Luci.