Culture Care: Filling Up the Longing for Beauty

Our first summer living on this country hill, the budget was tight and luxuries were few.  I had planted a garden that seemed huge to me at the time, and a friend, intending to surprise me, weeded the entire plot as a generous gift from the heart.  How could she have known that those random shoots between the green beans would have become marigolds or that the tomato plants had been interspersed with a potential forest of sunflowers?  Reading Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura explained for me the long ago disappointment and the deep sense of loss that clouded my gratitude to that well-meaning friend:  those flower seeds had been planted just for joy.  To me, they had represented hope and beauty in a world that ran almost exclusively toward practicality.

Our common lives become far too common when we fail to carve out a space for beauty.  Makoto argues effectively that when we starve our souls in pursuit of our “living,” we lose sight of our own nature as creative beings, made in the image of a Creator God who calls us to lives of fruitfulness and beauty.  Working from insights gained in his calling as an artist, the author invites his readers into the generative life, which is “fruitful, originat[es] new life, [and] . . . draws on creativity to bring into being something fresh and life giving.”  Throughout the book, he lays out numerous principles that define the generative approach to life on this planet:

  1.  First, a genesis moment grabs the attention and renews a conviction, challenging us to make decisions in keeping with creativity and growth.  Just as failure and disappointment entered the narrative arc of the biblical Genesis, it may also play a key role in our own personal genesis moments.
  2. Generosity is the fuel that drives generative thinking.  A mindset of scarcity squelches creativity and leads to small, cramped living.
  3. The knowledge that all believers are stewards of culture leads us to create a welcoming climate for creativity and to care for the contributions of others so that future generations can thrive.
  4. Art is a gift – not a commodity.  In his work with the International Arts Movement, Fujimura works to contribute to this type of reimagining, inviting others into the new paradigm that culture is “not a territory to win, but a garden to tend to, an ecosystem to steward.”
  5. There is value to work that is done in secret for the pleasure and development of the artist — even if no one else ever sees or appreciates it.

Artists fulfill the crucial role of “border-stalkers,” living on the edges of various groups – sometimes in the space between – and carrying news back to the tribe.  Like bees who pollinate far and wide, those who assume cultural leadership ensure flourishing.  Christ, of course, was the ultimate Border-Stalker, creating in love, sidling up against all the borders with a light that would not be extinguished.  When we narrow our categories (and our eyes) at artists who are Christian but who refuse to reduce Christ to a mere adjective, we diminish the mystery of Christ in our attempts to keep the Spirit inside our boundaries and away from the margins where border-stalkers are most needed.

As a mum who has spent that past decade or more schlepping children to piano lessons, play practices, and band rehearsals, I nearly stood on my chair as I read Makoto’s thoughts on the deeply necessary role that art education plays in the development of people who are “fully human.”

“Dana Gioia has rightly said that we ‘do not provide arts education to create more artists, though that is a byproduct.  The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.”  We provide arts education so that we can have better teachers, doctors, engineers, mothers, and fathers.  Arts are not a luxury but a path to educate the whole individual toward thriving.  They are needed simply because a civilization cannot be a civilization without the arts.”

Culture Care employs multiple metaphors to convey the connection between generative practice in everyday life and the enhancement and preservation of culture.  Is a cultural greenhouse what we should strive for, or is that too sheltered?  Would a garden concept with wise planning and limited scope be more likely to foster work that is both sustainable and generative?   An estuary with its diverse and abundant ecosystems conjures images of some artists functioning as the “oysters,” rooted and filtering their surroundings, improving the environment for all; others are are more like salmon, following a pattern of life-giving migration and, perhaps, leaving the estuary for good at some point.

Makoto veers from principles to practicality by sharing his own story of inviting his supporters to invest in his career rather than merely purchasing his art.  He does not use his considerable skills with a brush to paint an unrealistically positive view of the calling to serve ones gift, but, instead, introduces a gritty path to success that he calls “rehumanized capitalism.”  In order to start a movement or survive as an artist, three types of capital are necessary:

  • Creative capital — The artist with talent and skill
  • Social capital — An influencer such as a church leader or community organizer
  • Material capital — An individual with means or access to supportive business contacts

Wouldn’t it be lovely if, once again, the church could become an environment in which partnerships such as this could thrive?  Tim Keller, former pastor from New York City, laments the tragedy that “the church is no longer where the masses come to know the Creator of beauty.”  We are called to a life of nurturing and rejuvenating creativity, a work of cultivation which requires new eyes enlightened by a new heart.  If it is our desire to make caring for souls a way of life, Makoto Fujimura offers an outline for life-giving practices that will enable us to honor God and embody the gospel while, at the same time, cultivating the creativity that is at the heart of what it means to be fully human.

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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.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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Die Before You Die (Till We Have Faces Discussion Group — Conclusion)

I’m a little tentative about the practice of assigning meaning to my dreams, but there’s one that came to me when my children were tiny, and its message was clear.  In the dream, I was making piecrust and realized, to my dismay, that I had forgotten to double the recipe.

“No problem,” I thought with the amazing clarity and decisiveness that comes in dreams, and I tossed a wet dishcloth into the bowl.  Genius, right?  It mixed in rather well — until I started rolling out the crust, at which point, my makeshift piecrust was exposed in all its fraudulence.  I awoke from that dream a little shaken, but galvanized against the artifice of cutting corners with my family for the sake of appearances or easy solutions.

Whether my dream was a message from God or the product of a guilty conscience, it’s clear that the gods of Glome have Orual’s attention around the clock as she comes to the end of her long and tumultuous reign “drenched in seeings.”

Plot Summary

Orual begins Chapter 3 of Till We Have Faces Part II with a resolution to plum the depths of the god’s admonition to “die before you die” — although it’s clearly anybody’s guess whether she actually understood what the god meant by his words.  Interpreting it as a call to change “an ugly soul into a fair one” was no small project for a woman who had already set her face like a flint against the help of the gods.

A series of dreams follows in which Orual is striving to complete various tasks —  with little success.  However, she receives her long-awaited opportunity to present her complaint against the gods, only to conclude, in the end, that her elaborate arguments had shrunk to a tiny and shriveled scroll.  The Fox guides Orual through a series of picture/stories that reveal the essence of Orual and Psyche’s oneness throughout the years — and the truth that perhaps Orual’s claim that she had “at least loved Psyche truly” is not as valid as she had once thought. The sisters are reunited in the presence of the god who reveals himself once again, this time to both sisters, and Orual learns that this — the face of the God she had long feared and hated — was the answer she had sought all along.

Reflection

So often we expend our efforts, gathering evidence and building a case in our own minds to defend ourselves against the truth and then find, like Orual, that the evil in our life (which we would dearly love to blame upon another) has been, after all, of our own making and that our defense has shrunk to a toddler’s tantrum:

“That there should be gods at all, there’s our misery and bitter wrong . . . We want to be our own.” (291)

The discovery that her complaint is, indeed, the answer she has been waiting for reminded me of Job’s persistent questioning which was, in the end, answered not with words, but with a Person, causing Job to realize that only now did he truly “see” the LORD.

Lewis the story teller and Lewis the theologian have joined forces in these last two chapters, creating a tale that defies allegory.   I’m longing to put a neat little translation guide here in this final post, but, in true Lewis-ian form, there are just too many aspects of the story that will not fit.  We have empty bowls, books full of poison, and a well-timed eagle who comes to the rescue. We have Christ (the god of the Grey Mountain) as the unseen lover and Psyche as His bride, while Orual, in her dreams, wears the face of Ungit — but finds in the end that she will indeed be Psyche as well.

The sad truth of Till We Have Faces is that Orual spends her entire life striving to make herself into what she is not, losing herself in the identity of the Queen, even wasting her energy on furious last-ditch efforts at self-reformation, until, finally, at the end of her life, she becomes herself.  She finds the face she abhorred and hid when she comes face to face with the god she had abhorred and hidden from throughout all her days.

The dire warning that resonates from Orual’s history of natural love gone rogue is not a warning against love, for God makes it very clear that love is the foundation of all our works of righteousness.  However, as we were reminded in week seven of our discussion, if the lover is not healthy, then neither is the love. Once Orual found a right relationship with the gods, she was able to discover a right kind of love for Psyche that was not based in control or devouring.  When she realized that her cry for justice from the gods was met not with justice but with love, she also was enabled to see the emptiness of her accusation against the gods.

Some Issues to Ponder

  1.  Sehnsucht:  For all her days, love and longing have been two sides of the same coin for Orual.  Remember, for Lewis, Sehnsucht is attached to beauty of surroundings, memories of the past, and the continual search for joy — which is just out of reach as long as we abide on this planet.  His ending to Orual’s pilgrimage was jarring for me — one minute she’s in despair, and the next she’s standing with downcast eyes before the One who is the Answer she has sought. And then she dies.  I find myself wanting to rewrite the story with an ending in which Orual gets to live “unmade” (307) in Glome with the walking-around-living-her-life knowledge that she has been wrong in her assessment of the gods. But then, of course, the story would not be as tantalizing and thought-provoking, right?
  2. It is ironic that Lewis makes the Fox Orual’s guide through The Deadlands.  After all, the Fox had spent his life in the role of the rationalist, even though we noted that his armor cracked at times.  Still, he shows up in the end as an interpreter of all that had been going on in the unseen world he claimed to have despised. Lewis scholars claim that one of the lessons of Till We Have Faces is the limitations of reason, and that the character of the Fox is the conveyance of that lesson.  We are able to see this even in the post script by Arnom (the priest) who, along with glowing accolades for Orual, communicates her desire that her words be taken to Greece and shared with the population of rationalists who produced the Fox and his kin.
  3. Did Orual succeed in following the god’s admonition?

“Die before you die.  There is no chance after that.”

Having spent her life making a god out of being right, I do believe that, in the end, the crashing down of Orual’s elaborate case against the gods was a kind of death.  Shouting her complaints over and over, she hears her own voice and finds it strange to her ears. Witnessing the record of her brutal treatment of Psyche on the wall of paintings, she hears, once again, her own voice coming from her suffering self as her arm dripped blood.  Her words of confession to Psyche reveal a changed heart:

“I never wished you well, never had one selfless thought of you.  I was a craver.”

As with the “un-dragoning” of Eustace (Voyage of the Dawn Treader), Lewis has portrayed the “unmaking” (307) of a character through a painful and frightening process that results in an individual becoming more fully themselves than ever before.

Your Turn

This is the final installment of our conversation, and the invitation still stands for you to share the link to a blog post or your insights on this journey in the comments section below.

I have mixed feelings as we bring the discussion group to a close.  While I rejoice in the resolution of Orual’s questions and accusations, I would love for her to have listened to her momentary impulse beside the river in the land beyond The Tree.  What if, instead of holding Psyche to her horrible promise and instead of denying the vision of the castle, she had given herself over to the Truth that, at the time, seemed like such a great loss to her?

However, even in the world of story, I have to acknowledge the wisdom of Lewis’s words about this kind of wondering:

“We can never know what might have been but what is to come is another matter entirely”

Therefore, my friends,  it is my prayer that Orual’s story will impact on “what is to come” in our own stories.

May we, too,  be “drenched in seeings” that purify our love and cause us to overflow with gratitude for the truth that it was not only Psyche for whom Another bore the anguish.

May our whining cries for justice stick in our throats as we consider the Great Love that makes all our efforts at “mending” our own souls fall like rags around our feet.

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Till We Have Faces (2): Longing for the Grey Mountain

I have invited the readers who visit Living Our Days to join me in reading C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, and to return here each Thursday for a discussion.  If you’re just joining us, you can find the reading schedule here.  

Approaches to C.S. Lewis’s brand of fiction vary widely, ranging from “This is a great story, and I love it.  Please leave me alone and let me enjoy it,” to those who seek a point-by-point application for every possible allegory.  Wherever you fall on this spectrum, it’s clear that Chapters 1-3 set the stage for many of the major themes that permeate the book.  Even if you have not yet started to read with us, this short summary of the first three chapters may serve as a teaser to get you started!

Plot Summary

In the semi-barbaric kingdom of Glome, in a time before the fall of the Greek empire, there lived a homely princess named Orual.  Her mother has died, and the king remarries and fathers, to his dismay, yet another daughter, making three in all.  Transfixed by the baby’s beauty and good nature, Orual raises and dotes on the child who grows in beauty and goodnessand is beloved by the people.  The young Princess Psyche is rumored to have healing in her hands, and chapter three ends with an ominous sense that the jealousy of the middle daughter (Redival), two years of poor harvest, and the onset of an epidemic of fever may, together, signal the end of happy times for Orual and Psyche.

standing

Reflection

The word “standing” reached out from Romans 5:1,2 and chose me for its own this year,

 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

and it leaves me wishing that Orual (and her present day sisters) could see and know this God who “has always wanted to do” good for us, to be “all together” with us so that we would see the wide-open door which He has already flung aside in welcome.

With her opening paragraph, Orual makes it evident that she is (and has long been) at enmity with the gods.  She has concluded that the gods hate her, but clearly, she is not in a position of unbelief:

  • She recognizes but disregards their power to do her harm, and describes Ungit as a “very strong goddess,” (pg. 4).  Dressing traditional Christian concepts in pagan clothing, C.S. Lewis portrays Ungit as a nature goddess and Ungit’s son is the “god who lives on the Grey Mountain.”
  • She acknowledges that the gods have knowledge that is unavailable to humans, “and gods do not tell,” (p. 33).
  • As a child, even the smell of Ungit’s temple was frightening to her, and she continues to refer to it as a smell of holiness, “the Ungit smell,” (p. 11).

By contrast, Psyche seems to have been drawn since childhood toward the Grey Mountain:  “When I’m big,” she said, “I will be a great, great queen, married to the greatest king of all, and he will build me a castle of gold and amber up there on the very top,” (p. 23).  Even when she succumbs to the fever, her delirious ravings are all about the Grey Mountain.

In the midst of these two polar opposites stands The Fox, a Greek slave who has been assigned to tutor the girls.  Spouting rational explanations for all the mysterious actions of “the gods,” and insisting that all the murky evidence for the numinous all around them is “just lovely poetry,” he still trembles before the mystery of death, and fails to convince anyone with his reason-based protests. Throughout the book, we will see that Orual continually struggles to reconcile the teachings of The Fox with the teachings of Ungit’s priests.

C.S. Lewis, in his writing, frequently ties the distant hills to the sense of longing that formed the backdrop to his formative years — “sehnsucht” he called it, a German term that manages to convey deep yearning and nostalgic longing.  The theme permeates much of what Lewis wrote, and at this point in the novel, the longing is tied to the distant hills and their “otherworldliness” that draws Psyche. Of course, C.S. Lewis was famous for having said,

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Some Issues to Ponder

  1. Do you see any similarities between Orual’s devotion to Psyche and the people of Glome’s failure to look beyond Psyche to the god of Grey Mountain?
  2. Lewis used the term “myth” not as an opposite to the word “fact,” but instead to label a device of meaning-making. For instance, he referred to “the myths of the Bible,” referring to the stories and themes we all know.  Converting to Christianity at the age of 31, Lewis found that Christ “is the reality which all myths are suggesting.”  In Miracles he refers to “a long preparation [of all previous myths which] culminates in God’s becoming incarnate as Man, so . . . the truth first appears in Mythical form and then by a long process of condensing or focusing finally becomes incarnate as History.”  He believed most myths were initially theological; for instance, that all nations’ myths of blood and sacrifice arose from “initial revelation,” all pointing toward the same truth of Christ crucified.   Do you find Lewis’s portrayal of Christian concepts in a strange context to be helpful — or distracting?
  3.   Lewis scholars claim that his wife, Joy Davidman, was quite influential in the development of Orual’s character.  This does give insight to the amazing ability of a nearly lifelong bachelor to develop the interior landscape of a strong female character.  But . . . then there is Jadis in The Magician’s Nephew. And Mrs. Beaver.  And Lucy Pevensie is no slouch either!  Any thoughts on this?
  4. How are you pronouncing Orual’s name as you read?  I’ve always said “Or-oo-all” which is a bit awkward.  Anyone saying “you” for the middle syllable?

Your Turn

I hope that you will share your thoughts on the first three chapters in the comments below.  I will be thrilled if you choose to link up your own blog posts for all of our benefit and enjoyment!

Next Time

On Thursday, January 19th, I’ll be here having read chapters 4-6.

I hope you are enjoying the experience of exploring this beautiful, complex, and compassionate story.

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

October Musings — 2016

Movement outside my window is a continual distraction this time of year.  Leaves floating down in vibrant shades of turmeric and cayenne pull my attention away from the pan on the stove, the recipe on the counter, the book I’m trying to read.

The autumn foliage is breathtaking on this country hill, and I’m reminded that all this beauty is a portal through which God enters my days and my thoughts.  Four times in Scripture we are exhorted to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,”  and the perfection of His creative genius shouts to me when I’m walking the dog in a shower of swirling color.

After all, God could have made leaves fall off the trees without bothering to make the whole process so glorious.

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On the Nightstand

My pondering of autumn beauty has been sweetened by a slow reading of Luci Shaw’s reflections on creativity and faith.

capture“When the world was created, it would have been enough to have it work, wouldn’t it?  To include beauty seems gratuitous, a gift of pure grace, which I believe it is.”     ~Luci Shaw

Luci quotes Frederick Buechner, who said of beauty, “It is to the spirit what food is to the flesh.  If fills an emptiness in you that nothing else under the sun can.”

Where are you seeing beauty these days?

On the Blog

I was honored (and momentarily panic-stricken) when Mary Hill invited me to be one of the women spotlighted in her October series “31 Christian Bloggers Who Inspire a Closer Walk with Jesus.”  She asked some thought-provoking questions, and she has aimed those same questions at thirty other women in the blogging community.  You can find our conversation here.

Be sure to visit SheLoves Magazine this Saturday!  They will be featuring my post on prayer, a topic that has floated to the surface frequently this month on the blog.

October’s most-read book review at Living Our Days highlighted Leslie Leyland Fields’ new book — her tenth!  Crossing the Waters moves seamlessly from memoir to Biblical narrative and back again as Leslie shares stories from the following life with all its storms, abundance, and necessary net-mending.  If you’re an early Christmas shopper, add it to your list!

Just for Joy

My church family has called a new pastor!  We have invited him and his wife into our mess with us; to teach and admonish and provoke us; to walk among us — because that’s what shepherds do.

In September’s Musings post, I shared that I had been convicted of my need to be more purposeful in my prayer life — particularly for my immediate family.  That thought took root and grew into an entire post that I shared in October, and the timing was perfect,

each-day-by-namesince the family is growing all the time!  Our second son has announced his engagement to a lovely young woman, and they will be married in the spring!  That certainly qualifies as the highlight of my month!

capture

 

What challenges are you facing in this season, and how is God revealing Himself as faithful in your life?

I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below, and am thankful for your reading, your insights, and your regular encouragement here in this space.

Every blessing to you,

Michele

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Silence and Beauty

C.S. Lewis described our world as “the Kingdom of Noise,” and he composed a psalm in the praise of  noise from the pen of Senior Tempter, Screwtape, in his letter to a young apprentice. By contrast, artist Makoto Fujimura praises the beauty of silence particularly in the context of Japanese culture.  “Perhaps in no other culture is a single word so relevant as silence is to Japan.  In Japan, silence is beauty and beauty is silent.”

In his analysis of Shusako Endo’s global best-seller, Silence, Fujimura deals with the book’s uneasy questions about the  nature of suffering,  faith, betrayal, and service to a God who, at times, chooses to remain silent.  Set in the 17th century during a period of intense persecution of Christians, Silence traces the ministry of Father Sebastian Rodrigues, a Portuguese priest who traveled to Japan to investigate rumors that a senior missionary had apostatized under torture.

As a bicultural Japanese American, Makoto Fujimura is uniquely positioned to ponder Endo’s assertion that Christianity is ill-suited to take root in the “mud swamp” of Japan — especially since this is where his own faith journey began.   As an artist who paints using layers of metal and natural pigments to create visual beauty, he is also uniquely qualified to probe the layers of meaning in Endo’s narrative arc.

It would be ideal to read Silence and Beauty in concert with Endo’s novel, but even with a year between my reading of the two books, I found that revisiting the fictional work through Fujimura’s eyes reawakened and deepened my interaction with and appreciation for Silence as a reflection on present-day culture:

  1.  A major theme that recurs throughout Endo’s  Silence, is the trampling of the fumi-e: an icon of Christ which Japanese Christians were forced to step on to show their rejection of the faith.  Silence and Beauty expands on the theme, helping the reader to see that even those of us who are free to do otherwise may find ourselves trampling God and the people most dear to us.   Father Rodrigues’s definition of sin helps me to see Fujimura’s point:

“Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another – to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind.”

2.  Fujimura and Endo both ponder the nature of faithfulness.  Am I faithful to Christ if I am publicly disgraced, and yet privately effective in prayer, ministry and relationships? Am I more faithful to Christ if I have a recognized role in society as His representative, but privately have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing to help the people around me? Endo’s Silence was an agonizing read for me with Rodrigues lamenting the silence of God in his own experience while trying to be a spiritual leader in a cultural context that was completely alien to him — all the while with the threat of torture or imprisonment hanging over him.

Of course, I wanted him to come through the testing with triumph and go on to lead a Great Awakening among the Japanese because of his heroic faith. That’s not how it ended, and I’m still trying to reconcile this.

3.  A further theme of Silence and Beauty is the process of making peace with ambiguity.  It is the tendency of Christians (particularly Western Christians) to draw a hard line between faith and doubt — a faith-is-good-doubt-is-bad- dichotomy.  Makoto underlines Endo’s exposé of this flawed logic for, “it does not express faith in God but instead a faith in clarity and, . . . ‘our lust for certainty.'”

4.  As Endo reached back in history to the story of the apostates of the 17th century, Fujimura picks up the thread and carries it forward to his Ground Zero experience on September 11, 2001 with his studio a few blocks away from the World Trade Center.  Just as the fumi-e represents all of our betrayals and our failures of faith, Father Rodrigues’s intense suffering and wrestling with God represents for us all of our personal Ground Zero realities.  Silence and Beauty offers the redemptive truth that it is only through “resilient prayer” and forgiveness that we move through and eventually beyond our trauma.  In the end, then, it is only the Gospel that will heal and transform a heart — or a nation.

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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.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Partners in Revelation: Bringing Beauty into View

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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