Decoding the Beauty in the Universe

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: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace 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.

**To discover the meaning of “haecceity” and to read this post in its entirety click on over to The Perennial Gen where I’m sharing my review of Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace.

I hope you will join the conversation over there as we wonder out loud together: 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?


I  am participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Gracesimply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

This book was provided by 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.

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.

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Word Made Flesh — A Celebration of Reading for Advent

In the month of December, the Christmas story often stands alone, lifted with huge parentheses out of the New Testament — maybe delivered in Linus’s hushed boy soprano, and then tucked away with the durable resin nativity set and the white twinkly lights until next year. It’s a great story, so it’s easy to see why authors of every creed are drawn to its rich narrative.  Left in context, of course, it holds a pivotal place in redemptive history, and since it is a Word that was given to us (John 1:14), it is natural to use words and the magic of story to give substance to our celebration.

For me, every holiday is made more festive by the inclusion of books that heighten my understanding and appreciation of the occasion and that encourage me to enter in, to be present to the beauty. That’s why I’m sharing a collection of books that will bring the sacred into your everyday celebration of Advent. Click on over to the Redbud Post to read a joyful sprinkling of content from A.W. Tozer, Madeleine L’Engle, Sarah Arthur, and Luci Shaw.

Letting our hearts rejoice in the incarnation reminds us that even within the hectic pace and hoopla of Christmas celebration, we, too, can make the Word become flesh once again, in our lives and in our deeds.

I hope you’ll join me, and may your heart be encouraged in joy!

Redbud Writers Guild

For regular encouragement, like the Redbud Writers Guild page on Facebook!

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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.

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.

November Musings — 2016

4988 — Warm zucchini bread smelling like a cinnamon candle

4989 — Church supper to celebrate our new pastor and our family connection

4990 — Clanging of wind chime in the chill autumn breeze

On the Monday before Thanksgiving Day, I recorded gift number 5,000 in my gratitude journal — confirmed evidence of God’s goodness to me every single day of the past year.  November always seems to mark a collision of holidays, but it’s especially true this year since I spent quite a few hours of the past month working on a new Advent banner (just like ours, of course!) for my oldest son’s family.  I can’t begin to describe how thankful I am that he wants to lead his family in remembering the Greatest Gift Who entered this world in an ordinary moment, in the fullness of time.  We’ll be doing the same thing at our house in December, just as we have for the past twenty plus years . . . such good memories and such promise for the future.

On the Nightstand

I can’t get enough Christmas poetry this time of year, and Luci Shaw’s Accompanied by Angels is a faithful friend.  Poems of the incarnation, these have been collected from Luci’s other books AND from her annual tradition of sending a Christmas poem to family and friends. (What a great idea!)

And even though I’ve finished reading Ann Voskamp’s new book, I keep going back to The Broken Way because of the breaking and the giving away, the timely exhortation to “live given.”

On the Blog

I have been overwhelmed this month by encouraging comments from friends who have read A Legacy of Striving, my reflections on our Sister, Eve.  As usual, I am grateful for the hospitality of the SheLoves community where I was able to share the truth that Eve’s story drives home:

Only God is equipped to be God,
and when I trust Him for the unknown quantities that furrow my brow,
when I say the words, “Your will be done,”
I join hands with Eve in remembering
And in waiting for the plan of God to be fulfilled,
For He will stop at nothing to restore and to reconcile.

Do we need any further evidence of this than the story of Christmas?

The most viewed post in November came out of our collective frustration and angst surrounding the election here in the United States.  As I was bracing myself for the difficult task of going behind the curtain, it occurred to me that my choice of words, attitudes, and responses on the day after the election was over would be even more important than the choices I made in the voting booth.  In the aftermath of the political hurricane, maybe this Prayer for November 9th is still relevant?  Certainly, the Scripture that inspired it will carry us a long way into grace:

“Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You,”  (Psalm 33:22).

Just for Joy

Is it just my imagination, or is there more music in the world the closer we get to Christmas?  Since September, our family has been practicing to sing in the Living Christmas Tree, so the carols and the beauty of the Word made flesh have been singing their way through these autumn days.  (Yep, that’s me on the right in the next-to-the-top row!)

And thanks to my friend, Susan Shipe, here’s a first for Living Our Days!  We held a drawing for the giveaway of her lovely book, 31 Days in the Gospel of John, to one reader on Thanksgiving Day.  My adorable grandson reached his tiny hand into a blaze orange hunting hat (we are pretty high tech here on this country hill!) and selected . . .  drum roll, please:

Ariel Tohme

Congratulations, Ariel!

I hope many of you will visit Ariel’s writing home, His Grace Goes Deeper, for a blessing in words.

Thank you, Susan, for stirring things up around here, but even more for compiling your reflections on the life of Jesus just in time for Advent, a reminder to 21st-century readers of the Gospels that Jesus is not a two-dimensional Savior, trapped on the page or in the past.  He is alive and active in our day, and a commitment to read about him for 31 days is only the beginning.  God has given us an eternity of days to savor the beauty of Jesus, to turn the Truth over in our minds, and to let it sink deep into our prone-to-wander hearts.

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”  It’s a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!  Please weigh in below with your thoughts on the discussion group.  Have you read Till We Have Faces?

Thank you once again, friends, for another month of encouragement through our conversations about books and about Truth.  As we begin our celebration of the mercy, the forgiveness, the promise, and the welcome that flow from the birth of our Savior, may our hearts rejoice together in this spectacular evidence of God’s “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”* 

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Photo credit for Living Christmas Tree:  Beth Birmingham at Village Soup

* Quote from Sally Lloyd-Jones’ amazing words in The Jesus Bible Storybook.

Be sure to hop on over to Leigh Kramer’s place to check out what she and others have been into and up to during the month of November!  I’m also sharing this post at Emily P. Freeman’s Let’s Share What We Learned Fall 2016.

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 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.

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.

DSCN0769.JPG

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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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 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?

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** 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.”

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.

 

Spring Is a Promise

“Spring is a promise in the closed fist of a long winter . . .”

Lifted from a poem by Luci Shaw, these words frame my thinking on this blustery day when the promises I made to myself and to God back in January about healthy choices and better habits have begun to sputter out for lack of oxygen; when no one even remembers what the groundhog saw or didn’t see.

Here in Maine, March 2o, the first day of spring, is just another number on the calendar, and so until winter opens its fist on the promise of spring, I’m sticking close to some promises of a more reliable sort:

  • “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work,”  II Corinthians 9:8 — When daylight is scarce, it’s nice to be reminded that grace is abundant and that God is in the business of dispensing it in full measure according to my need.

 

  • “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen,” (Ephesians 3:20) — More promises of abundance, and a reminder that God is carefully working out every detail of my life for my good and for His glory.

 

  • “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,  who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time,” I Peter 1:3-5 — A living hope is what I need — and a reminder that Christ’s resurrection ushered in all the great promises tied to our salvation.

Spring may be held fast in the grip of winter here in Maine, but the promises of our open-handed God are every bit as good today (when my driveway is a sea of mud and slush) as they will be when the violets and daffodils finally find their way into the sunshine.

Hope in God is a confident expectation — not a cross-your-fingers aspiration.  I hope you’ll join me in staying close to The Promises, reading our way into a hopeful heart no matter what we see outside the window.

Let these words feed your hope as we prepare for the celebration of Resurrection Sunday!

Hebrews 1:10-12
Romans 8:38, 39
I Corinthians 15:50-55
Galatians 2:20
Philippians 3:20, 21

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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.

Words About THE WORD: Recommended Reads for Christmas

For many, the Christmas story stands alone, lifted with huge parentheses out of the New Testament — maybe delivered in Linus’s hushed boy soprano, and then tucked away with the durable resin nativity set and the white twinkly lights until next year.

It’s a great story, so it’s easy to see why authors of every creed are drawn to its rich narrative.  Left in context, of course, it holds a pivotal place in redemptive history, and since it is a Word that was given to us (John 1:14), it is natural to use words and the magic of story to give substance to our celebration.

For me, every holiday is made more festive by the inclusion of books that heighten my understanding and appreciation of the occasion and that encourage me to enter in, to be present to the beauty.  Here are some favorites that I’ve written about over the past year (I’ve linked to my reviews if you want more detail).  Maybe they’ll make your celebration more merry, too!

CaptureSarah Arthur says it so well: “We risk in our time, losing the words that truly have meaning, the stories and works of substance.”  Well, to keep that from happening, she has collected some of the best to help us along in our Advent meditations.  Light upon Light (Paraclete Press) is a literary guide to be savored, day by day.  Last year through the dark of December, I found Sarah’s words to be true — it was liking “lighting one candle after another.”

Capture

The Invention of Lefse (Crossway) took me back to a time when celebration was simpler — but joy was more elaborate. 

Reminiscent of Louisa May Alcott’s story-telling,  this quaint story makes a great read-aloud for elementary-age students — and a great attitude-adjuster for the more “mature” who could profit from a dose of Christmas spirit.

 

One Man’s Meat by E.B. White is not, strictly speaking, a Christmas book, but I have a tendency to return to it during the Christmas season just because of White’s patient rendering of life’s daily duties within the framework of a story.  Next time you read Charlotte’s Web to your kids, pay attention to the lists, and you’ll see that White was a champion of the particular.  For me, that’s a needed respite in the whirlwind we call celebration here on this planet.

CaptureI turn to Luci Shaw’s poetry throughout the year, but I must say that very few writers capture the mystery of the incarnation as she does.  A Widening Light and Accompanied by Angels are collections of poetry that delight in the mystery of God made flesh.

Last Christmas, I was reading John Owen’s Mortification of Sin — over hundred pages on the truth of one verse:  Romans 8:13.   There’s nothing like a little Puritan theology to heighten my awareness that there was a lot more going on in that stable than the Hallmark Channel has portrayed.  Here’s a quote from Owen:

“There is enough in Jesus Christ to yield thee relief.  .  .There is sufficient provision in Him for relief and assistance.”

Since having read The Mortification of Sin, I now read Romans 8:13 with appreciation for the truth that killing sin is all of grace, all of the Spirit, and flows from the “good news of great joy” that we celebrate when we say “Merry Christmas!”

Reading out loud to my kids for over twenty years has given me a love for picture books and for stories that are often truer than fact, and this year, I have discovered the joy of also reviewing children’s lit.

CaptureThis breath-taking little gem is the most inspired board-book I’ve ever read.  Sally Lloyd Jones pictures the occasion of Jesus’ birth as an evening of breathless anticipation and enthusiastic sharing of the news:  “It’s time!  It’s time!”  Everyone from barn owls to great white whales and “every single blade of grass” makes the announcement, causing me to think, “Yes, this is what the earnest expectation of the creation would really look like — if only we took time to notice.”

Capture

M is for Manger is a Christmas alphabet book with adorable illustrations, large and lively pastel letters that are just right for little fingers to trace, and text that can accommodate little wigglers or older children who want the whole story.

 

 

Capture

On the first Sunday of Advent, I had the fun of sharing The Sparkle Box with the children in my Sunday School program.  (The adults were there too, but we didn’t mind.)  I predict that this book will have a long run, influencing families to include Jesus in their Christmas celebration by sharing His love with the invisible and the unloved.

It is my Christmas prayer for you, dear readers, that you will take some time during this season of celebration to behold the Christ child, to heed the message of the angel by paying attention to His beauty.  Start with His Word.  Then, if you have any time left over, open the pages of a book, pour a cup of tea (coffee’s good, too!), and let the Story of all stories fill your heart with joy.


 

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