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Friday, March 18, 2016

"Thumbprint in the Clay" (Luci Shaw)

TITLE: Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace
AUTHOR: Luci Shaw
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (205 pages).

Luci Shaw is a gift to the literary world. Not only is she a master with words, she has a keen eye to observe ordinary things and to let them bounce off reflections of life. She reflects on the coffee mug and how it is used as a symbol of family and hospitality. From within the small world of the coffee cup, she zooms out to the big wide world, anchoring her thoughts from 36000 feet in the airplane and looking at the world God had created. Meandering through "God's graphics," she leaves through photographs, observations, histories, past civilizations, and lands back to earth, having caught a glimpse from God's perspective. From the Pacific Northwest, she is reminded of God's creation and natural wonder, appreciating people, acknowledging beauty, and admiring rocks! Her silent retreat at the monastery is probably one of her secrets in training her powers of observation. More importantly, it speaks of her innermost desire to be closer to God. Here, Shaw's theological engine kicks in. She integrates philosophy with spirituality. She activates the words of her literary friends like Annie Dillard, Madeleine L'Engle, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Eugene Peterson. She includes one of her favourite art journals, Image, and reflects on them equally well, showing us that one does not need to be physically present at any particular place to learn to appreciate natural beauty. For it is not the actual place alone that can trigger one's sense of wonder. It is the admiring heart that paints the world with colour. From theology, we come back to Shaw's TV set. She connects the TV programs with one's sense of identity. From DNA to thumbprints, forensic analysis to police investigations, we are reminded of a world larger than mere crime triggered investigations. Shaw links the physics of the world with the creation of life. Moving in and out from the world of words to the real world, and back again, it can be a challenge to try to capture and to predict where Shaw is going next. My advice: Don't bother. Just enjoy. If you can pace with her, by all means do so. Better to pace it at your own speed. This is not about getting the most out of this book. It is about allowing the best of us to appreciate the best of God's world, seen through the eyes of Shaw.

Enjoy the way that she reflects through life from the natural to the supernatural; from the mundane to the spectacular; and from prose to poetry and biography. It is impossible to rush through this book for it will be such a waste of this wonderful piece of literary art. Life is like a tussle between pragmatism and patience over the most mundane things, and the essays remind us of integration, connection, and plain admiration of God's world. A well-known poet herself, she infuses her prose with some of her own poetry, allowing them to flow as one. There are reflections on suffering. There are words of wisdom from some of the most profound spiritual writers such as Richard Rohr and Frederick Buechner. There are also pictures of frustration and failure, to remind us that in the midst of beauty, there is also the reality of brokenness in this world.

Shaw makes me pause from my daily rush. This is not a how-to book nor some fantasy-led bestseller so popular with impressionable youths just looking for a quick-fix entertainment. As I think about the title, I wonder, why "Thumbprint in the Clay?" Why not fingers? Why not sand? Like an opening and closing bracket of a mathematical equation, the "thumbprint" shows us the strongest part of our hand touching one of the most visible symbols of earth and creation: "clay." This connecting parallels a form of heaven touching earth, but made up close and personal, Shaw's style.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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