Stonework is published by Houghton College, a Christian liberal arts college located in New York’s rural Genesee Valley. Stonework seeks a diverse mix of mature and emerging voices in fellowship with the evangelical tradition. Published twice a year, the journal reflects the arts community at Houghton College where excellence in music, writing, and the visual arts has long been a distinctive.

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  • Issue 6
    Poetry by Paul Willis and Thom Satterlee. Fiction and interview with Lori Huth. Essay by James Wardwell, and student poets from Christian campuses.
  • Issue 5
    Poetry by Susanna Childress and Debra Rienstra. Fiction excerpt by Emilie Griffin. Art from Houghton's 2007 presidential inauguration and a forum on women writing.
  • Issue 4
    Matthew Roth--new poems. Diane Glancy--from One of Us and an interview. John Tatter-on gardens and poetry. The Landscapes of John Rhett. Stephen Woolsey--on the poetry of Jack Clemo. James Wardwell--on Herrick.
  • Issue 3
    Poetry by Julia Kasdorf, Robert Siegel and Sandra Duguid. Fiction by Tom Noyes. The portraits of Alieen Ortlip Shea. An anthology of Australian Poets
  • Issue 2
    Thom Satterlee - Poems from Burning Wycliff with an appreciation by David Perkins. Alison Gresik - new fiction and an interview. James Zoller - Poems from Living on the Floodplain.
  • Issue 1
    Luci Shaw — new poems with an appreciation by Eugene H. Peterson & Hugh Cook — new fiction and an interview

Monday, December 12, 2005

Luci Shaw Appreciation

By Eugene H. Peterson

Luci Shaw is a poet of the ordinary, the quotidian—the stuff of everyday living—as it is lived "on earth as it is in heaven," specifically, on North American ground. She gives dignity to what so many of us pass by, too much in a hurry to get to the big event, the spectacular show, the important meeting. She stops us in our tracks and we see Christ where we never expected to see him. We also see some of our friends in a way that we never expected to see them.
The first poem of hers that I memorized—it was thirty years or so ago—was titled “Royalty”:

He was a plain man
and learned no latin

Having left all gold behind
he dealt out peace
to all us wild men
and the weather

He ate fish, bread,
country wine and God's will

Dust sandaled his feet

He wore purple only once
and that was an irony

Left to ourselves and the influence of many of our well-intentioned teachers, we find ourselves trying to understand and proclaim that Jesus is very God, Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior of the world but out of context, out of the necessary context of a cemetery or kitchen, the Oregon coast and a Montana river, the waves breaking at Cape Cod. In the process of making our language adequate to the grand design of salvation, we lose touch with what is equally true and essential if we are to comprehend the uniqueness of the Gospel, that Jesus is very man in a very local place: “He was a plain man/ and learned no latin…dust sandaled his feet.”
Through the years Luci Shaw and her poems (the poet and her poems are virtually the same thing) have installed themselves in my imagination as valued colleagues in the work of giving clarity and accurate witness to the Christian faith. Language is under constant threat of being eroded by big words, abstract ideas, faceless principles. The world and the people around us are insiduously generalized into a vocabulary put to the service of causes and concerns, opportunities and resources, solving problems and blueprinting visions. Meanwhile the precious details, so dear to the hearts and minds of lovers, get blurred in a fog of well-doing, well-meaning religion.
The Christian community is particularly at risk when language is condensed into systematized Truth and programmatized Evangelism and Mission. True, we do have big, eternal things to deal with: heaven and hell, making “disciples of all nations,” and “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…seated at the right hand of the throne of God." There is much to do, the "fields are already white for harvest" and the time "is very short" The systems and programs certainly have their place, but if along the way our capacity for dealing personally and leisurely and attentively to the particular details of color and shape in our gardens and the particular wrinkles and idiosyncrasies in the faces of our friends atrophies, we depersonalize the very people and things for which Christ personally died.
Luci Shaw is a significant presence among those in our Christian community who notice and help us to notice the glory in furrowed fields and flawed faces as Jesus deals out peace "to all us wild men/ and the weather." She keeps us attentive to what is here right here and now, in this place, at this time. She is an irreplaceable friend and ally to all of us who not only want to live to the glory of God, but in, right now, the glory of God.
There is also this: for those of us who find ourselves identified by the adjective evangelical: she is one of us. She grew up in and knows the details and particularities of our evangelical world. She has an intuitive feel for the world we live in, a world that is often flattened under unwieldy loads of unassimilated doctrine and eviscerated by frenetic and impersonal activism. Over and over and over again, she provides just the insights and stimuli that counter our cultural predispositions to platitude and cliché and slogan.
In the company of Christians who are not conspicuous for poetry, she has quietly but persistently taken her place among us for something like sixty years now, writing poems that immerse us in the stuff of creation and the pangs of birth and new birth.
But she does more than notice, giving us fresh images and sounds to feel and hear and see what we no longer feel and hear and see because our hearts are fat and our ears heavy and our eyes blind (see Isaiah 6:10). Luci Shaw makes us participants in the feeling, hearing and suing. She writes poems—all good poets do this--in which we become participants in the reality in and around us. A poem is not a catalogue of information. It doesn't inform us regarding life and the world; it forms us as an active participant. We cannot speed-read a poem. A poem slows us down to the pace of prayer in which the Spirit creates and shapes Christ in us. Poets do this for us. Luci Shaw does this for us.
One of the commonest ploys of the devil is to get us to think right thoughts about God and leave it at that. Or to do right things for God and leave it at that. Neither the thinking, nor the doing getting inside us, becoming a life, our life. But one of the fundamental convictions of the spiritual life, and especially the Christian spiritual life, is that we can only know a thing by becoming it. No truth is Christian if it is disembodied: "the Word became flesh" in Jesus. He also becomes flesh in us, "Christ in you the hope of glory." Poetry is Luci Shaw's craft; spiritual formation is her art: she involves us in God's making of blackbirds and oak trees, enables our participation in the Eucharist and baptism of Jesus, engages us as the Spirit breathes new life through our chaos. Her poems involve us in the becoming. They gather us into rhythms and sounds and metaphors of gospel living so that we become actively participant with the poet in the making, the becoming.


Scriptural references, in occuring order: Mt. 28:19, Heb.12:2, Jn. 4:35, 1 Cor. 7:29, Jn. 1:14, Col 1:27


Poems by Luci Shaw