By Betty Slade | PREVIEW columnist
Not everyone’s palate has acquired a taste for poetry. One morning as my Sweet Al and I sat with coffee in hand, Bible and a book of Luci Shaw’s poetry, I emboldened myself against my Sweet Al’s resistance. “I don’t want to hear any more poetry. Just read from the Bible.”
Wow! How can you not love Luci Shaw’s sacramental poetry? Even Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message, had great swelling words about her work.
He said, “Each book is a reliable companion in exegeting the word and presence of God. I turn a page and see a piece of creation that I had seen but not seen, recognize a soul’s syllable that I had heard but not heard. They are resurrection poems.”
“Al, we’re seeing things we hadn’t paid any attention to before. They make us feel deeply about God’s creation. Her words are life-giving words,” I said.
“I don’t care. You read them three or four times and I still don’t get anything out of them. And you are so redundant.”
“Because I’m trying to explain her poetry to you. I just ordered another book. I am so enthralled with her. I want to write like her.”
“You’re even starting to talk like her. I don’t want to hear it.”
“But, Al, listen to this. Her words are so powerful to my spirit. When she writes of the birth of Christ, her words gently rise in my soul and I fly into the presence of God. Not too many authors can do that for their readers.”
Shaw writes, “Small-folded in a warm dim female space, the Word nine months dumb, infinity walled in a womb, the Mighty submitted to a woman’s pains, helpless on a barn-bare floor first tasting bitter earth.”
“Do you get it? She’s telling us how Jesus, the glory of Almighty God, was walled in a small space, didn’t say a word for nine months, submitted to his own birth through a woman’s pain and tasted bitter earth for the first time.”
“Why can’t you just say, ‘Jesus was born in a manger? Cut it short.’”
I didn’t pay any attention to him. This week, I mimicked her style, not in rhyme or cadence, but in strong, intended words for the first chapter of book two of my series.
I want to write like Shaw. She explained the wind this way: “Intimate cottonwoods lifted their leafy skirts and blew their small soft kisses into my tent.”
Wow. The wind is flirting with us. Can’t you see it? Can’t you feel it?
“No. Just say the wind blew the leaves. I’ve got work to do.”
I met with Al’s resistance again. Al has plenty of time to hear, but, impatient to learn, he wants to get on with life. Are the hearts of people too much in a hurry to read and ponder on things? Cut it short and to the point — is that what life’s all about today? I continued to elaborate and my excited words took their last breath and died on Al’s ears.
I must defend Shaw, one of the greatest poets of our time. Said of Shaw, “She has learned not just to scratch the ground but to plow deep. When she writes of a Christmas tree, or a star, or a sonic boom, or a gull, or a garbage truck, we can, if we read with care, hear the voice of the infinite.”
Shaw yearned to unveil God’s splendor and grace. I yearn to have that capability, to move readers in a deeper way, so they will yearn to be one with the God of this universe.
Shaw died in 2022 at the age of 94 and described her dedication to the art as a burden to speak into a culture that finds it hard to listen.
Well, if Shaw could have heard my Sweet Al this morning, she would have definitely felt the burden to speak. But I know the spirit whispers in her ear and she is where she yearned to be. She threw caution to the wind, even willing to be misunderstood, because hungry hearts crave to taste life-giving words.
With an acquired taste of hearing God’s words, readers know what Shaw wrote is from God and has the power to pierce between soul and spirit, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Final brushstroke: Shaw learned, whether people listen or not, she must speak. Her words have passed through the needle eye of who she was as a writer, but more than that, she has met with God and has become one with him.
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