Reading the Season: Luci Shaw

Every year around this time, I try to stay afloat in the sea of chaos and consumerism.  My method of survival has been to seek a quiet haven where I can dwell upon the meaning of the Season.  I entitled my annual December post on this theme ‘Reading the Season’.

This year, watching the daring flash mob singing of Hallelujah Chorus in a shopping mall food court has jump started my quest for a spiritual respite.  In a time where the legitimate word is Jollity over Jesus, where Christ has been declared politically incorrect at Christmas, and where God is denounced together with Bigfoot and the tooth fairy in ads on buses, I want to mull on some subversive counter-reflections.

This time, I’ve steered my search towards poetry and found this collection edited by Luci Shaw.  It is the 1984 Regent College Publication of  A Widening Light: Poems of the Incarnation. (Click on link to read excerpts from Google Books.)


Luci Shaw has partnered with Madeleine L’Engle on her literary journey, including being her publisher, co-author, fellow poet and close writer-friend.  For years, I have enjoyed Luci Shaw’s poetry and her other works, and one time, had sat in her workshop learning the art and craft of journal writing.

A Widening Light is a collection of poetry by some of twentieth century prominent Christian writers and scholars, including C. S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, Mark Noll, as well as lesser known but just as inspiring contributors.  My favourite in the collection are those from Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw.

As a meager attempt to stoke the flame of faith and keep the Reason in the Season,  I’d like to share some excerpts from this collection here.

Made flesh
After the bright beam of hot annunciation
Fused heaven with dark earth
His searing sharply-focused light
Went out for a while
Eclipsed in amniotic gloom:
His cool immensity of splendor
His universal grace
Small-folded in a warm dim
Female space—
The Word stern-sentenced to be nine months dumb—
Infinity walled in a womb
Until the next enormity—the Mighty,
After submission to a woman’s pains
Helpless on a barn-bare floor
First-tasting bitter earth.

Now, I in him surrender
To the crush and cry of birth.
Because eternity
Was closeted in time
He is my open door
To forever.
From his imprisonment my freedoms grow,
Find wings.
Part of his body, I transcend this flesh.
From his sweet silence my mouth sings.
Out of his dark I glow.
My life, as his,
Slips through death’s mesh,
Time’s bars,
Joins hands with heaven,
Speaks with stars.

Luci Shaw


Some Christmas stars
Blazes the star behind the hill.
Snow stars glint from the wooden sill.
A spider spins her silver still

within Your darkened stable shed:
in asterisks her webs are spread
to ornament your manger bed.

Where does a spider find the skill
to sew a star?  Invisible,
obedient, she works Your will

with her swift silences of thread.
I weave star-poems in my head;
the spider, wordless, spins instead.

Luci Shaw



After annunciation

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d been no room for the child.

Madeleine L’Engle

.

.

The risk of birth

This is no time for a child to be born.
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born.
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle





Click to read my other ‘Reading The Season’ posts:

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeliene L’Engle

2012: C. S. Lewis Surprised by Joy 

2011: Madeleine L’Engle: Walking on Water

C. S. Lewis: A Grief Observed

Fleming Rutledge: The Bible and The New York Times

Madeleine L’Engle: The Irrational Season

Photos:  All photos in this post except “Water drops on spider web” are taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, All Rights Reserved.

‘Water drops on spider web’ is in the public domain, please refer to Wikimedia Commons for further  details.  CLICK HERE to go there.

Of Film and Faith

Now, the reason to be… in Vancouver.   As I mentioned in a previous post, I was at Regent College for two weeks in May to learn the language of film, and its interface with elements of theology.  I came home much gratified.  I’ve delayed writing about the course per se because it would mean the difficult task of capturing the Genie of ideas back and recapping the bottle.  But I know I need to do it sooner or later, for I want to record down a learning experience that’s, well, let’s just say epiphany is not too far-fetched a word.  It could well be that the little I knew initially made it more gratifying as I could gobble up more to fill the empty vessel.

My thoughts are random here, but that might be the best way to capture whatever that comes to my mind that I think is important and meaningful.  Allow me to ruminate freely.

The language of film is multi-faceted, but it more or less can be condensed into the phrase mise-en-scène: what the director puts into the scene by means of setting, camera angle, lighting, staging, wardrobe, blocking… all the cinematic elements.     Like the artist of a painting, the director conveys his point of view and aesthetics through a frame or a scene.  And for us viewers, it’s a matter of honing the skill of observing the obvious, and the not-so-obvious.  Our pleasure is to decipher and savor that which is created on screen.   It all relates to the Auteur Theory, the director as the author, the concept of caméra-stylo, the camera as pen.

The power of the cinematic pen is mighty indeed.  Take the Disney movie Bambi for example.  The screening of Bambi resulted in a huge decrease of hunting licenses sold after it was released, and subsequently the term ‘Bambi Effect’ was coined.  Or, the movie Billy Elliot, which resulted in a significant increase in ballet school enrollment.

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Knowing the history of motion picture is essential to appreciate films, and this is the major emphasis of the course.  I’ve come to appreciate the pioneers of motion pictures whose works have become the exemplars and the artistic foundations of modern cinema: Vincente Minnelli, Preston Sturges, Charles Chaplin, Fritz Lang, John Ford, Orson Welles, Frank Capra…

Fjilm Noir Third Man Alley

Further, it’s most interesting to trace the influence of German expressionism has on Film Noir, how the idea behind Edvard Munch’s The Scream can effectively be transformed into cinematic expression, revealing the inner state of modern man.

Over the intensive two-weeks, we’d only have time to cover mostly black and white features, savoring their richness in techniques and their multi-layered meaning.  I’ve come to understand why the years 1930  to 1946 are called “The Golden Age of Cinema”.

And where does theology come in?  While knowing some Kierkegaard and Buber might help, but basically the content is very accessible.  Herein lies the ingenuity of the auteurs and their works.  The process of exploring the transcendent in the movies viewed by the populace is just fascinating.

Citizen Kane

I’ve learned how Citizen Kane (1941, produced when Orson Welles was just 24!), generally considered one of the best movies of all time, like the Vanitas still life of Vermeer’s time, expresses the theme of Ecclesiastes, and asks the question, “So one has gained the whole world, then what?”

Another theological element is the archetype of the Christ figure, and I’m surprised to find it quite prevalent in many of these early motion pictures.  I admit I’ve never watched a Charlie Chaplin movie in its entirety until now.  In The Kid (1921) and City Lights (1931), the savior figure is humorously portrayed in the story, and the concept of unconditional love warmly illustrated.

City Lights

This archetype also appears  in Frank Capra’s  Meet John Doe (1941), where a main character declares the universal significance of the first John Doe two thousand years ago dying for all John Doe’s.  Visually, I’ve learned to identify the Pietà and the crucifix image in the composition of a frame in several of the features, an example being How Green Was My Valley (1941, John Ford).

M by Fritz LangMotion pictures are an effective medium to convey the human condition.  In Fritz Lang’s thriller M (1931), the letter obviously refers to the murderer, a child killer that the whole town was after.  The not-so-obvious is the depiction of universal depravity, from the police to the masses, the message that we’re all complicit in the moral fabric of our society.  Similarly, Mel Gibson puts himself in his movie The Passion of the Christ (2004) as the Roman soldier nailing Christ on the cross.

Fast forward to the 80’s, I was introduced to the renowned Polish auteur Krzysztof Kieslowski.  It’s amazing how in Decalogue (1988), the essence of The Ten Commandments and their relevance in contemporary society are transformed into ten independent, one-hour stories and broadcast as a prime time TV series in Poland.  Decalogue is an artistically crafted and poignantly executed production that has won numerous international awards.  But would we see such kind of meaningful work as a prime time TV program here in North America?  The answer is obvious.

On the last day, I’d the chance to savor Babette’s Feast (1987), a highly acclaimed movie from Denmark (Oscar Best Foreign Language Film, 1988).  Based on a story by Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa), Babette’s Feast is a cinematic metaphor of goodness and freedom.  Its unique story and powerful visual images richly convey the theme of grace and mercy, and the liberating power of compassion.  The table prepared before us is free, sumptuous and abundant, but it takes an open heart of full acceptance and gratitude to fully enjoy it.  An inspiring film to wrap up my sojourn, creating resonance for the journey ahead.

Babette's Feast

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Beauty and Truth

Unlike my previous trips out here, this time in Vancouver is a learning experience. I’m spending two weeks at Regent College on the UBC campus to learn the language of faith and film. The art and architecture of Regent set the inspiring milieu for exploring beauty and truth. Here are a few vignettes:

The True North Wind Tower and Lux Nova Art Glass:

Installed in 2007, the tower stands as a symbol of integration. Its highest point is designed to be in line with the North Star, the beacon of direction through the ages. The structure brings together the seemingly polarized ends of science and art, and accentuates faith in all aspects of life. CLICK HERE to read more about this 40 foot tall distinguished landmark.

Architect Clive Grout designed the self-sustaining, energy efficient True North Wind Tower as a natural ventilation system for the library built underneath it. Artist Sarah Hall incorporated solar cells into a cascade of glass work. They store energy during the day to illuminate a colored, celestial waterfall at night. This is the first installation of solar energy and art glass fusion in North America.

Embellishing this graceful design are twelve dichroic glass crosses, weaving through an inscription of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the spoken language in Jesus’ time. What a magnificent alchemy of art, architecture, faith and science. Just two weeks ago, on April 29th, this beautiful architecture won the prestigious Design Merit Award for Sacred Landscapes from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in San Francisco. CLICK HERE to read more about this Award.

Regent Wind Tower

A closer look at the art glass:

Lux Nova Art Glass Close Up 2

For the magnificent night view, CLICK HERE to go to Regent’s site.

As for the theology library built underneath the tower, it’s another beauty:

Regent Library

Wisdom

A stone-throw away from the Wind Tower is this serene setting:

Garden Bench

Even the wisteria speak to the intertwining togetherness of Beauty and Truth:

Intertwining Westeria Stems 4

Intertwining Westeria Stems 2

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Original Photos and Text by Arti of Ripple Effects. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, May, 2009. If you see them on a site that is not Ripple Effects, then they are copied without permission. CLICK HERE to go to the original post https://rippleeffects.wordpress.com