Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit
“I am a poet, not a scholar,” says Luci Shaw in the last chapter of BREATH FOR THE BONES. And as a poet, she has provided a book for people interested in the mysteries of muse and the process of creating. The book jacket features type (words) only, no distinctive graphics other than a few swirls of color. To clarify the picture, the publisher has printed lots of words, even a subtitle to the subtitle: Art, Imagination, and Spirit: Reflections on Creativity and Faith.”
An upfront “note to readers” acknowledges that this book is “the compilation of many poignant words found in Luci Shaw’s writings, lecture notes, workshops, journals, interviews, essays, and poems.” It is the retrospective that might be expected of --- and hoped for --- from a writer who has aged into a respected “seasoned” category.
Shaw may not be a theologian, but it’s hard for her to conceal her training, as a child schooled in a parsonage and as a one-time college student who minored in New Testament Greek (with a major in English). There’s theological reflection here, evidenced in chapters titled “Discovering the Creative Heart of God” and “Meeting the God of Metaphor,” both placed in part 1, again, comprehensively titled (“The Basics of Creativity: Foundations of the Creative Process”). And a subsequent chapter starts off by proposing that the Holy Spirit is the muse of the Christian poet. Like the biblical writers themselves, Shaw turns to similitudes to explain the workings of the Spirit --- or breath --- of God. “I cannot turn on the writing art or transcendence like a faucet. My job is to wait and see --- literally to wait for the Spirit, with the Spirit, and to see.”
Though it is far from a how-to manual, part 2 includes content that is a bit more “hands-on,” summarized as “The Details of Creativity: Exploring the Creative Process.” I especially enjoyed chapters on journal writing and risk taking. Young writers or artists can learn so much from Shaw --- that creating is a process: “As a keeper of a daily reflective journal, I find that as soon as I put words and ideas onto paper [or computer]…they begin to gather to themselves more images, more words and ideas.” And that a creative life calls for risk. Shaw’s writing is most engaging when it’s personal and anecdotal; her risk chapter includes an extended account of a sailing expedition with metaphorical overtones. And a final chapter summary? “Perhaps the role of those involved in the arts, then, is to awaken ourselves and others to beauty --- in all its risk and in all its richness.”
An appendix gives chapter-by-chapter “writing exercises and questions for discussion.” It’s a shame that these don’t appear throughout the book, so as to be more “in your face” when the material is fresh in your mind. Be sure to read and contemplate the questions as you take a breath and exercise your bones at the end of a particular chapter.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on June 12, 2007