“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words…”
A dear friend of mine launched a pottery business a couple of years ago. I was planning my vacation and had some extra time and would be near his home, so I asked if he would be available for a visit and interested in giving me a lesson on throwing clay. He eagerly agreed and when the day of our lesson arrived, we walked into his studio. There were two pottery wheels, one electric and the other a manual “kick-wheel.” On shelves were all sorts of bowls, plates, vases, mugs, and other items, all in various stages of completion.
Before we could begin, we needed some clay. He reached for a block of something in plastic wrap, pulled the wrapper back and in the blink of an eye, he had cut off a huge chunk of clay with a wire. He then divided that chunk of clay into four smaller chunks. Then he took one and offered me a second one. He then proceeded to show me how to “knead” the clay so that we could get the air bubbles out. He likened it to kneading bread (which I’ve never done, but I’ve worked pie crust). I took to the clay like I would pie crust. Lesson #1: Clay requires a gentler touch than my pie crust.
After working with the clay for a bit, my friend took my hunk of clay and put it in the recovery barrel to be used for a new project on another day. He then placed in my hands the clay he had been working in preparation for the wheel. I settled in at the wheel and slapped the clay down as he instructed. I pushed the pedal down a little bit and the wheel started to turn. I put my hands in the water bucket and set about the task of getting the hunk of clay into the center of the wheel. This required considerably more effort than I could have ever imagined. I’ve seen potters work over the years and they make the craft appear to be so effortless. Not so. My friend sat close, his soothing voice reminding me to steady with my right hand and press with my left to shift the clay to the center of the wheel. I pressed with all that I was worth to no avail. My friend finally realized that I needed a little more, “Would you like to see me do one?” “Yes, please. That might help.”
We swapped places and in less than 10 minutes, my friend had created a beautiful bowl. I sighed as I settled back in at the wheel. My friend was a gifted artist and I was completely inept. As if reading my thoughts, he said, “You didn’t really think that you were going to sit down and throw a perfect piece the first time you did it, did you?”
Yes. Yes, I did. My feathers ruffled, because he caught me in my own truth and expectation, I stuttered my reply, “N-n-noooo. I didn’t think it’d be perfect the first time out the gate….I just didn’t realize how difficult it would be to just get the clay to the point where I could actually begin to create a bowl or a plate or something.”
He placed another glob of clay in my hands and I slapped it down on the wheel, pushed the pedal, wet my hands and started again. I stared hard at that clay, trying not to screw it up again. My friend’s soothing voice said, “Throwing is about breathing. Are you breathing? Everything you do at the wheel is spiritual and rooted in prayer and presence.” With those words, I smiled, took a deep cleansing breath and released it and set to the task of “feeling” the clay, not just working it. Lesson #2: You cannot think something into being, you have to feel it, mold it, get your whole body into the project, AND, you must breathe!!
After that moment, something clicked and I was able to stop using my head to think it done. I stopped worrying about doing it the “right” way, and started feeling my way into the clay, adapting my friend’s technique and instruction into a way that would work for me. My spirit soared and it felt good to hear encouraging words from my friend. Somehow we wound up with a bowl. Not a spectacular bowl, but a bowl. It will work for serving veggie dip or M&Ms. Lesson #3: Life is NOT about being perfect every moment; life is about the learning along the way.
But the bowl isn’t done yet. The clay needs to finish drying. Then it has to be fired in the kiln. Then it will need some glaze and another trip to the kiln. My friend will take care of those finishing touches and then send it to me in a few weeks. Lesson #4: We can’t do it all by ourselves; we all need a little help and mentoring along the way.
Lesson #5: Sometimes we can only do as much as we can do and then leave the rest of it in other hands.
Not long after finishing in the studio, I felt soreness all over my body. My legs were especially sore from sitting at the wheel, one leg braced on a brick, the other braced on 2x4s. My upper body at my shoulders and arms was sore from moving the clay on the wheel. But I had created a unique piece of pottery. Lesson #6: Life can leave us tired and sore, exhilarated and bewildered, passionate and disgusted.
I wonder if that was the kind of experience God was having with regard to Israel when he sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house (see Jeremiah 18). “The vessel [the potter] was making clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as the potter has done? Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand…” (Jeremiah 18:4-6).
Lesson #7: If we are clay in the Potter’s hand, then even when our lives go haywire, God can re-work things into something new “as seems good” to God. All is not lost, keep faith and stop thinking about it all, but feel life happening anew.
Grace and Peace,
This article was shared in the June 3, 2015 print of the Lamb County Leader-News.