I’ve decided to take on daily writing for Lent, whether it’s in the form of poetry, journaling, blogging, or letter-writing. It’s an art form that I love and haven’t done much of lately, so I’m hoping it will be a good reflective practice. In any case, be on the lookout for more frequent blog posts (finally)!
All the talk about dust today has had me contemplating my newest hobby: pottery. This coming Tuesday will be my final class of an 8-week pottery class I signed up for in Middletown. As an art major in college, I always figured I’d get around to pottery but never did, and have always regretted it! So when I found Wesleyan Potters, it was like a dream come true. I’d have the opportunity to get my hands dirty, meet new people, and hopefully come out with a few pots.
I quickly learned that throwing a pot is magical. All the beginners in my class gathered around our teacher, Lori, and watched with amazement as she set a lump of clay on the wheel, and then began to shape it, a series of pushes and pulls making something out of nothing. I’m pretty sure we all cocked our heads to the side like amused animals as we watched the rings of clay circle up the side of her cylinder. Her pot just kept growing with what appeared to be no effort from her hands.
She repeated these steps for us four times in a row before we were sent off to try ourselves. By the fourth time, I was sure I had the process down. I sat down at my own wheel, ready to make some magic! But that stupid little lump of clay took power over me, rocking my hands back and forth as I tried to get it centered on the wheel. Our little troop of beginners quickly felt frustrated, and we watched Lori yet again, as she pulled another pot from a ball of clay. Magic.
From that very first day, my mind was turned to images of God as potter. “We are the clay, You are the potter” (Isaiah 64:8) suddenly began to mean something. That little ball of clay is plain, worthless, and stubborn as all-get-out. But a Master potter can shape it into the most beautiful, useful work of art. My mind searched for other clay references, and I thought of James Weldon Johnson’s poem, “The Creation.” This poem, which was read as a part of my degree recital last February, tells the story of Creation in terms that anthropomorphize God, giving God human emotions of loneliness and motherliness. Towards the end of the poem, after God has created the light and land and creatures, God decides to create man. So God kneels down in the dust by the river and scoops up a ball of clay, toiling over it until he shapes it just perfectly. Oh how many hours I have toiled over clay, hands caked in mud, skin dryer than sandpaper. Here’s the thing: after hours of toiling, I make a lovely little pot. God, the Master potter, started with dust, and made you and me.
Speaking of creation, I happened to be reading a bit about Darwin towards the beginning of my pottery class, and would do a disservice if I didn’t include a quote of his in this post. He, too, sees creating and evolution in the imagery of clay:
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
I got my first 3 pots out of the kiln this past Tuesday, and have about 10-12 more getting fired in the next week. If I thought throwing a pot was magical, glazing is even more so! It was such a surprise to see how each pot turned out, and I can’t wait for the rest. But for every decent pot I threw during this class, I crumpled up three more. And each time I’d mess up, it was an incredible reminder of my malleable medium. At any stage in the game, a pot in progress can simply be broken down into dust once again, mixed with water, and turned back into clay for molding. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
I’ve signed up for another 8-week session in hopes of improving my new craft. I’ve learned that the skill of centering involved in making pots does not just refer to the pot, but to the potter. As I center the clay on the wheel, I center my own thoughts and self. As I shape the clay, I am clay that is shaped.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.