The Potter’s Clay

Of the many studio art classes I took in college, way back when, one of my favorites and the one I sometimes miss the most was ceramics class.  I recall the many late nights spent in the quiet, messy ceramics house working on clay pieces on the wheel or hand-building them with coils.  Learning to center clay on the wheel was not an easy task but like learning to ride a bike, once I got it, there was no stopping me.  Not much of anything resulted from that class, nothing spectacular anyway, just a bunch of little cups and bowls that have disappeared through the years.  But it is the process of working with clay that I remember so fondly; that feeling of connecting with the earth that was heightened to a spiritual experience as I learned to center the clay on the potter’s wheel.

Recently, what brought this memory back so vividly was, oddly enough, weeding the weed beds in the front yard.  With my hands in the dirt, yanking out weeds by the roots, I thought about how much I’d rather be bent over a wheel with my hands in wet clay than in the hot sun fighting a losing battle with the weeds.  Somehow the feeling of my gloved hands in the dirt stirred up the feeling of connection with the earth that I first experienced in ceramics class.  I had a glimpse of why some people have a passion for pottery or gardening but it passed quickly as the sun slipped behind a cloud and cooled me off.  I am no potter nor am I a gardener.  I like the idea of both passions yet somehow neither one has absorbed me for very long.  Instead I admire the artistry of others in both realms…some teapots I’ve collected and my retired neighbor’s manicured flowerbeds across the street.  To aspire to excellence in either art form requires on a daily basis much more stamina than I have for dirt under my nails and chronic back pain.

I can, however, appreciate the metaphor of the potter and the clay that has a deeper meaning for me in one of my favorite scripture verses: “Now, O Lord, Thou art our Father; we are the clay, and Thou our potter; and we all are the work of Thy hand.”  Isaiah lxiv:8.  The verse was followed by a devotion which in spite of the thees, thys, and thous, I could appreciate after my morning spent in the weeds wishing I was sitting at a potter’s wheel instead:

“He who hath appointed thee thy task, will proportion it to thy strength, and thy strength to the burden which He lays upon thee.  He who maketh the seed grow thou knowest not how, and seest not, will, thou knowest not how, ripen the seed which He hath sown in thy heart, and leaven thee by the secret workings of His good Spirit.  Thou mayest not see the change thyself, but He will gradually change thee, make thee another man (or woman as the case may be!).  Only yield thyself to His moulding hand, as clay to the potter, having no wishes of thy own, but seeking in sincerity, however faint, to have His will fulfilled in thee, and He will teach thee what to pray for, and will give thee what He teacheth thee.  He will retrace His own image on thee line by line, effacing by His grace and gracious discipline the marks and spots of sin which have defaced it.” Edward B. Pusey from Joy and Strength by Mary Tileston

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