It’s funny how something can be so part of your life. You are in it every day for so many months or even years. And then it’s back there buried under a bunch of time. You don’t think about it for so long that you can almost forget that it was part of your history. It can seem like it was another life.
That’s how it was this week when I met with a new friend for dinner. She wasn’t aware (as some of you already may know) that for decades, I had been a professional artist. Beginning with illustration, airbrushing and caricatures, I settled into creating pottery, tiles, and mosaics and taught classes. I sometimes made my own clay and glazes and all my own designs.
And my friend was more interested in what I had learned as a potter. There were many stories, but the underlying theme was the parallel between the potter and the vessel, God, and man.
Everyone starts out as a lump of clay. Some are brown, some porcelain, some are red, some speckled. Each kind of clay has its own characteristics. They differ in how much heat they can take, their plasticity, their strength. All made of the “same” material. Some lumps are bigger than others depending on what the finished vessel is destined to be. A bowl, a pitcher and a casserole dish require different amounts of clay. Each functions differently.
Getting the clay centered requires both hands use the same amount of pressure. The potter touches and forms each vessel with his own hands, and leaves his mark on them. Regardless of what you hear, we are never alone. The father’s hands are close, forming us. If it doesn’t start out right, the vessel will be thick on one side, thin on the other and start to get wobbly. If it dries like that and goes to the kiln like that, the vessel will crack or explode because the heat will be unevenly distributed and heat too fast or too much where it’s thin and the thicker side can’t expand fast enough.
The best thing for the potter to do is to cut the vessel from the wheel, re-knead it and start over. It isn’t that he can’t use the clay, he can. He has to reform the lump, and re-center the clay and start again.
Then there’s a drying off period and a trimming stage. The bowl needs to have excess clay trimmed off to give it a solid foot ring. Usually, the bowl is turned upside down and anchored so it doesn’t fly off the wheel while it is trimmed with a wire tool.
Too much pressure in anchoring and the rim of the vessel will crack. The potter must know how much to trim so the bottom isn’t too thin, which will cause it to crack in the firing. Then there’s the firing. A piece goes into the extreme heat to be tried by fire. All the unnecessary fillers and impurities are burned out of the clay, which causes it to compress and harden so that it can be used. Without this critical step, the pot will continue to remain mud, extremely fragile and completely unusable.
Every vessel is created with a purpose and to that end, the Potter creates each vessel knowing its characteristics and its limits. Some are decorative, some are for common daily use, some are for noble purposes.
These illustrations helped me see how God moves in seasons, in cycles. While they may be known to Him alone, I could rest assured that He was in control and that He would see me through the entire process. It helped me see how I can be different and still fit into the family of God, even as various pieces of pottery are used in daily meals: plates, bowls, casserole dishes, mugs, and pitchers. The pieces can’t do each other’s job, and they are all needed.
What does this mean for you?
You may not know if you’re on the wheel being formed or being kneaded in preparation for being formed. You might find yourself being trimmed, or you may be in the kiln–the refining and purifying fire the removes all the unnecessary filler–to be hardened for use.
Wherever you find yourself, don’t lose heart. Everyone goes through each step of the process which is designed to help us become the best version of ourselves. Even if you find yourself in a place where it feels like the heat’s been turned up–trust that you are in the final phases of your development and will be ready to move forward in a new and stronger way.