Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Potter's Hands

I took up a new hobby recently: pottery.

I'm not entirely sure why, but while reading through Celebration of Disciplines by Richard Foster, I was especially challenged during the chapter on solitude. Challenged to do something different, to pause, to consider different goals for my life, to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.
Reorientation and goal setting do not need to be cold and calculating as some suppose. Goals are discovered, not made. God delights in showing us exciting new alternatives for the future. Perhaps as you enter into a listening silence the joyful impression to learn how to weave or how to make pottery emerges. Does that sound too earthy, too unspiritual a goal? God is intently interested in such matters. Are you? 
It definitely didn't feel like much of a spiritual decision, honestly. I read the chapter, the word pottery leapt off the page at me as something intriguing, I did a little research (being just outside of Santa Fe, and all) and decided taking a class might just be wonderful. I coerced a few friends into joining me and we, very soon after, began a 7-week adventure into the world of clay.

You should know that I can't recall touching clay in my past. I'm sure I have- it just doesn't stick out to me. My fine arts credits were fulfilled through choir in high school, so I had always managed to avoid coming face-to-face with my lack of artistic skills. Because, I assumed, since I couldn't draw or paint, I probably couldn't do much else in the art world, either.

Our first night of class, we were tasked with making a cylinder. Our instructor demonstrated. He threw some clay on the wheel, shaped it into a hockey-puck-looking thing, dropped his thumbs down to create a hole, and began to pull the sides up in to a vase-shaped piece.

I can do that. 
My pride pounded within.

We weren't the only beginners in the room, but the girl on my left had done this before. She was already making plates and was quick to assure the rest of us that this new hobby of ours wasn't for perfectionists. We would have to learn to get over ourselves, hold things loosely, and be patient. Unfortunately, those aren't things I'm great at.

I threw the clay onto my wheel and tried to make that hockey-puck shaped thing, just like I had been shown. I didn't really understand the importance of making sure that clay was entirely centered on the wheel- not considering the challenges I would encounter if it wasn't. You won't be surprised to know that my first few pieces were about an inch tall, an inch wide and far from symmetrical.

One of my first pieces...
It wasn't until week 3 that I felt like I began to grasp the concept of "centering" enough to actually implement on my own without my instructor coming to the rescue. It had been a frustrating process. I felt like I had been going through my 25lbs of clay swiftly, only instead of having any successes, I had a wet pile of clay failure. Countless attempts of not being centered, pulling up too quickly or unevenly, slicing the tops off, clumsily taking my hands away too fast, and, just generally, ruining almost everything I was working toward.

Our instructor always encouraged us to keep the things we salvaged, even if ghastly. Keep it. Practice trimming and glazing with it. Keep it as a reminder of what your first pieces were so you can see the progress you've made. So I did. They are a humbling reminder that things take time, and that I don't always do things right the first time (I often don't, actually).

But I kept going.
Outside of class, some of us would frequent the studio when we could spare the time. I loved it. I fell asleep thinking about centering clay. I dreamt about pulling up the sides of a cylinder with ease and grace. I talked about it often and, as I began to see and feel improvement, I felt accomplished. I was learning something new...and I could see visible change happening.

There's something strangely cathartic I've found in working with clay. Something so satisfying when you realize the clay you are trying to shape is finally moldable and pliable. Something indescribable when it begins to do exactly what you want and begins to transform from a lump of clay to a beautiful work of art.

I had the opportunity to teach a class on sanctification a few weeks into my pottery class. Naturally, there were some parallels to make at the time, but the parallels haven't stopped coming. There's been something profound about working with clay, especially when I take myself out of the potter's role and put myself into the piece of clay, into the Potter's Hands.

I've found myself often humming a melody I grew up singing in church- some of you may recognize it:
No eye has seen

No ear has heard
The good that the Lord has prepared for those
Who wait on Him
To hear His voice
"I am the potter
And you are the clay" 
Jesus take me in Your hands

And make me all that You want me to be
Jesus help me understand my purpose
And what You can do through me
Fulfilling my destiny
accidental spout
The even more beautiful part of it is knowing a bit more about what it means to work with clay and what that image requires. In order to be molded, the clay [us] has to be centered. Only then are we ready and truly willing to succumb to the hands of the Potter. Only then can we be shaped into what we are intended to be, into who He is calling us to be.

Today I picked up 18 finally finished pieces.
It's been a process.
A process of failing, disappointments, mishaps, uneven pulls, accidental spouts, lumpy handles, tragedies while trimming and the unknowns of glazing. It's been a process filled with small victories, vast improvements, waiting and hoping, and finally... results.

I think this is just the beginning of my adventure with pottery. I hope to keep learning and growing, allowing this new hobby to affect me and challenge me on a more spiritual level. To seek solitude. To seek change. To be more centered, so that I might be molded and shaped to be more of what the Potter intends for me to be. A beautiful work of art... and while I can't begin to fathom what the end result will actually be, I must trust that He knows what He's doing and that I'm in His hands throughout the entire process.