This morning I was thinking about the section in Jeremiah where God compares himself to a potter making a pot. (Jeremiah 18 verses 2 through 6.) I guess since I took Ceramics in college last Fall, it kind of resonates with me. (Absolutely loved that class!) Anyways, after taking the class, it brings some more color to the mental image, so I thought I’d attempt to share a little bit about pottery and the analogy between it and God working with people. Warning: This post is a little long. You don’t have to read it if you don’t really want to. But I really want you to, so maybe you should anyways.
Let’s say you want to throw a beautiful lovely vase on the wheel. (Just for clarification, that means you’re going to build the vase on a rotating surface. Let’s not get any mental images of shattering vases on car tires or something. 😉 ) Once you have an idea what you want the vase to look like and you’ve picked your hunk of clay, what do you do? NOOOO, don’t plunk it down on the wheel, good gracious! Your clay has air bubbles in it. Guess what’ll happen to that pot if you try to fire it? It’ll explode. Before you can do anything useful with it, you have to wedge the clay. Smack it down hard on a porous surface and smash all the bubbles out one way or another. (If you had seen me in Ceramics class, you’d know just how violent this can get. *Laughs* People accused me of having anger issues and taking it out on the lump of clay. Honestly, I was just having fun…) I can imagine that the wedging process is not at all fun for the piece of clay.
If we are like clay, then air bubbles represent flaws that have to be worked out of us in order for the Potter to use us. Examples might be pride, selfishness, etc. You get the idea. Some of the basic things that hinder us from serving God effectively, or at all, depending on what topic you’re thinking about. Sometimes God has to wedge us to work the flaws out of us before He can use us to our full potential. Because remember, a pot that has air bubbles often shatters when it is subjected to fire. If we are to become pots, we must be prepared to take the firing.
Okay, so you’ve wedged your lump of clay. It’s a gorgeous blob of grayish matter (or red, or whatever color of clay you want to pretend you’re working with…). A real work of art. 😉 Now it’s time to slap that clay down hard in the center of the throwing wheel. (If your clay didn’t say “Ouch!” then it wasn’t hard enough, so try again. The clay has to be stuck on hard, otherwise it’ll spin right off the wheel halfway through and you’ll have to start over. Not fun! [Yes, I have had that happen…]) As you turn the wheel on and get it up to speed, you’ll notice that your blurry lump of clay looks like it’s wobbling all over the place. That’s because it isn’t entirely on-center. You’re going to have to center it, because it’s impossible to craft a beautiful vase that’s the same thickness all around if the clay is not in the exact center of the bat. (I forgot to mention, the bat is the plastic almost-like-a-plate thing that sits on the top of the wheel on which you splat your clay. That way you can remove your piece and let it dry somewhere else so you can re-use the wheel. [Because of course trying to remove a soft pot would squash it…] The bat has a smooth side and a rough one, and it goes on the wheel rough-side-up so that the clay will stick.) Where was I… (Too many side-notes, as you can see. This is how I usually think. Only my brain is even more rabbit-traily than my blog posts.) Oh yes. Center the clay. To do that the wheel must be on full-speed, and you need to have a little water on the clay for lubrication. (Otherwise it’ll grind the skin right off you, and we wouldn’t want that, would we? Remember, this is dirt…) Then you brace your elbows against your body and push on the clay with your left hand (or if you’re left-handed, that would be your right hand) and use your right hand (usually in a fist) to press down on the top of the clay (so that it doesn’t just turn into a blobby, slimy tower instead of a pretty vase). In order to center clay, you literally have to lean all your weight into it to get it to move (especially if it’s a big chunk of clay). When it stops bumping against you and rotates smoothly with none of that wobbly look, it’s in the exact middle of the bat. (Well, this turned into a long paragraph… Sorry about that. I should start making my side notes a different color so you can skip them if you want.)
Back to the analogy. If we are the clay, and God is the potter, then the bat (or the wheel, or both) is (I think) God’s will. (I guess we’re assuming hand-building doesn’t exist for this analogy…And please don’t ask me to add that into the analogy because that would make this whole picture-thing absolutely too complicated for my poor brain to handle.) In order for God to best shape us into the vase or pot or whatever, we have to be in the center of His will. And He will do everything it takes to get us there. Sometimes it takes a whole buncha pressure to center us, and sometimes it just takes a small amount. I’m not sure what the water represents in this analogy, but whatever it represents, it makes the throwing process much easier and more comfortable for potter and (no doubt) clay alike. We might come back to that one, if I figure it out.
Now your clay is perfectly centered, drenched, and probably thoroughly dizzy from all the spinning. (Well, you might be too…Been there! You really have to be careful where you look to keep from getting dizzy.) It’s time to slow the wheel to half-speed and open the clay so that you can start building it up. You kind of cup your hands around the outsides of the clay piece and jam your thumbs into the middle of the clay. (Be careful to center your thumbs first. An off-center hole will cause you big problems later. [Yes, I learned this the hard way. But it’s really not too hard to get the hole in the middle, so don’t let that scare you off.]) Once there is about a quarter-inch thickness left in the bottom of the hole, stop jabbing it. (You can measure by sticking a needle tool through it and marking how far up the clay came on the needle. [Oh, and PLEASE stop your wheel before you measure it. We don’t want marks that look like a dragon’s talons ripped up your clay…]) Switch from your thumbs to the first two fingers on both hands, right crossed over behind left, or the other way around. (I don’t think it matters which. Basically you want the pressure concentrated in about the width of two fingers.) As you pull the clay gently towards yourself, it will start to widen out. Get it to about the width you want your piece to be (remembering the clay will shrink a little in the firing) and stop. Throughout this process you should have kept a fair amount of water between you and the clay. (If you didn’t, you’ll sure notice.)
I don’t have a lot to say about this stage of the throwing process. But, you know, if you ever feel like God is jabbing you in the middle or stretching you out, maybe it’s because He’s getting ready to build you into a vase. Or a pot. Or whatever. You get the point. (Oh, and by the way, I’m actually skipping a few things, like compressing the clay, just because this would take forever to write otherwise, and I don’t have comments on everything either.)
Your clay is now open and ready to build up! (Yay!) You’ll be working on the close right side of the clay (or the left, if you’re left-handed. My, that ties my brain in knots trying to fathom doing it that way…) Place the fingers of your left hand on the inside of the clay, and take your little sponge (with some water in it) in your right hand. You’ll use the left hand for stability, and with the right one you will apply an EVEN amount of pressure as you SLOWLY pull the sponge (and your fingers, if you like) upwards. Repeat. And repeat again. And again… When the walls of your vase (Well, right now it’s just a cylinder…) are about a quarter-inch in width, you can stop. (You’d better stop too, or else you’ll get a floppy piece of clay that wants to play London-bridge-is-falling-down with you.) Now comes the fun part. (Heeheehe… *Rubs hands together*) Put down your sponge and shape your vase. You can slowly widen it out here, then choke it in up there, then flare this part out at the top. You may need to pick up your sponge and build it up higher if it gets too thick from choking it in. If one side starts getting taller than the rest, then you will have to take your needle tool and slowly insert it into the side until it slices through and removes the uneven part. In which case you’ll probably have to build it up a little bit more. Continue this until you have a shape that you like, but take heed that it may develop thin areas and do this little twist-flop thingy on you. It’s really annoying. If your vase does flop, you’ll have to stop the wheel, run your wire under the pot to cut it off the bat, and squash the whole lump together, and start over at the wedging stage, adding some clay powder to dry out all the water you dribbled on it. (And that’s really not fun…) Sometimes the pot doesn’t flop, but it gets off-center, and has to be re-centered. (That’s tricky, because the whole time you’re smallening [yes, that was the only word I could think of] the hole in the middle and probably squishing the pot in other ways. If a pot gets off-center, be prepared that your pot will probably be a very different shape after you re-center it.)
There are some really nice analogy possibilities here. (Muahahaha…*Rubs hands together again*) I’m gonna focus on the flopping and re-centering ideas mostly, though. Re-centering first. (Just because I can do it backwards if I want to. Hah.) Sometimes we don’t quite head in the direction God wants us to. Maybe we make some mistakes, or fall into a pattern of sin. When that happens, God has to push us back to the center of His will. I think I can safely say this always changes us in some way; the more off-center we are, the more we’ll be changed when we get re-centered. Not to worry though, the Potter knows how to use these changes to make us into better vases or pots or pitchers or whatever. Don’t expect the re-centering to be painless though, because sin always has consequences. Dealing with those as we move back into God’s will is going to hurt some. Now for flopping. Sometimes we get really off-center or thin in the walls, and we spin out of control and land in a pile of soggy, twisted clay. It looks like there is no way this blob of pliable but very sloppy dirt will ever be a pretty vase. The Potter is not distraught, however. (Unlike me when I flop a pot… Maybe that’s because it’s usually my fault when the pot flops, and I don’t think it’s God’s fault when we flop.) He picks us up, squashes us together, rolls us in clay dust, and begins to wedge our faults out of us again, at last returning us to the wheel and building us into beautiful pieces of pottery. Voila! Pretty cool. 🙂
I’m going to kind of skip over the bisque firing and glazing and glaze-firing and just say that obviously the firing process represents trials, or maybe persecution or something really hard that God has been preparing us for beforehand so that when we come out on the other side, we are beautiful, complete, unique works of art. (I guess that would be in Heaven by that point. Maybe the last firing is when we die…) The Potter has spent all His time and energy thus far ensuring that we will make it through the firing process and come out stronger than we were before.
In case you couldn’t tell, I loved Ceramics class, and all the little insights it gave into those little verses. Maybe now you’ll want to take it too. *Wink*