This past weekend I visited my daughter, Isabelle, who is studying fine arts at FIU in Miami. Although she’s been a student of art for many years now, this is the first semester she’s taken a pottery class. Izzy’s worked with clay before of course, but she’s never thrown clay before. Over a long breakfast, we talked in detail about her early experiences as a pottery student. Afterward, she took me into the ceramics lab and walked me through the entire process from cleaning the clay to firing the formed pieces in the kiln.
I’m fascinated with my daughter’s new experiences in art because of the biblical illustration of the potter at work, as well as the nature of the clay being molded. Jeremiah 18:1 the Lord instructs the prophet to “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” (NLT). While at the potter’s house, Jeremiah observed the potter at the wheel working on a clay jar that did not turn out as expected, so the potter crushed the clay back into a lump and started over again. While in the potter’s studio the Lord says to Jeremiah, “Can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so you are in my hand” (Jer. 1:5-6).
For Izzy, making pottery is a new challenge to master in her field; for me, it’s a new way to see God’s hands at work in the transformation process of our lives. For example:
Did you know the potter must be physically positioned around the wheel and lean in close while forming the clay? Or that this very messy process ends up with the potter covered in clay which is very difficult to remove? Perhaps this is what Isaiah 49:15-16 refers to when the Lord says, “I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”
Did you ever think about the intimate nature of this work that leaves the fingerprints of the potter all over the vessel? It’s amazing to me that the potter accepts the messy work of drawing near to this new creation as it is being formed, all the while imprinting the clay constantly with a personal touch.
Did you know that each type of clay is unique and requires specific handling related to its nature? For example, terra cotta clay must be soaked and fired at temperatures that are very different from porcelain clay.
Did you know that there are times the clay must be soaked in water and other times when the clay must be dried out completely? This depends on the stage of the process and whether the clay is being prepared to be formed or to be finished.
Did you know that there is not a stage of the process where the vessel cannot be repaired or repurposed? The fixes that are required change based on the formation of the vessel, yet there is always a way to make something new, even if the pottery has been shattered.
These are just a few of the thoughts I have about the potter and clay after time spent in the ceramic studio. One blog post cannot possibly cover all aspects of the beautiful object lessons that are applicable here in the process that takes raw clay and transforms it into a beautiful and strong piece of art. However, if you are feeling empty, broken, hopeless, denied, or alone, I encourage you to turn to the Potter. His touch is holy and there is always a purpose in the process of your transformation, even if you don’t understand what is happening at the time.
For more study on this topic, I recommend Clay in the Potter’s Hands written by Diana Pavlac Glyer.