A few years ago, a generous family at the school where I work donated enough money to get some pottery wheels. Their location is in a far off part of campus I rarely venture towards. Wheel-throwing is a class my student’s don’t typically need help with. Their algebra, English, foreign languages, and other core classes take precedence usually, so the idea that we even have a pottery class was a distant thought to me.
In an effort to bring more comradery amongst the faculty, our pottery/ photography teacher offered a free evening of wheel throwing.
“Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words” (Jeremiah 18:2).
I hate crafts. I also hate having dirty hands. Pottery feels like a combination of the two. I don’t mind yard work, or hard work, or being outside, but just having dirty hands on the reg and being in an art room are things I do not love. (Glitter is from the devil, just FYI).
Alas, I said yes (new experience!) and showed up… mostly for the cookies, let’s be real. There were ten of us, most of us never having thrown on a pottery wheel before. We spent the first half of the time learning what to do. Listening as the teacher explained why we use the kind of clay we use (it’s special – not just any old clay will do). Watching as he gently, carefully molded it in his hands before even putting it on the wheel. He had to prep by forming it into a ball to put it on the wheel. Then he had to manipulate it once it was there. He had to get it centered. The “centering” is one of the most important parts. Get it centered on the wheel and you’ll have an easier time molding the clay – plus you’ll get symmetry in your finished product. You can work it up and down, but make sure you have enough base, so it doesn’t crack. The pressure extended on the sides is what gives you the shape you want. Repeat and repeat again until it’s what you envisioned. Then you have to cut it off the wheel ever so carefully. And carefully put it in its place to wait for the fire.
“So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jeremiah 18:3-4).
I wanted to make a coffee cup. A little morning time memento of my hard work. That didn’t seem unreasonable. Another thing to know about me, along with how much I hate crafts, I hate doing things I’m bad at. But don’t we all? Nevertheless, anyone can make a coffee mug, right? WRONG. You need approximately one million skills to make a caffeine vessel. You need an apron. You need clay. You need the pottery wheel. You need hand strength. You need the right tools. You need wisdom about where to put pressure and where to take it off. You need vision of what this may end up looking like, but the ability to let go and let the clay work, too. You need patience. You need to practice. You need to put the right amount of water on it, so it stays wet and malleable, but not overly saturated. Did I mention the actual tools you need? You need to test the base and make sure it is thick enough. You need equal shaping on all sides so it won’t crack when it goes in the kiln. You need to work the shape until it turns into the thing you envisioned. Seriously, though, you need the good Lord Jesus Christ. Cause without Him, this ain’t gonna work. And I did NOT sign up for a mound of mush.
“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? Declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).
I paused multiple times to watch the teacher. Grace-filled. Knowledgeable. Gentle. Like a master potter. Calmly calming my crazy. Lending a hand to help my shapeless blob take shape. Guiding with words how to re-do, re-work, re-envision. He kept saying, “Don’t worry, it’s going to be fine. We can fix this.”
Like the Master Potter. Who, I know, constantly has our lives on His wheel. “Like clay in the potter’s hand” (vs 3), shaping, working, molding, re-shaping, re-working, re-molding. Modeling. Teaching. Handling. Preparing.
I wish I could understand the depth of the commitment the Master Potter has to me. I wish I could grasp, even in the slightest, the Gospel that is the “spoiled” clay turned vessel. He does every step methodically, seemingly tediously, because He knows – He knows the end result is worth it. The centering back to the cross matters. The pressure on all sides to shift our mindsets and fell our idols matters. The re-shaping, re-working and re-molding matters. He knows a lump of clay has no place in society, but a vessel – OH a vessel. A coffee mug. A bowl. A pot. He knows the importance of a vessel.
That’s the good news of the Gospel – we are all the spoiled clay who needs a Master Potter. And once the hands of the Potter are on us, by definition, we are in His hands and we are His. We are redeemed. It isn’t painless. Sometimes it isn’t fun: this being molded into who He wants us to be. But the hands of the Potter are kind. And they are gentle. And they are life-giving.
When my clay dries, I’ll find out if I actually made a mug that will hold liquid. But somehow, I think this was about more than just my morning coffee.