Crafting with Clay…

Unshaped Clay in Potter's Hands

By Denise Meyer
Last week my friend Margie took me to her clay studio to make some pottery. This is a new adventure for me and I was excited to be invited to play in the clay. Before you get too impressed, she is a professional potter and has created molds for bowls and plates to help make the process easier. I have only once experienced trying to create something from a glob of “mud” stuck on a spinning wheel and discovered it is a VERY difficult thing to do. It is certainly not as easy as it looks in the movie “Ghost” with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. NOT in the least! In this case because of her molds Margie convinced me that this would be “easy peezy”. It was nice of her to have such confidence in my skills but seriously I had my doubts.

There was much to do to prepare the clay for this project. One thing I did not know about clay was that it has a memory. Who knew? So the first thing we had to do was stretch the clay to a workable thickness by guiding it through a series of rollers to flatten it to about a quarter-inch-thickness. Following that we lightly scraped it to smooth it and remove any air pockets but mostly to stop the stretching memory. Then she showed me how to attach the plate mold to the wheel, and center the clay onto the mold.  “Easy peezy”? Not so much! One thing Margie kept telling me was to spin the wheel slowly and steadily, which is rather difficult if, like me, you have a heavy foot and like speed.   She also looked me straight in the eye and reminded me that mistakes are going to happen and that items made by hand were not meant to be perfect. What? Yes, she knows about my desire for perfection!  I guess it takes years of practice to become totally proficient with clay. Sorry to say but it makes me feel better that she still makes mistakes after years and years of working with clay.

We worked together as a teacher and student to create what would become two plates and a bowl. My excitement was palpable but Margie cautioned me not to get attached to the pieces until they were totally completed.  She explained that many things could happen before I would actually hold the finished product in my hands. The “things” might include the clay cracking when it was fired in the kiln or some other random thing could happen in the process. How could I not get attached? Well I walked away and left them in her capable hands; just trusting they will look beautiful when they are completed.

This experienced brought to mind a biblical text about another potter named God. In the text Isaiah spoke to the God of Israel in this way:  “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand,” Isa. 64:6.  The prophet Isaiah was crying out to God on behalf of Israel who had not been faithful. Recognizing the people’s need for another chance, he pleaded with the God of mercy not to abandon them in their sin but to continue to shape and mold this willful people.  That is what a potter does right? They work the clay to make it more malleable in order to create a product. The prophet understood that the future of God’s chosen people was in the Holy hands and he was asking God to continue to mold and shape them as a people into God’s Image.  When I worked on creating my bowl, it took many pieces of clay that were pushed, maneuvered and shaped into a circular form to accomplish my goal. At first it was just a blob of clay but the more I worked it the more it resembled the inside of a bowl. For the finishing touches, I used a scraper to remove excess clay and smooth out the bumps. This entire process required my imagination, strength and confidence that eventually it would be a usable bowl. By the way when the bowl was removed from the mold, it really did look like a bowl however I am not attached to it just yet.

After spending much time working with the clay has given me a deeper insight of God the potter. From the beginning, the Holy Creator has held us in His hands, molding and shaping us with tenderness and love. Just like my creations not being perfect, God does not expect us to be perfect either. God continues to shape us to be the best us that we can be. God is molding us in His image so that our lives can reflect God’s Divine work. There are no restrictions or worries that God might get too attached to us before we are finished because His promise never to leave us or forsake us, (Heb. 13:5b). We are not perfect and God loves us in spite of our flaws. Like the clay, sometimes we crack under pressure and unlike a potter who destroys the broken pottery in order to start over, God puts us back together piece by piece. The cracks within us are mended by His grace, forgiveness and above all His overwhelming love. Because of that promise, I am very attached to the work of God’s hands.