Summary: A potter with a wheel and a lump of clay compares what he/she is doing with God's shaping of us. Author's note: I used it with a real potter at the wheel, and separate off-stage voice. I’ve also used it with a group of mentally challenged adults, each of whom had a piece of clay to work and at the end of worship all the pieces were offered up and displayed during coffee time. It could also work with a potter who had the text memorized.
Style: Dramatic. Duration: 8min
Scripture: Isaiah 64: 1-9
Now what shall I make today? A vase? A dish? A thing of beauty? Or shall I end up with nothing but a lump of clay?
Funny thing, this clay. It is about as inert as a thing can get. But it can also be shaped into a thing of wonder, or utility. To make it into an object takes some effort, turning of the wheel. Imagination. Skill. Patience. Infinite patience.
Sometimes when I’m making something - a cup, let’s say, or a chalice - the clay just seems to shape itself. It whorls into shape, finding its own design, moving my fingers as if it had a life and imagination of its own. As if in the turning it was speaking to me. Telling me what it wants to look like. Feel like. How big it wants to be. Whether it wishes to be tall or wide, its sides smooth or textured.
Mostly I listen and the clay talks. I let it guide me. It’s beautiful when that happens. I don’t know if anyone else sees the difference - between the cup that has shaped itself and the one next to it on the shelf that I had to flatten and mold and remold a dozen times before it was good enough - barely good enough for the work. But I can tell the difference. It is like the one that shaped itself has a soul. And the other is just - there.
This is soul work. This making of pottery. It is my connection with the Spirit of God. If you are an artist you will know what I mean. If you paint, or write poetry, or music. The medium changes, but the passion is the same.
In the art is the spirit of God. And I am not just saying this to make you think I am holy or something. Ask my wife in case you think I am. No, it is not that at all. It is more like the words in Psalm 42 where the author writes, “deep calls to deep”. That’s what I mean.
Something there is in the thing yet to be created, or that is created, that calls out to its creator. There is a dialogue. The created being and its creator. They talk.
I don’t know about you, but I do get to wondering about that conversation sometimes. Why it is there sometimes and at other times it seems silent, or distorted.
It’s like this clay. You never know whether the conversation is going to be there or not. More times than I care to remember there is no dialogue. Nothing whatsoever. And even though I make something the thing has no life in it.
I wonder whether God feels like that. God and potters have a lot in common, you know. No, don’t go thinking that I feel like God. It’s not that at all. It’s just that God knows about creating things. Long ago, God was just a big kid playing around with clay. Making things. Imagining life into those creatures. Lonely, maybe. Blowing breath into them, and when they started to walk and talk and feel like gods themselves, reminding them where they came from, dust to dust and all that.
I’m pretty sure that God had a heck of a good time telling stories to those clay beings. And hearing the ones they told. And delighting in the things they did. The love they found, and made. The kids they played with. The other creatures they marveled at.
I imagine the first potter was pleased as punch with how those first creations turned out. A little bit of God was in them, after all. A bit of the Creator in the creation. It’s still there, you know. We still talk. Deep calling to deep. Every time you create something of beauty, every time you pray. Or wrestle with an angel. Every time there is a yearning in you to express your joy or pain or loneliness or wonder and it comes out as a cantata or a poem, that’s where it is.
But. And it’s a big but. This piece of clay that the first potter shaped is a bit like Pinocchio. It has a mind and will of its own. That’s the risk God took, I guess. Along with the joy is the sorrow.
The created being turned on its Creator, like a Frankenstein monster. Betrayed its beauty and found its judgement. Sad, really. But it’s the story of God’s people repeated again and again. Now I don’t mean to preach a sermon about this, but it’s as close as one clay-being can get to understanding God.
If you read your holy book, the one where this whole creature-Creator story started, you’d see what I mean. It’s like the clay-beings just took over. It’s like they forgot where they came from, who created them. They forgot how to talk with the one who loved them into being.
I’m just glad my creations don’t walk. Talking with me is one thing, but that’s something else again.
Yet, you know, for all their foolishness and arrogance, I think God still enjoys us creations. Loves us, even. Now if only we would stop pretending we were God, I think we would remember how to talk with our Creator. We are the clay. God is the potter. We are the work of God’s hands. Thanks be to God.
(C) Jim Hatherly